Have you ever seen a dead body?
Can you share the first time you saw a dead body?
I must have been three or four when I saw my first corpse.
The mother of the neighbor that used to babysit me died.
I didn’t understand what it meant to be dead, so when I was shoved into the car by my mother to “visit her” at the local chapel, I had no idea the woman I used to see everyday would not be there to greet me in her arms.
The chapel was dark as I walked down aisle carpeted in red shag.
In the center of the chapel, bathed in a pink pool of light from above, was a shining, silver, casket. A few strangers were milling around her.
I was too small to see into the open casket, so a footstool was provided for the stepping.
As I stood on the stool, I sensed every eye trained on me — as if they were seeking the visceral thrill of watching the reaction of a child’s first corpse viewing.
As I locked eyes with each eye eyeing me, I vowed my reaction would be: No reaction.
I turned my head down to see her there below me — surrounded by white satin and lace — her twisted, arthritic, fingers, awkwardly clutching a rosary placed on her chest.
My gaze turned up to her face — totally unrecognizable and waxen like a five-and-ten baby doll — her lips were glued together in an uncharacteristic, bright red, pursing. Her hair was an unwound salt-and-pepper tangle of what used to be a single, hallmark, braid.
I didn’t know this stranger before me. I didn’t understand why I was there. I was dead inside.
“Go ahead and kiss her, Davey,” someone said. “Give her a kiss good-bye.”
I froze for a second realizing there was no way I was going to kiss a life-size body of wax.
I jumped off the stool and started walking alone back up the aisle into the darkness as every eye still followed me — still lurking there, unblinking with expectation and wet with secret delight — still there in the pink light of the night searching for, hoping for, a single tear, or a momentary outcry, that was to never be forgiven or overcome.