it's never as good when i tell it as when you do, debo tells me the other day, recounting the story that ultimately led to her recent demand that it was my responsibility to pick up the fallen gauntlet as the family scribe.
(a demand that has obviously had its intended effect so hello debo's birthday present!)
k.smartt was in town a few weeks ago and, during our dinner date, i regaled her with vintage tales of my family's ongoing ridiculousness.
the story of the one time vieve crawled into the box springs of the hotel mattress and i had to rip it open to free her.
the story of the one time vieve shat in the car and debo, attempting to collect the shit, instead threw it on the floor beneath the heater, instantly cooking the poo and filling the car with the most offensive smell to have ever been produced in the history of the world, a smell she and i then inhaled for TWENTY-FOUR MILES while we awaited the next rest stop because debo thought it inappropriate to throw cooked cat shit out the window onto the highway lest it hit the windshield of a car behind us and lead to the driver's fiery death.
the story of the one time debo and my aunt crashed a french funeral.
i had to consult debo on this one because i'd forgotten claude pascale's name, which is a rather essential component of the story of the funeral of claude pascale.
it's never as good when i tell it as when you do, debo complains, and she isn't wrong. it doesn't work when she tells it because she was there. when someone recounts to you how they crashed a funeral, it's irreverent, disrespectful. when someone recounts to you how their mother crashed a funeral in a foreign country, it is awesome.
my telling of the story of the funeral of claude pascale works precisely and only because i was not at the funeral of claude pascale.
which, well, THANK GOD, because ain't no way my emotionally incontinent face or my uncontrollable giggles or any part of my being would have survived this experience with a tatter of dignity still attached.
we'd been in paris a week. this was in 2009, the trip after that awful break-up, where i wandered melancholically around cemeteries and was all woe is me, staring moodily out train windows thinking no one could comprehend my pain, and was suddenly aware of temporality in a new way that prompted me to, at every available opportunity, dramatically remind everyone, IT WILL NEVER BE EXACTLY LIKE THIS AGAIN!
so, in other words, i was a treat. added to my plentiful post-breakup charms, this was also the trip during which i came down with a horrible cold and was a snot monster for the last three days, trooping all over versailles hopped up on french decongestants.
debo, of course, caught the same cold upon our return and took to her bed for a week, and so whenever she tells the story of this trip, she always shakes her head in wonder and says, you were such a trooper with those french drugs. (given, on our next trip, her french facilitated the purchase of conditioner rather than shampoo, i have reason to wonder what exactly the french drugs i took were actually for.)
anyway, it was our last day in paris and i stayed in the hotel, blowing my nose and watching the news to see if chicago was going to get the 2016 olympic games (spoiler alert: no). meanwhile, aunt p and debo wandered the streets and alleys of montparnasse.
in my memory, when debo returned, hours later, she was unusually subdued. but it may be that i'm projecting this knowing what came next. maybe she said something to me, maybe not. either way, she lay on the bed, her eyes shut, for at least twenty minutes.
and then, breaking the silence, she said, so we kind of crashed a funeral.
this entire trip we'd been in the habit of going into churches and sitting down for a few minutes if there were a service on at the time. so it wasn't out of character for debo and her sister to have done this. the difference here being that it was rather a larger crowd than would be the norm for a service occurring at mid-day.
evidently, they assumed it was a military service. which, in a way, it was.
as she recounted it, they sat there for awhile. her sister on the outside, debo on the inside, as various people took to the lectern, nearly all of them gesturing towards something in the center of the aisle.
i do not know at what point they realized this was a casket.
perhaps it was when my aunt leaned ever so slightly out to her left.
perhaps it was when one of the speakers repeatedly used the phrase mon père and confessed that he was désolé.
but there came a moment when it dawned on them both where they were. that this was neither a standard mass nor a military service. it was the funeral of claude pascale.
we could not bear to look at one another, debo told me, as she lay there on the bed. her demeanor: calm, serene, the bearing of someone in shock from a breach of etiquette felt to be awful, unrecoverable and hilarifyingly profound.
i do not know how they extracted themselves from this situation. if, with the telepathy of sisterhood, they rose as one to exit. or if it was discussed, with a strict refusal to make eye contact. but leave they did. together.
and there was this guy coming in, she told me, the timbre of her voice changing ever so slightly to indicate that what she was about to say carried a significance different from all that came before. there was this guy coming in, she repeated, as we were leaving and he had one of those suitcases with the wheels. and we held the door open for him as he went in.
i had been sitting on the other side of the room, silent this whole time. snotty and drugged and mesmerized by this awkwardness my incredibly well-mannered mother had gotten herself into in my absence.
you let him go in?! i exclaimed, because of all that she had told me, this struck me as the most awful thing. you let a man with luggage go into a funeral?
and she looked at me, for the first time in the telling of this story, she looked at me, and her expression was that of rose dewitt bukater after she shoved jack dawson off that raft, as she said, you don't understand. we had to save ourselves.