Here, LOSERS. Hoping to get the next podcast up before Christmas, where I will be spending a week with my kids and family up in Alaska while you all beat your teenage common-law wives/stepdaughters in your trailers and smoke meth and crap in buckets. Merry Christmas!
THE GIRL WITH THE BIG ASS
A scorpion trapped inside a jar chooses to sting itself to death to escape intolerable pain.
Her name was [K], and she was to be my new co-worker at the funeral home. She was described as being similar to me in height and build; a former Marine who recently returned from Iraq and who had not yet attended mortuary school. She knew she wanted to be a funeral director, walked in off the street and asked for a job, and was hired on the spot. She was from [the South], yet knew she wanted to live in Portland, Oregon, so she drove herself all the way here. She planned out everything she wanted to do in life, and at age 23, had accomplished all she had so far said she would. This was one of the things I would come to admire about her. While others talked about all the things they would do or buy or see one day, K did everything of which she spoke. With her, there were no pipe dreams or meaningless wishes – there was only action.
She was actually a bit shorter than I, which made her quite short, and as for being of similar build…I don’t know about that. The first thing you noticed about her was the giant ass. I was offended that someone thought my ass was that big. Whenever people asked about her, they always referred to her as “the girl with the really big ass.” Her butt looked abnormally out-of-place, as though it really belonged on another body.
We became instant friends, and she would be one of the few women I would ever befriend. One day she was to speak at a Veterans’ Day parade for our funeral home, and she was getting ready in her dress uniform and was hurriedly gelling her hair back. She asked if I could “shellac it to [her] head” and I asked, “Isn’t it ok already?” She said, “Not in the Marine Corps!” It all had to be off her face and off her collar, so I squeezed a handful of gel into my hands and smeared it through her hair.
My [white doofus] boyfriend at the time, hearing this, was surprised. “You touched a woman?! You must really like her.” He knew of my hatred, fear and mistrust of all females. But she was different, and I never really knew why. We never asked questions. We didn’t have to.
I knew that she had been engaged to her high school sweetheart, and she would explain matter-of-factly that he had died by suicide shortly after they had both enlisted. He shot himself out in the desert. As funeral directors we knew the bureaucratic nightmares that active duty military deaths presented, as well as the additional factors complicated by the fact that K was not his legally married spouse. They had been engaged since high school, and she was now reduced to “just his girlfriend” as his family fought over everything.
She often spoke of her high school years, and what would surprise me is her recollection of her own body. She described herself numerous times as “skinny” or “too small” or “undersized.” Her Myspace profile even listed her body type as “slim/slender” and according to her driver’s license, she weighed 100 pounds. There was just no way. That ass…
Eventually, we would become roommates, and she got fatter and fatter. Her lower back bulged out over her jeans. Her face and neck grew as well. She was an avid reader, even more so than I. She owned several large bookshelves – real furniture, the kind you order and have delivered and the delivery guys set it up in your room, not the kind you buy in a store and assemble yourself with the Allen wrench. Since she was so short, she also owned a ladder that was especially for the bookshelves. I thought that was the neatest thing ever.
One day when she wasn’t home, I wanted to get a book from the top shelf, but she had the ladder in her room. I grabbed something else to step on, an ottoman with a zippered top. Why a zipper? Curiosity took over and I unzipped it. The ottoman was hollow, and contained only a photo album.
Looking through old photos is a favorite pastime of mine. I can look over my own albums for hours, and if I know you and like you and find you interesting, I want to see all your old photos too. I want to see your parents when they were young, your baby pictures, your first grade play, your high school track team picture, your pets and your weird haircut. K was my best friend. I wanted to see her album.
It was a scrapbook of pictures of her and her late high school sweetheart. The first picture looked like a prom picture, she in a red spaghetti-strap dress, and I really don’t remember what he looked like. Just a teenage boy at a high school dance…but I immediately noticed just how thin she really had been. I could see why it was hard for her to see that this was not her body anymore.
