Poetry & Prose

Sitting in the Pew

Art by Cheech
Content Warning: This piece contains reference to suicide 

One day in late April, after I turned seven years old, my parents woke me up, pulled a black dress over me, and hurried me into the car in which they then drove two hours south to the coast of Delaware. 

The road that wove across the state lines was green and lined with bright, round trees. The light from the early morning was coming in the window like freshly squeezed nectar, but the silence in the car made it feel airless and damp. I tried to entertain myself by reaching over the passenger seat to grip my mother’s shoulders, but she paid no mind. I began to hum, but my father, who was driving, asked that I quiet down, so I shrugged and leaned against the window, watching the trees pass us.

We were driving to a church. We were not a family of faith, but my mother’s best friend from college had just died, so we were making the pilgrimage. Her friend, who lived out in the trimmed suburbs of Delaware in a big green house with a husband and two little boys; who loved another man who didn’t love her; and who flew home, to Hong Kong, to jump out of a window. My mother had mumbled it in the car to my father, her head reclined against the seat as she gazed outwards towards the green and endless road. I could see her face in the reflection of the glass, and it seemed like she was not quite looking at anything at all. Her divulgence was seemingly by accident, because when I asked more about it, my voice coming over from the backseat, I saw my mother’s head lift in sudden and acute clarity, as though she was rising from a slumber, and she said nothing else. I sat the rest of the car ride in silence and thought about how someone without wings could jump out the window. It all just seemed so silly.

When we arrived at the church, my father took hold of my wrist and brought me into the pew to sit. As we passed the lobby, people dressed in black were clumped together and murmuring, and it smelled like dust and soap. There was a portrait of my mother’s friend, encased in a gilded frame, leaning on an A-frame. When we hurried past, I saw that she was smiling in it. 

The porous wood let out a squeal when we sat down. Above, the ceiling was high and cavernous, and to the right, there was a stained glass window of the Virgin Mary in blue. As I sat there in the pew, my legs dangling over the edge of the bench, I looked over the shoulder of the couple in front of us and saw the two sons, aged six and nine, sitting in the very first row. Their backs were slouched and their mouths were hanging, eyes wandering like they were tourists, and I was thinking about their mother flinging herself out the window and falling. 

My own mother stood up and went to the podium to speak. The paper in her hand was quivering as she read while the other hand wiped against her nose until it turned bright red. She was stuttering. My father was sitting next to me, his face turned upwards, the light coming in from the window making the wetness on his cheeks shine blue, and when I tugged at his shirt, he wouldn’t look at me. I could hear crying. I glanced around and saw the aimless staring of men and women in black, lost in the blue fog. I felt my cheek grow warm as the light was coming in. I don’t remember the rest. I was looking at the two sons, sitting in the front, and all I could see was their mother falling, falling, falling.