at a singular funeral

January 27, 2016

www baby was a green wool mini-dress with a zip down the front and a big ring on the tab of the zipper, the kind of ring just begging to be pulled down (hello boys). All in all what you’d call a flirty little number and as such completely inappropriate for the occasion, which happened to be the burial of our stillborn daughter. I wore it to please my husband. It was his favourite dress and, having failed to give him a viable baby, I figured the least I could do was get through the day in something he liked.

That tells you something about my logic at the time.

I kept making small, precise decisions that struck me as useful and sound and that of course turned out to be extremely goofy. For example, my parents flew over from America for the funeral and my husband’s parents came down from Scotland, four large, not very young people and I decided the best way of getting to the cemetery was to cram all six of us into our compact car. My father and my husband’s father book-ended my mother-in-law on the back seat, the men’s knees jammed up around their ears. I rode shotgun, perched on my mother’s lap with the baby in her shoebox-sized casket perched on my lap. Despite the obvious clown car implications I persisted in thinking this was a sensible idea, the most efficient means of resolving the day’s transportation issues.

In retrospect (this happened a while back) it’s obvious to see why my logic was so specious, by which I mean borderline bonkers. I was operating on intellectual idle. Consciously or not, I’d switched off part of my brain, the part whose job it was to retain and process key information: information such as the baby on my lap, the hole that awaited her, the mound of dirt that would cover her. The fact I now owned a cemetery plot, not a piece of real estate I’d planned to add to my portfolio. None of this data was digestible. So I shut it out. I brain blanked it.

Brain blanking works. It does the job. Sometimes too well, a side effect I was reminded of not long ago ago when I forgot – actually forgot – to brake the car at a busy intersection. I ended up in the middle of the highway with cars swerving to avoid me, their tires screeching. I rested my head on the steering wheel (the car had conked out so I had time for reflection) and I thought: Brain blank. I hadn’t realized I was there again, in shut-down mode, but it made sense; I’m in the middle of a divorce and there’s a lot of unpalatable information I’d prefer to ignore.

The thing is, I thought I was handling this marital split, acing the paperwork, dodging the emotional shrapnel, avoiding the divorce bore scenario at parties. But the truth is insofar as I’ve been handling it, it’s been through the means of managed idiocy. And there are consequences. Like leaving my wallet under the desk at my office, which I did last month. (Luckily the office cleaners are extremely honest as well as a tad lazy so the wallet was still there when I returned.) Or the night, not long ago, when I removed a hot roasting pan from the oven and realized I’d forgotten to put on oven mitts. My friend Martyn, who tended to my third-degree burns, said it was a real Ross Geller moment, exactly like the Friends episode involving bare hands and a pot of hot fajitas. I’d forgotten about that aspect of brain blanking; forgotten the fact of forgetting — to brake at an intersection, to check your bag for your wallet, to protect your hands before coming to grips, literally to grips, with a pan full of boiling goose fat.

What I was wearing at my most recent dinner party … was salve and a microbial cellulose wrap.