The enveloping comfort of the chair pulled at my eyelids and I slipped imperceptibly into sleep’s embrace. A moment later, I woke and looked around nervously. Why am I so tired, I thought. Wait, I know the answer to that. I’m tired because I didn’t sleep last night. Wait. That’s weird, I usually sleep during the week. Okay, there must be a good reason. I just have to think of it. Oh, right, I stayed up all night because I needed to finish the memorial sideshow. But now that that’s settled, I’m suddenly more concerned with a different question. Where am I and who are all these people?
I scanned the room. I saw Chrisie and two of her sisters talking together. Her mom was nearby talking with someone else I knew and her dad was off in a corner talking with people I didn’t know. I took in my surrounds, strangely familiar even though I was certain this was the first time I had been wherever it was. Slowly I remembered. I was in Pulaski, Tennessee and all these people had come to the visitation for Chrisie’s paternal grandfather.
Interspersed with all the people I recognized were several I had never met. Someone from Chrisie’s family introduced most of them, but their names, and even their faces, have long slipped out to sea and vanished over the horizon of my memory. There was one individual, however, I will never forget.
I met him not long after I stood up to shake off the drowsiness. I noticed him the moment he entered, mainly because people like him don’t really exist. They usually only show up in movies or late night comedy sketches. He wore jeans and a half tucked red checked flannel shirt. Slightly unkempt hair peeked out from under a grimy ball cap which he hastily removed. He rubbed the stubble on his face for a moment and went over to talk to Chrisie’s grandmother.
Never quite losing track of him (for he drew the eye in a room of uniformity), I stayed in my chair. Eventually, he wandered over to chat with Chrisie and her sisters. I quickly joined them as well. He said his name, but I named him Character (though Charactature would have worked equally as well).
“My, you girls sure have grown up!” Character said in a tone that was almost, but not quite, completely lecherous, “How old are you girls now?”
They eyed each other nervously.He stared, slightly out of focus, at Chrisie’s youngest sister for a moment. I moved to stand between them and “the girls” excused themselves. Character slung his arm across my shoulders and pulled me in for a conspiratorial stage whisper.
“They sure got pretty,” he said. The pungent aroma of sour alcohol washed over me as he began kneading my shoulder with his hand for some reason.
“Well, yeah,” I said, “My wife, and her married sister are rather attractive.”
“So’s the other one.”
“She has name,” I said quietly.
“Well, I know one thing,” he said. I very much doubted it. “This is a helluva place to meet people. Just a helluva place? You know what I mean?”
“Uh, not really.”
“It’s a good place to meet people, yeah? Helluva place. What do you think?”
“I think we’ve passed the threshold of how long a dude should be touching another dude,” I said as I bent to to extracate myself from his spontaneous shoulder massage.
“Whoa, buddy, we’re just talking here!” I assume he meant shouting, but that’s just me.
He circled in and out of conversations. Most were subtly emabrassed for him. Every now and then we’d cross paths again and he’d remind me, “It’s a helluva place, buddy. Helluva place.”
I expected a big scene of some commotion to follow him. I expected something to happen, but it didn’t. He eventually slipped out with little fanfare and we were left with the laughter and tears of remembrance.
Sometimes I almost wish he had made a big scene. Almost. It would have made for a great story, but it would have detracted from the shared stories of the life we came to celebrate and mourn. Still it made an amusing story worth telling even while much smaller and quieter than it could have been. As a true story, it was enough.