I woke in the strangeness of a room that was not my own and felt my loss hit me. I knew that after today Cid would be gone – forever. Somehow I had convinced myself that he was still here because he had not been buried, and the horror of that thought swept through my mind, and all I wanted to do was pull the blankets over my head and stay there. Opening the curtains, I could see the day was bright and hard and cold. I felt it was probably portentous and it made me want to run as far away as I could from the looming experience I was about to fall into.
In the kitchen, Cid’s mother and uncle were talking in Italian. A silence like a lid fell on the room when I entered and tried out a weak smile on them both. His mother turned to me and handed me a piece of paper and tried to make a small speech. Cid had stated that he wanted to give me $1000 for looking after him and to cover my expenses during that time. His mother now told me she had added more money to that to thank me for everything I had done for her son. I looked down at the paper and saw that I was holding a cheque for $3000. I stared at it blankly and thought – It’s not going to bring him back. Is it?
The funeral was set for 1pm and my stomach was clenched so hard it made me feel sick. I needed to get away from these people and the house that Cid had lived in, so I took the cheque and went looking for the bank it was written on. I didn’t know what else to do. When I returned with the cash in my pocket, his mother was beside herself and screamed at me that they thought I was going to miss the funeral. I stared at them, unable to comprehend why they would ever think that. Shaking my head I went and dressed.
The black limousine took three silent people to the Catholic Church where Cid’s body lay beneath the lid of the coffin. As we walked down the aisle, my eyes were focused on the coffin as it drew closer and closer. Sitting in the front row I stared at the gleaming wood and heard words that drifted past my ears like the murmuring of a brook. I stared at the flowers and listened to the music until a sudden recollection hit me and everything stopped.
“He wanted yellow,” I said.
His mother gasped and looked at me in astonishment. The priest hesitated briefly as my words reached him, but I barely noticed.
“He wanted yellow flowers. Cid told me – let there be yellow flowers Aims – and there’s not even one here!”
His mother shushing me made me suddenly realize that we were in the middle of the service and I hung my head and cried. Another memory surfaced and I realized that they weren’t playing the music he had wanted either. I had failed him. Even though they had made the arrangements for the funeral without me – I felt I had failed him.
Sitting once more in the black limo, I stared numbly as the pallbearers brought the casket out and slid it into the back of the hearse. My breath stuck in my throat and I could feel the ball of pain sitting there before it came out of me in huge croaking sobs. Turning my tear-streaked face away from his family, I watched the strangers who milled outside the church as we sat ensconced in the luxury of the limousine – each of us trapped in our misery. A small sigh escaped my lips when I recognized my family who had come to say good-bye to this wonderful man. They were like an island in my sea of agony. I knew I would be safe with them if only I could reach them.
We followed the hearse to the cemetery and I gave my arm to his mother as we walked behind the coffin. We stood beside the open mouth of the earth and I looked around. We had been here before to visit his father’s grave. Cid had stood next to me as he told me that he wanted to be buried on the hill overlooking the coulee. Instead, his mother had chosen a site opposite his father. It wasn’t on the hill where the sun shone and the coulee stretched away for miles. It was here, in this nondescript place. Not what Cid had wanted at all. I guess the dead have no choices. My heart felt like a stone and again I felt like a failure.
When the priest finished, I placed my hand on the top of the coffin and my tears dulled some of the gleam of the wood. “I love you Cid. I always will”. When I turned away I looked away over the hill and across the coulee. I hoped he heard me.
I was grateful that they didn’t lower the coffin into the ground as I stood there. I might have done the dramatic scene that we saw at the movies and thrown myself on top of the coffin as it sank into the earth. Instead, I found myself at the ‘head table’ with his mother and his uncle as everyone gathered for cake and tea. I could see my mother and brother with D and my cousin as they sat among the strangers and watched me. I had barely spoken to them and because Cid had asked me to help his mother, I stayed glued to my seat.
His mother sat with her shoulder turned away from me and when I tried to speak to her she tightened her lips and turned her head. When I laid my hand on her arm she pulled it away. If someone spoke to her, she barely nodded. I couldn’t understand why his family kept themselves so withdrawn from the people who had come to say good-bye to Cid. Their aloofness was so obvious that it made everyone in the room uncomfortable. People toyed with their cake and washed it down their dry throats with lukewarm tea. They spoke quietly among themselves as they eyed the three of us sitting behind our invisible wall. I remembered that Cid had said his family had come over from Italy and built themselves a place here all by themselves. They had never needed anyone, and even in their pain they weren’t going to let the barriers down.
Out of all of those people, one man came up to me and told me he had been Cid’s teacher at one time and he was one of the pallbearers. I didn’t realize at the time that I knew this man and his son. The son had worked for my brother as a guide and we had dated for a year and a half. The man’s name meant nothing to me that day and I didn’t realize who he was until three years later.
Then it was all over with and I had hugged my family and thanked them for coming and told them I would see them when I got home. My mother looked at me closely and asked me if I was all right. D hugged me hard, and he did it again. I could see that he had been crying and I leaned up against his chest and I could feel how warm his arms were as they wrapped around me once more. This man understood more than anyone else and how I wanted to stay inside that circle of his arms and give way to my grief.
When the limousine dropped us back at his mother’s house, I felt like my feet were made of lead. Inside the house his mother went directly to the couch and sat on it with her feet tight together and her lips matching. His uncle took the easy chair and said my name.
“We thank you for everything you have done for Cid. However, we want you to leave immediately. We are tired of you bossing us around and telling us what to do.”