Thursday, August 13, 2015

Remembering Ben Wesley

It was a year ago when I heard the news on the way to a meeting and then rehearsal. I was in a daze and then on a plane. While taking your dog to a vet in the early morning, a truck hit your car and you were gone. With no other witnesses, no charges were filed. And then a blur of condolences. For some reason I was asked to speak at your funeral and your sister -my mother- was not.

The funeral home had a slide show of your life running above you at the viewing. I wanted to be there for hours but the smell of embalming fluid was so strong that I couldn't stay for longer than a few minutes without getting a headache. At night, your sister -my mother- told me about your childhood in South Carolina and Miami.

On the day of the funeral I folded up my poem and your sister -my mother- came up to the lectern. She spoke about your life. Afterward I read a short poem and sat down. I zoned out for the rest of the funeral. The singers were performing like they were on "American Idol" and the preacher hollered and growled some words of salvation that seemed both irrelevant and sacrilegious to your personhood. I ignored him.

I joked with Piper on the drive from the funeral home to the cemetery about the singers' vocal gymnastic routine, the reeking embalming smell, and the blasphemous charlatan sweating and shouting over your body. We vowed to open up our own funeral home for black families tired of being disrespected in death as much as they are in life. Then I rushed home to take care of my Dad, so that your sister could go back to your wife's house and be with your people.

The next day I was back on the plane to go back to Juilliard for the rehearsals of "Obama-ology." The director had some notes and questions. The dramaturg had some suggestions. I absorbed it all. I edited and revised the script in a haze. It felt like life kept speeding along and there was little time to reflect and grieve. Now a year later, I am still absorbing and reflecting. This is not a quick process. 

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