I looked through more of the pages and saw bony shoulders and elbows, flat hips and stomach, and no ass whatsoever. Just a small, cute skinny kid. Lots of pictures of her with her boyfriend, drinking beers, playing video games, hanging out at school just being kids. Then of the two of them in the Marines…in fatigues, and in dress uniforms.
Then a newspaper article about his death. I read it, and it mentioned he died of “friendly fire,” a gunshot to the abdomen.
Friendly fire? K had been saying for over a year that he killed himself.
Did he kill himself by shooting himself in the stomach? Not likely. People shoot themselves in the head – through the temples, with the gun in the mouth, or just under the chin.
I have seen several who have shot themselves in the center of the chest. Perhaps this is symbolic of a broken heart, or maybe they were just afraid if they shot themselves in the head, they might survive in a brain-dead state. But no one shoots himself in the stomach.
It’s not as common today for doctors or others to falsely list the cause of death as an accident when it was really a suicide. But even if that’s what was going on here, why would the newspaper be unusually specific and state the bullet wound was in the stomach?
I never asked. This was her sorrow, and it was hers to discuss as she wished. I asked her what his name was, what he looked like and when he died, I asked about his funeral services and if she was still in contact with his family, but I never asked anything about the specifics of his death.
Where I work, we have a contract wherein we provide all mortuary services to active duty military personnel. I was told that they would almost all be suicides. I asked why being in the military is so bad, and some co-workers explained some things to me, things I would never have understood, having never been in the military. I get it now.
There is one simple answer to an often-asked question: “Why did he kill himself?” Because he didn’t want to live. He evaluated his life and made the decision he thought was best. It may not be the one you would have made in the same situation, but it was never yours to make, and after weighing the alternatives, he decided it was the choice for him.
When I have finished the prep work on one of these people, military officers then come in and inspect everything I have done – the condition of the body, the appearance of the incisions, the facial features. Then they advise me as to when I can take the next step, which usually includes restorative work on the face if he has shot himself in the head. “Next time,” the officer told me, “you can start the wax work [technique to conceal bullet wounds] before we get here; that’ll save you some time on the next one.”
Next time. The next one. They know there will be another…and another…and another.
It is never up to anyone other than the individual if he should have made another choice. What if he or she had children? Aren’t they reason enough to force yourself to go on? No. They are not. A child is its own person with its own life and does not exist in order to provide you with something to cling to. And, once a person has overridden their own survival instinct, they are not likely to be influenced by guilt. You can call them selfish all you want; deride them for being “bad parents” who don’t care…it never works if they are truly determined to die.
In mortuary school we were told, “Ask not of what the subject died, but rather, what conditions exist.” It was a reminder to us, as professionals, to temporarily disconnect ourselves from any emotion surrounding the death so that we could do our jobs. This is no longer a baby who fought meningitis and then died after doctors frantically worked on him for thirteen hours; the dashed hope of a young couple who was joyous over the birth of a son after having three daughters. This is not the teenage boy who was found dead in his room by his father after the two of them had a fight. We have an infant case and an adult-sized case. An intact body. An autopsied body. A restoration. It matters very little how they died.
One man took me three days to finish. It was a shotgun in the mouth, found by his wife and daughter. My supervisor chided me for “wasting all that time on a suicide.” He didn’t see the point in spending three days on someone who chose to take his own life and made it so I had to work on a weekend. I felt differently; that perhaps his family deserved a last goodbye with him looking the way they remembered him and not the way they found him. But to many, a person who has chosen suicide evokes such strong feelings of scorn and derision that they will take their feelings out on the deceased body.
Other co-workers voiced surprise over a young woman’s suicide because she was pretty. Are we supposed to believe pretty people never feel intolerable pain?
And the eighty-two-year-old man; small caliber handgun through the temples. Everyone wondered why. Most likely he realized it wasn’t going to get much better from here. I got it. Why did no one else?
K and I eventually lost touch. I’ll never know if [he] was like one of these people I will most certainly see again, one who just didn’t want to go back and saw no other way out, or if he really did die the way the paper said he did and K had felt some need to lie about it. I’ll just have to add this to the growing list of what I will never have answered, and I know I was never meant to know.