I’ve always hated high heels. I don’t want to get out of the car because I know that I’ll have to put pressure on my feet again. Driving here was hard enough with three inches of rods attached to them. Whenever I could successfully angle my toes toward the gas petal—my only contact with the floor a plastic 2cm X 2cm pivot point—twenty blunt screwdrivers seemed to wedge their way into my shoe and press ever harder on the pads of my toes and the balls of my feet. I only cried once on the ride, and only for a few minutes. Thankfully I was smart enough to put on water-proof mascara this morning. It’s hard and clumpy, it prevents me from blinking properly, and it isn’t going anywhere.
I have to wear high heels because I’m wearing my mom’s pants because I couldn’t find my grey dress. She hates when I wear her pants and ruin the hem. That was our deal: If ever I wore her pants, I would have to wear high heels to keep the hems nice. I was crying, too, when she got home and found me tearing through her closet. I had allotted just enough time to get dressed and drive to the church, but when I couldn’t find my dress, my schedule was thrown off and I panicked, tears streaming down my face as I ripped apart my mother’s closet. Her bed was littered with grey, black, and pinstripes by the time she got home. She didn’t even yell at me for making a mess, just hugged me and let me shake.
It’s time to get out of the car now. My mouth is hot, but I can still feel cool, minty pieces of grit from my toothpaste between my molars. I take a deep breath and place my feet delicately on the sweltering asphalt. As soon as I step down, the screwdrivers make their attack again. I rise and extend my sore legs for the first time in almost an hour. There’s nobody else in this parking lot. I parked far away from his family and friends because I don’t know any of them and they don’t know me. I wanted to be able to gather my courage in solitude but I can still hear their hushed chatter from dozens of yards away.
My shoes make me stand straighter and I walk quickly towards the front doors. Click click click click and the pants never touch the ground. Between the three-inch heels and my improved posture, I’m a full head taller than most people I walk by. To them, I’m simply a tall friend of his that they’ve never happened to meet before. To me, they’re everything I never knew about him, the life I only ever got a brief glimpse into. I can’t help but think of the hundreds of memories racing through their minds. Maybe I’m trying to insert myself into them.
I’ve almost forgotten about my shoes at this point. I’m used to walking in them now, as I’ve reached the center of the empty lot. The blood supply to my feet has been cut off and they’re beginning to take on a comfortably numb, tingling feeling.
There’s an alarmingly cheerful man holding the door open for me as I walk up to the front of the church. He smiles and thanks me for coming as I pass through the threshold, the air hitting the insides of my nostrils hard. I hadn’t even noticed how sultry and green the outside smelled until I walked into the cold, clean grey of the atrium. The woman handing out the service programs smiles at me too while she hands me a folded piece of paper. She has thousands of goosebumps on her hands and wrists that make thousands of tiny black hairs stand at attention, almost as if the follicles alone harbor all of her grief. I’m much more impressed with her animation than with the doorman’s. At least he isn’t forced to stare at a smiling picture of him with the date of his death written in pretty script underneath.
I walk into a room plastered with pictures. Tables displaying his life are set up in a horseshoe formation with his childhood on the far left and his graduation on the far right. I never knew twenty-two years could fit on six tables.
People are moving among them. Some observe in no particular order; some stand motionless in the center of the horseshoe and take in the panorama; some hang on the arm of a loved one biting their lips and averting their eyes from the photos whenever possible.
I step into the center of the horseshoe and plant my feet. The blood rushes to my ears when I see Goodnight Moon propped up next to his baby picture; twenty-one years left. My stomach lurches and I think I’m going to throw up when I see a photo of him and his mother on his twelfth birthday; ten years left. Tears flood my cheeks when I see pictures of him with that blue-streaked hair I remember so well; five years left. I let out an uncontrollable hiccup and I feel my sinuses swelling and my throat closing up when I look at his graduation photos; only months remaining.
I look around for someone to smile at me, another person to comfort me with an upturned mouth, but there’s no one smiling anymore—only a blurry man saying blurry words that go along with a blurry gesture. I wiggle my toes in a futile attempt to return feeling to them and turn inside the chapel with the strangers. The service is about to start.