Not Who They Expected—Clark Humphrey
Faye Schmidt’s funeral (NOT a “remembrance” or “memorial”) went off pretty much exactly as her highly detailed will had scripted it. The preacher recited several of her favorite Scripture passages. An a capella choir sang two hymns and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Only persons authorized in the will to speak got to speak. They were all Faye’s closest and oldest friends. With one exception (her younger sister), they all read their remarks from scripts Faye had approved during her last week at the hospice facility.
Then the preacher (at Faye’s request, not the church’s current pastor but a retired one, who had to read his lines from a tablet computer in extra-large text) gave his benediction. The 40 or so people in the sanctuary began to rise.
Then a woman walked toward the front of the sanctuary. She was short, compact, with stunningly coiffed black hair. She had left her long, plain coat behind at her pew; now she revealed sharp curves and a probably-fake bosom beneath a tight black dress. Six paces behind her walked a trim middle-aged man with perfect posture and an expensive “tasteful” suit. Neither of them expressed any overt emotions as they walked up front. A few people in the room believed they knew her, or had known her; their whispers quickly spread through the pews.
“I apologize for not having spoken previously during this service. It was my mother’s wish that I not appear here at all.
“As a few of you have likely surmised, I am Naomi Faye Schmidt. Some of you may have known me as simply “NF.” My nickname in high school, and yes I knew this even though nobody dared call me that to my face, was “Negative Figures.” It apparently referred to two things: the ridiculously shapeless clothes I had to wear, and my blood alcohol level at the time, or rather my lack of one.
“Those of you who knew me then, which was when I last set foot in this… this town, likely remember me as “that mousy girl.” The brainiac. The geekette. The mama’s girl. The good girl. The girl who had never touched a bottle, a joint, or a penis, and likely never would.
“I am here to tell you that that was all an act. An act that NONE of you ever realized WAS an act.
“Did none of you realize? I WAS a teenager. Just like all of you, I yearned to discover what cheap booze tasted like. I ached to be at the wheel of a car revving beyond the speed limit. I wanted desperately to breathe the cool air of the countryside after curfew hour. I wanted to know the burn of a joint on my lips.
“But I could do none of those things. I was always under the threat. My mother would pull me into a private Christian school, or even home schooling, if I ever betrayed any hint of my budding true self. My father always deferred to her. Neither anyone else in my family, nor my teachers, nor anyone in my school, nor anyone at this church, ever, ever, EVER knew, or discerned, or at least said that they discerned, what was really going on.
“What was really going on, what I can only say today: I was abused regularly. Not in the tabloid TV, “Nancy Grace,” narrow definitions of abuse. Nobody touched my private parts. Indeed, my mother made extra sure they stayed private. I was not beaten. Indeed, my mother made sure I never signed up for any sport, or for band, or for anything that could potentially bring me into contact with anyone else’s body.
“I was neither starved, nor whipped, nor caged; although my mother occasionally threatened to ground me for life, or to move me to some ‘compound’ in the mountains, for my own protection from the evils of the world outside.”
“No, what the woman whose life we’re celebrating today did to me left no marks. No physical marks at least. My mind and spirit are still recovering.
“I was allowed to keep attending public school, to appear in public without her for a few hours a day, as a daily test of my worthiness. As long as I kept my grades up, and betrayed not even the slightest potential of sin in any of its countless forms, I was permitted to observe the lives of kids who got, more or less, to be themselves; while I had to suffer in silence. Of course, suffering in silence was what my mother believed was Woman’s god-assigned fate in life.
“My only refuge was in my own mind. I planned. I plotted. I prepared to rebel like no kid had ever rebelled before. I would become the wildest Wild Girl there ever was.
“Now, you may be thinking, ‘How can someone deliberately plan to go wild?’ And your suspicion would be right. My lifetime to date, of escaping reality by living in obsessive left-brain thoughts, had pretty much destroyed any chance that I’d get on the cover of a “Girls Gone Wild” video.
“So I became a schemer instead. I schemed to get out of the house and out of this town as soon as I could. I disappeared on prom night and only sent back occasional post cards, just to let my parents know I was alive.
“The first thing I learned on my own: Being ‘wild’ wasn’t a good way to pay the bills. But being a schemer was. Instead of using drugs, I sold them. Instead of casually sleeping around, I selectively staked out and stole other women’s husbands, trading up for a richer model every few years.
“In my mother’s eye, I became something far worse than a mindless sinner. I was a willful sinner. I had deliberately chosen the path of Satan. She refused all contact with me just after my first divorce. It was only from my father’s relatives that I learned she was dying.
“Now I have fulfilled at least the letter of her will, by not appearing at the funeral until it was officially over. I’ll just say one more thing; then I’ll let you have your reception without me. I’m sure the cookies will be good.
“And that’s this: I couldn’t tell any of you how sick my life was. But couldn’t ANY of you have even guessed?”
Without another word, she strutted back to the back pews on noisy black high heels. She retrieved her coat, then left the room, her man following six paces behind.