The Story Behind the Story - Kurt at his Mother’s Funeral
(Excerpted from The Dalton Prison Study)
Kurt blinked in the bright sunlight, shifting his weight back and forth on his feet. He fidgeted uncomfortably in his suit, the wool scratchy and too hot, the tie feeling more and more like a noose around his neck. All around him, people wept quietly, the collective outpouring of grief more numbing than anything else. Kurt continued to stare at the damp grass, being sure to look anywhere but there as he gripped his dad’s hand a little tighter.
Kurt kept his face stoic as people began to come forward, one by one, pausing in front of the place where Kurt did not want to look before offering hugs, pats on the shoulder, and words of comfort that washed over him like a wave, unheard and unwanted. But he sensed that something else was coming as the crowd around him began to thin and his dad gripped his hand a little tighter, seeming to steel himself for something. Kurt allowed himself to be led forward by his dad, still staring steadfastly at the ground. Suddenly, there was noise, a low rumble and creaking, and all around Kurt, the sounds of grief magnified. His father was bending down slightly, pressing something into his hand, but Kurt could barely register what his dad was doing over the ringing in his ears and the pounding of his heart. He finally looked up at last, glancing at the object that had been thrust into his hand. A single yellow rose. His mother’s favorite. Kurt swallowed hard, trying to breathe against the growing tightness in his chest.
His dad spoke then, his voice hoarse and raw sounding. “Kurt… Hey buddy, look at me, okay?”
Kurt slowly forced his eyes upward, focusing on his dad’s face while struggling mightily to block out what lay beyond his dad.
“Hey kiddo…” Burt spoke sadly, staring down at his son, who was looking much too grown up for his eight years in his dark suit. “You doing okay? We’re just gonna put the flowers in the…” Burt stopped and drew a deep breath, unable to continue. “Just toss your flower in like me, okay buddy? Then we’re going to go back to the house with everyone and get something to eat.”
Kurt chewed on his lip nervously, not wanting to do what his dad told him, but because that would mean looking there. But he’d promised his mom that he would be brave, so Kurt simply nodded, watching with wide eyes as his dad tossed the yellow rose into the…hole. Wait, what? Kurt was confused. Where did his mom go?
Kurt could see his dad looking to him expectantly, waiting for Kurt to mimic his actions. But Kurt was honestly lost, because as much as he’d tried to avoid looking there, he knew that his mom had been in that…box before. But now she was gone. On instinct, he took a step forward, peering down into the hole. Several feet down sat the box, which had been lowered into the earth, explaining the cracking, rumbling sound Kurt had heard minutes earlier. Kurt felt his chest constrict as he noticed the single yellow rose lying on top of the coffin, the brightness seeming so out of place against the dark mahogany wood and deep brown earth.
Kurt sank to his knees at the edge of the hole, breathing heavily. His mom was still in there. It was dark down there and scary and what if she couldn’t breathe? Kurt knew somewhere in the back of his mind that his mom was gone, and that it wasn’t really her in there, at least not anymore, but that did nothing to stem the panic that was quickly overtaking him.
Kurt began to cry in earnest, gripping the yellow rose that his dad had given him between his fingers so tightly that he pricked his thumb on a thorn, barely feeling the pain as a drop of red blood oozed out. He tugged at the tie around his neck, feeling as if it was strangling him. It was so hot and he couldn’t breathe and everyone was staring at him and all he wanted was his mom. There were hands on him now, lifting him to his feet, whispering words of comfort, as he was pulled away from the ground. Away from his mom. He closed his eyes, trying to breathe, trying not to imagine what it would feel like to be trapped in that hole. Through the darkness, he could just make out the whispered words of comfort and he clung to them like he was drowning.
“Shhh buddy, it’s okay. It’s okay now. I know, Kurt. I know. You’re okay. I’m here.”