by Angela Larks
Looking out of the window, you would think that it was an Indian-summer kind of day. The sun is high and bright, and there is not a cloud in the sky. However, it’s not warm on this beautiful mid-October day, but cold and brisk. I’m standing at the ironing board contemplating my strategy for this brand new, wrinkle-filled, white dress shirt. It came folded and packaged in cardboard and plastic. I would like to take it to the cleaners to be lightly starched and pressed, but due to time constraints, this is not an option. I will tackle this myself.
I take my time assuring that every wrinkle is flattened out, listening to the steady whooshing sound of the smoking hot steam shooting out from the bottom of the iron, and the creaking coming from an ironing board in need of a good oiling. I iron one sleeve then hold it up for inspection before moving on to the next. Unfolding the collar, I flatten it out on the board with my hands, ironing in a similar way. Now that the collar is done, I flip the white shirt back over to the front side. To me this is the most complicated— the evenly spaced, iridescent buttons are staring at me. I continue in slow, meticulous motions until the shirt is completed. The whooshing and creaking have stopped.
I’m standing in the middle room, the one that I shared with him, and I’m going over my mental checklist: suit, shirt, tie, t-shirt, briefs, socks, and shoes. Everything is checked off. I had to buy a three pack of t-shirts and a three pack of briefs, even though I only need one of each. Everything is new, even the brown suede loafers. I bought them at Strega’s downtown, on 15th and Walnut.
I take the hot white shirt off of the ironing board. Before placing it on the hanger, an overwhelming urge comes over me. I carefully slip the white shirt on over my clothes. I wrap my arms around myself, you know, like when kids tease someone about being boyfriend and girlfriend. I hug myself tightly.
I am in this room alone, but not alone in the house. It seems to be draped in a soothing warmth. A yellow glow surrounds me. It’s like being inside of a warm bubble. I can hear voices coming from another part of the house, but they are muted and seem far away. I feel suspended between the physical world and the spiritual world, but I’m not afraid. It does not feel scary, but welcoming and protective. At this very moment, I am alone with my thoughts, untouchable, not able to be disturbed. I hold back tears as I smell the shirt and cuddle it. This task will be the last one that I will ever have to do for him. I sigh and shake off the sadness, determined to keep my private moments private.
I stop squeezing myself, and check the shirt again for wrinkles. Seeing none, I gently arrange the shirt on the hanger. My hug, this final hug, will follow him into eternity. My embrace will carry him to the other side, holding him as I say my last goodbye.
Tomorrow is the funeral, and the director will be by shortly to pick up his clothes. I’ve never had to prepare anyone for burial. When it dawned on me that I would have to gather his outfit, I had momentary paralysis. It was like a jolt to my system, an electrical shock. I couldn’t move or think. You never consider the story behind someone’s funeral outfit. We’re born uncovered but die clothed in an outfit that someone else decides upon.
Given a choice, what would you want to be buried in? I want to be buried in something comfortable: sweatpants, a sweatshirt, socks, and sneakers. Or, maybe cotton pajamas and a robe, with a pair of Dearfoam ballerina slippers. My feet must be covered, because I don’t like my feet being cold. As if it would matter. In death my feet should be cold, right? I definitely don’t want to be going on to glory in a bra, stockings and pumps, so wearing a dress is out. I digress, but never in a million years would I have thought, at the age of 30, that I would be standing here preparing the final wardrobe for my husband. A car accident, with no chance to say goodbye. “No tears. No tears,” I repeat to myself, but one escapes anyway.
Deep breath in, hold it, deep breath out. I have to stay focused!
I’d better go check on my girls.
Angela Larks is a non-traditional senior communications major. Originally from Philadelphia, but currently living in Harrisburg, she enjoys reading and is a member of a local book club. She feels a sense of accomplishment in being published in From the Fallout Shelter and The Burg, both allowing her to explore creative outlets.