Last night at about 1:50AM I awoke, nausea rising as I rose from the bed and padded toward the bathroom. Truth be told, I had set my alarm for 4:45am to go to my spin class, followed by my annual sojourn to jury duty. The fact that I was now heaving into the john at 2am seemed like a cruel interruption to an already abbreviated night. And probably the appropriate response to the quick orange chicken I had rolled out for dinner last night.
After brushing my teeth, I went back to bed and lay awake in bed; my mind had stumbled on a grisly pun that burrowed into my brain like a pop music ear worm; my latest is Meghan Trainor’s, Me Too frequently played during the jumps at my YAS spin class.
If I were you, I’d want to be me too.
What does that mean, anyway? Not really what I wanted in my head as I tried to get back to sleep. And psychologically quite the opposite of the man I found myself thinking about.
“Paulbearers.” At the end of last week, we’d gotten an email requesting assistance at the funeral of our dear Paul Backer to be pallbearers, with a number to contact. I attended the memorial on Friday, had not planned on attending the mass or grave site service, and besides, I’d be too short in both upper physical strength and the height needed to carry a man of Paul’s stature.
But at the scene shop, I heard a funny story, if that’s possible when speaking of pallbearers. A co-worker had answered the call to do the ultimate heavy lifting in life.
My co-worker, Michael, needed a new black suit for the occasion. His old one no longer fit him, and it was 20 years old. So he went to buy a new suit on Friday. It ended up being a little too big around the waist for him. The salesman said, “Can I have that taken in for you, sir?” He said, “No, I’m fine. I have a nice dress belt.” And off he went, slightly baggy suit in hand.
At the funeral, he joined 7 other pallbearers to carry the coffin of our giant friend. The ground in the cemetery was rough, the flat stones a bit sunken in the soggy grass. Mike and the others made their way carefully toward the grave site, all eyes on them; there were a considerable number of former students, friends and family there for the service.
After putting the casket down at the grave site, they all stood back as he was lowered into the ground. Michael and the others had done the undesired job well.
As soon as Michael got home, he reported that his dress belt suddenly broke in two places, his new pants falling to puddle around his ankles. Had that happened while he was holding the coffin, it would have been a scene out of an Evelyn Waugh movie. One that Paul surely would have appreciated.
Michael laughed, as he told me his story, looking heavenward and shaking his right fist, he thanked and swore at our friend, Paul for saving him the dishonor.
I suspect there will be a number of visitations from Paul in the coming months. Not necessarily paranormal, but mental and spiritual. He was so present in our lives at school and his wit and breadth of knowledge will no doubt continue to surprise us. Hopefully his visits won’t take the shape of midnight sickness and a hangover of grisly puns, but things will be ascribed to Paul just because he is much with us, in spite of his current body’s resting place.
For example, I will always think about Dr. Backer when I hear the following terms:
- Backer’s audition, now pronounced “bocker’s audition” because we now know the correct pronunciation.
- Paulbearers – those who volunteer to do the heavy lifting
- Paulacial – what Paul’s office will feel to its new denizen without Paul’s obsessive collection of books.
- Paulitical – what I’ll be thinking of as I watch Election 2016 coverage
- Paulitheatrics – a festival of devised work celebrating Paul Backer
- Paulitico – a blog devoted to promoting the performances of students and alumni of Paul’s
You get the idea. Gone but certainly not forgotten.