Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Body Snatchers

My whole life I knew that I would settle in the suburbs. Apart from a small and grossly underdeveloped fantasy about New York City, a place I’ve never been, I never even considered another destination after college. My college sweetheart and I lived in two different apartments during the first three years of our marriage. Each of these apartments were located in the no man’s land that is the far north edge of the city. They were close enough to see the suburbs and far enough away from anything that could be considered the eclectic life of the city proper.

At the age of twenty-four, I bought my first house in Stepford. It wasn’t really Stepford at the time. Stepford grew up around me in the intervening seventeen years. I did realize that I was buying my little piece of the American dream in an up and coming suburb—translation: my starter home was going to be a very good investment. And it was.

The reason I wanted to live in the suburbs was very simple. I naively believed that normal people lived in the suburbs and I wanted a very conventional, normal life. Ah, the misguided dreams of youth. I grew up in rural East Texas, which I un-affectionately refer to as Redneckville. My dad calls it the “Mental Illness Capital of the World” and I do not disagree—Redneckville is just more compact.

Redneckville was messy. Very messy. Redneckville was a small town and everyone had their role that they played in our town’s melodrama—the successful attorney who cheated on his pretty young wife; the workers from the nearby lignite plant who were functioning alcoholics; the waitresses at the local diner who were in desperate need of a dentist; the Deacons from the First Baptist Church and their uptight wives who all lived in the nicest neighborhood in town; the black population that all lived in the part of town where white people never went—you get the idea. I have theory that the same exact people live in each small town in East Texas. I believe the melodrama of to be exactly the same, with just the names of the actors being changed.

I escaped Redneckville a few times a year to visit my dad in the suburbs. Because I was just a visitor, never staying longer than a week or ten days at a time, I came away with the fallacious perception that the suburbs were as normal as they looked. I couldn’t know until later that just because they were wrapped in a prepossessing package, what lied beneath the surface could be every bit as disquieting as Redneckville.

There are lots of things about Stepford that are disturbing to me. One of the most troublesome is that Stepford seems to have been sanitized of all things unpleasant. Yes, I am well aware of the irony that I left Redneckville because it was messy and now I’m equally as upset about Stepford’s profoundly ordered society. Except that it’s not exactly devoid of unpleasantness; it just appears that way. In Stepford, it is the pretty young Stepford Wife who is cheating on her successful attorney husband; it’s the PTA moms who are the functioning alcoholics (I believe more wine is consumed at play dates than at the local wine bar); and no one is in need of dental care unless you count being a couple days late for your latest teeth-whitening treatment. No one seems to age in Stepford thanks to breast augmentation, tummy tucks, and Botox. And in Stepford, if you die, you disappear. I’m serious about this—your dead body seems to vanish into thin air. This makes me crazy.

I’m old enough that I’ve known a half dozen people who have died since I’ve lived in Stepford. I have yet to see any of them dead. I’ve actually not ever even been to a funeral. Stepford has sanitized death by a) removing dead bodies to some unknown location, and b) replacing funerals with something called a “Celebration of Life.” This is not what I want to happen when I die. I’ve given my friends and my minister to following list of instructions that are to be followed, to the letter, upon my death.

1. My body is to embalmed and put on display.
My friends, coworkers, and the nosey Stepford Wives who didn’t care for me while I was alive are to be given the opportunity to see me dead. I want my observers to lament to each other how good I look, that whoever fixed my hair got it all wrong, and speculate that it was my mother-in-law who chose my color of lipstick. I want people to touch me so that they know that an embalmed, dead body is hard and cold. I want them to be able to say goodbye.

2. I want people to cry and be sad that I am dead.
I do not want the program at my funeral to say “A Celebration of” anything. No, my funeral is to be a sad occasion. I am dead. You will never see me again. Cry, blow your nose, sob, and if you faint in the aisle on the way to my open casket, I’ll cheer you from heaven. If you really, really, loved me, kiss my body goodbye, then wail loudly without restraint when the casket is closed for the last time. Afterwards, go home and crawl in the bed for the rest of the day. Grieve for me. Under no circumstances are there to be balloons in my favorite color released outside the church. This is for weddings, not funerals.

3. I want a graveside service.
I want people to drive in a long line of cars with their headlights on, behind the hearse carrying my body. If cars in the opposite direction do not pull over to the side of the road as a show of respect, you have my permission to flip them off. If it is cold and rainy, you are not excused from huddling under umbrellas around my casket prior to it being lowered into the ground. Before you leave, take a flower from my over-priced casket-spray, press it between two pieces of wax paper, and then press it in the pages of your Bible near a verse that I liked.

4. I will not spend eternity in a thong.
If you are close enough to me that you are consulted regarding what my body is to be dressed in for all eternity, here are the rules. No thong. I do not care how much you love your thongs. I am not a thong lover. Put me in my old, stained, comfortable big girl panties and move on to what people will see at the funeral home. I also do not want shoes on my feet—warm socks, no shoes. If you can convince my husband and kids to put me in the sweats I sleep in each night, I’m good with that. Otherwise, choose the most comfortable regular clothes you can find in my closet. I do not want to be dressed as if I am going to the office. I’m dead. I should not ever have to wear work clothes again.

5. Sad songs are required.
I want “Amazing Grace” with all its verses sung at my funeral. I wanted this sung at my wedding, but was deprived of the opportunity by my mother. I also want “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Asleep in Jesus,” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” played for me. I know they’re sad songs, and that’s the point.

Death is messy, permanent, and you don’t get a second chance to properly say goodbye to those you’ve lost. Embrace the grief, let it wash over you, and then eventually past you. Even in Stepford, people die. It’s okay.

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