Abigail Rasminsky | Longreads | May 2019 | 17 minutes (4,208 words)
It’s a long plane ride, so I puke in midair, grunting and coughing up the last remnants of breakfast. My mother holds the paper bag open for me, an encouraging look on her face. When I am done, she closes it up, wipes my face with a tissue from her purse, and carries the slosh to the bathroom. Down the row, a bald man in a suit looks away in disgust.
I am 10, it is May, 1988, and we are on our way to my grandfather’s funeral in Los Angeles. In the locker room at school the day before leaving, in the loudest fourth grade voice she could muster, my friend Laura announced that it was my fault that he had died. I suspect this can’t really be possible — I live in Montreal, which is in a different country, after all — but it still worries me. On the plane, lying my head across my mother’s lap, I tell her about Laura and the locker room. She glares down at me from behind the thick frames of her oversized oval glasses, then looks up and starts fiddling with the tray table. “Sweetheart,” she says. “I think it’s time for some new friends.”
My grandfather is being cremated, and I am spellbound by the word — I have learned its meaning especially for the occasion, and let it cycle through my mouth over and over again, the “eemmm” sound turning into a hum at the back of my throat. Last night, my mother explained that a lot of people didn’t like the idea of being put in a coffin and buried in the earth. Instead, she said, some preferred to be cremated, which turned out to be a fancy word for being burned into ashes. But the word seems slightly suspicious: too lovely to mean something so violent.
In bed the night before, I wondered where we’d visit Grandpa if he wasn’t lying in a cemetery next to Grandma — the two headstones side by side, their bones resting together underneath. “Cremation” made it sound like he would just disappear.
We arrive in L.A. in the afternoon. It is bright everywhere. Since I still feel a bit like throwing up again, the warm breeze feels good on my body. As we wait at an outdoor baggage claim, my mother yanks my long, thick hair into a tight ponytail, the tip tickling my spine. A little yellow stain, evidence of the unsettling flight, has dried on my pink-and-white striped T-shirt.
Even though she has a bad back, my mother drags our big beige bag off the carousel by herself, her red sundress riding up the back of her thighs. Once she takes hold of the handle, she yells for people to get out of the way, then drops it, the tiny wheels crashing to the cement. I stand a bit away, wishing Dad were here.
The four of us usually rent a car when we come to visit Grandpa in L.A., but since my father and older sister will arrive later in the week, we take a cab, my mother talking in a feverishly speedy tone all along the freeway. Once in the city, I roll down my window, and the familiar smell of L.A. — a cocktail of palm trees and dry grass — calms my stomach.