August, Again.

A month of recurring nightmares.

Elizabeth Grey

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Image of Afghan child courtesy of Shutterstock.com

If an existential void is a month, it is August.

I notice I am holding my breath. I don’t understand why I feel so jammed up, until I realize that all the Augusts are converging on me at once. I am having a hard time separating current events from memory.

Some of these memories are playing out again in real time. I am disoriented.

One moment it’s early August of 2009. A friend I’ve worked with dies. He leaves his affairs in complete disarray. I wind up making the arrangements for his body.

The process goes on for almost two weeks. I keep asking myself how it is possible that I am doing something so intimate for someone I don’t know that well. The loneliness of his situation floors me.

On the day he is cremated, I put on my black Betsey Johnson dress with the embroidered flowers. I want to doll myself up for him. I slip on hot pink heels. I pick a posy of flowers from my back yard; Rose of Sharon is in bloom.

I go to the funeral home and sit alone with his body. He isn’t religious, so I read him some Shakespeare. I choose a passage from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

We know each other from smoke breaks taken during the rehearsals of plays. I am an actor. He does the lights. As I start to leave, I remember that I forgot to put a cigarette in his coffin. I run back to the funeral director with my request, and hand him a Marlboro.

You don’t want to be stranded in the afterlife without a smoke.

I drive to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. It is a beautiful place. The man who works there tells me it is where Miles Davis is interred, and that makes me glad.

I walk with him to the crematorium itself. He explains the process to me. I press the button that lights the fire as the body of my friend enters the furnace. The door shuts.

I ask when his ashes will be ready. He tells me I can pick them up at the funeral home at a later date, but I am adamant. I don’t want to lose custody of them. I feel hyper-responsible to get this right.

He tells me it will be about four hours.

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