There’s no sin more unforgivable than playing God; and when you face your day of reckoning, even the angels will shed a tear as you approach your maker with your head hanging low, and God himself will shake his head as he damns you to the fiery pits for your soul to linger for eternity.
Everything felt distant to Max as she sat in the room, surrounded by family. Her uncle was a preacher, and he had offered to lead the services. He stood behind the podium, reading scriptures from his old, worn Bible. When Max finally forced her eyes to stop gazing at the tan carpet, she skimmed her surroundings as the faint sound of sobs echoed through her eardrums.
She sat in the back row with her dad at her side. Funerals never were something she enjoyed, and the idea of being too close to a corpse mortified her. Fixing eyes on her cousin, who was hunched over in the front row as tears poured from his face, she thought to herself: he barely knew her. Why’s he so sad? He did know her, though. She’d taken care of him, her sister’s son, when he’d been in a terrible accident and her sister had to go back to work. Max’s heart trembled as she thought of how her cousin must feel with the loss of his aunt.
I’m so sorry, Ben.
“You okay, baby?” Max’s dad asked, rubbing her back.
“I’m fine, dad.”
I don’t feel anything. I can’t feel anything.
Max sat in her chair, emotionless and void, as her closest family members mourned the untimely death of their loved one. She spotted Whitney, the fourteen-year-old whose mother had just passed. She was whimpering, unable to catch her breath. Whitney loved her mother, but Max felt she was the cause of it all. She thought of the letter Whitney had written to her friend.
“My mom’s coming to visit this week. I don’t want to see her. I fucking hate her. I wish she wasn’t coming.” That was when her aunt had told Jane she wasn’t welcome in their home, and it had ripped her to shreds.
Whitney had an abhorrent upbringing. She’d been relocated from state to state, left alone in the middle of the night while her mother hit up the local bars looking for her next fix, and sent to live with her uncle in the wake of her mother’s arrest. Of course, she was angry.
Fuck, Whitney. She was your mom. You’re so fucking selfish.
Max’s thoughts drifted from Whitney to a fond memory she’d shared with Jane. They’d laughed as Max rewound the tape in the karaoke machine. They’d been rehearsing to sing a piece for church, and Max was amused that Jane had forgotten to put her teeth in. Jane was only thirty-eight years old, but she’d been cursed with bad oral genes.
“Shut up!” Jane had hollered, covering her empty mouth with her hands. “You’re an ass.”
Max couldn’t help the laughter that ejaculated from her mouth. “Sorry. It’s funny. You ain’t got no teeth.”
Max’s attention was diverted by Whitney, who was shaking her shoulder.
“Max,” Whitney said, with puffy, tear-filled eyes. “Will you go see her with me?”
“No. I can’t.”
“Whitney. I love you, but I just can’t.” Max had struggled for the entirety of her life with a phobia of death.
I just can’t see her like that.
An aunt walked over to Whitney, embracing her in a hug. “I’ll go with you, sweetie.”
It wasn’t the same for Whitney. She wanted Max to share that moment with her, but she went with her aunt, and they both shed their tears as they approached the coffin, wrapped in each other’s arms.
Max watched as Whitney fell to her knees, unable to cope with the demise of her mother. She thought about how Whitney had found out.
“She’s dead,” Max had said, not realizing the impact it would cause. Whitney had stared at her with curious brown eyes and disbelief written on her face.
Shit. I could have been a little gentler with that.
“Your mom,” Max said, “She’s dead.”
Whitney didn’t move when the tears started free-flowing. “What?”
Max embraced Whitney in a hug. Her body was weak after receiving that phone call, but she felt horrible for the fourteen-year-old girl who had just lost her mother.
Her numb mind took her back to what she hadn’t known would be the last time she’d see Jane. Jane had gotten out of the car with her twelve-pack of Dr. Pepper in hand, and she had a regretful look about her face. “Sorry, Max,” she mumbled. “I love you.”
“Whatever,” Max answered as she scowled and put her car in reverse.
I just didn’t know. I should have fucking said I love you. I love you. I love you!
Her hands trembled as anger sparked in her soul.
How could you do this? You’re so fucking weak. Can you see everyone? They’re hurting because of you! Look at your daughter! Do you see her crying for her mom?
The worst pain she’d ever felt took over Max’s body as she watched the heart-wrenching emotions pour out of her grandpa.
Look at your dad, crying for his baby girl! Fuck you! He did everything for you!
She thought back to the phone call she’d gotten and the fourteen-hour drive home from Florida. She’d rested her head in her grandmother’s lap in the back seat. She’d tried to sleep, but she couldn’t. She’d seen the reflection of her grandpa in the rear-view mirror. He cried the entire drive home.
When they’d gotten home, and her uncle wrapped his arms around her grandpa, his words pierced her heart. “It hurts so bad,” he’d said. Max walked past her congregating family and into her bathroom, without uttering a word to anyone. As she stood in the shower, letting the hot water beat down on her face, her pain erupted, flowing down the drain with the water. It was the first time she’d cried.
“Okay, everyone,” Max’s uncle said, once again interrupting her train of thought. “We’re going to sing a tribute to Jane as you to continue to come tell her goodbye.”
Max looked around as two of her cousins joined her uncle at the side of the casket. She’d been numb. It didn’t feel real. It couldn’t be real.
“I Can Only Imagine” was one of her favorite songs. When her cousins started belting out the heartfelt melody, the emotions hit her like a wrecking ball, knocking her breath away. She couldn’t think. Her dad rubbed her back as she leaned over, grasping for air through her sobs. She looked to the front of the room, at the open casket, and fixed her eyes on the photo of Jane that was displayed next to her lifeless body.
I love you! Why’d you do this?! I love you! Whitney loves you! We all love you! Come back. Please come back.
Max covered her tear-streaked face as the song ended and her family began walking out of the room. Her dad stood from his seat, so her aunt could sit down next to her.
“You okay, honey? Do you want me to go with you to tell her goodbye?”
“I’m fine. Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
That afternoon, as Max locked herself in her bedroom, away from her mourning family, she picked up a note she’d written the day before.
How could you do this? What was so bad that you couldn’t stay here with us? How did you become so selfish? We all loved you. We loved you when you showed up to Thanksgiving fucked up on pills. We loved you while you were in jail, each time. We loved you even when you didn’t love yourself. We loved you, and you hurt us.
You made my grandpa cry. That man, that selfless man, my hero. He saved my life by taking me from you.
You robbed me of my hope. Grandma tells me that when I was little, I would ask God to give you a car, so you could come see me, but you never came to see me. Now, you’ll never again come to see me.
They said your death was an accidental overdose. Is that what happened? You accidentally swallowed an entire bottle of pills? I’ll let the family say it was an accident for their peace of mind, but you and I both know better. You’re so fucking selfish.
You were just getting your life together. We were just getting to know one another. What’s Whitney going to do without her mother? You didn’t think about that, did you? I never needed you, but she did.
Were you watching when they found you? Did you feel bad for your brother when he walked in to your apartment, making your mother wait outside, and grasped your cold foot? What were you thinking about as you took your last breath?
I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive you for what you’ve done. They said suicide is a mortal sin, as is living with hate in your heart. If that’s the truth, I’ll see you in Hell someday.”
A single tear dripped to the paper as Max crumpled it in her hands. She closed her eyes and rested her head against her soft pillow, finally able to sleep for a while.