Funeral Pyre

It was because my mother was the only white woman in a church of three hundred Mexican Catholics. And it was because no one was talking to us, even though everyone, except for the dead man and the youngest children, could speak English.

It was because we were three non-Catholics at my Mexican grandfather's roman-catholic funeral—everyone speaking some form of Latin—my father taking communion with his siblings while my sister and mother and I sat in our pew—we watching the ritual as outsiders to a sacred act—which was exactly what we were.

It was because there was a line of pickups outside—to form the procession to the cemetery—where my grandfather would be buried. The dead man lay pale and soft-looking in a box at the front of the room, he resembled my father—but smaller—like a child sized version of my father—a dead child sized version.

If some day you find yourself in this situation, and you are fourteen years old with a newly minted drivers permit pulling at you from your pocket—and you start to think about all the Chevy’s sitting out in the parking lot right now that you could take for a little drive—then you should find some way out of that church.

And later when everyone is mad and they want to know why you left—tell them—IT WAS BECAUSE you thought you had felt the tongue of God in your ear—speaking wetly in a language only you could understand—and that he had led you—with his whispers—to steal your uncles truck.

If some day you are in the parking lot of a Roman-Catholic church in a small town in Arizona—inhabited mostly by Mexican immigrants and you are looking over the rows of vehicles, looking for one that would be easy to take—then—this is how to steal a truck. Or, more accurately, this is how to steal a blue 1983 Chevy pickup belonging to your least favorite uncle. It has a rusted gash running down the length of the passenger side and the divers door is not locked because vehicles are never locked in small towns—and the keys are still in the ignition—because people in small towns leave their keys in their car ignitions—and the passenger half of the truck is filled with food and beer for the gathering of the funeral goers—and its all too good to walk past—and this is how you might steal a funeral banquet.

The truck started with a few hurried shudders—then it evened out and warmed to the already 110-degree air. I drove cautiously by the idling hearse, out past the center of town, away from the dozen churches and three schools of this 4-thousand person community. Out towards the purple snow topped hills—they looking exotic—like nothing in my hometown could be—and me thinking both—isn’t nice to be alone—and wouldn’t it be better to have some beautiful dark haired boy riding next to me, his feet on the dashboard and his hair in his face, his name would be Enrique—because his name is always Enrique or Sergio, and we would drive until we found a river—and then we would go for a swim together—and we might get caught in the undercurrent—and pulled down together to the river bottom where we would fall asleep.

But I was driving alone—along one of those dry channels that we desert dwellers refer to as rivers—though they have no water—the mountains gradually getting taller in front of me and the reality of my family becoming less tangible. And I had decided not to turn back—I would live as long as I could on the three Ice Chests of beer and the seven trays of enchiladas. But the truck—my chariot—my magic carpet—screamed in that universal language of dying automobiles—crying black smoke and green fluid—orange flames licked in tiny, and then bigger spires from under the hood. And I grabbed one of the coolers of beer and three of the pans of enchiladas and I sat on the side of the road watching that truck burn and it occurred to me that it was like a funeral pyre—that it was like a Viking ship filled with food and wine and the body of some dead Viking warrior burning on the open sea. Only it wasn’t a boat—it was a Chevy—it was filled with enchiladas and Budweiser and burning to honor my grandfather—the very brave and very dead warrior who was, in this instant, becoming entombed in the desert.

And I pretended this, on the open road. Building a Stonehenge of empty beer bottles around me and eating enchiladas a handful at a time—my stomach swollen from the remnants of my Mexican heritage and a three-month old pregnancy, and I was in the desert—14 years old and lost—wishing there was water in the river—just deep enough to take a swim.