Kill Me Now
When I imagined my funeral, this wasn’t what I had in mind. First of all, I hoped I would be old, a stately ninetysomething who’d earned the right to be called elegant; a woman with an intimate circle of loved ones fanned out in front of her, their tender sorrow connecting them like lace.
I definitely hoped to be in a far more beautiful place—a stone chapel by the sea, perhaps, with pounding purple-gray waves drowning out mourners’ sobs. For no apparent reason—I’m not even Scottish—there would be wailing bagpipes, men in Campbell tartan, and charmingly reserved grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, coaxed into reciting their own sweet poetry. I don’t know where the children’s red curls come from, since my hair is chemically enhanced blond and straight as a ruler. The bereaved—incredibly, those weepy old souls are my own kids—dab away tears with linen handkerchiefs, though on every other occasion they have used only tissues. The service takes place shortly before sunset in air fragrant with lilacs. Spring. At least where I grew up, in the Chicago suburbs, that’s what lilacs signify: the end of a long winter, life beginning anew.
I didn’t expect to be here, in a cavernous, dimly lit Manhattan synagogue. I didn’t expect to be surrounded by at least four hundred people, a good three hundred of whom I don’t recall talking to even once. Most of all, I didn’t expect to be young. Well, maybe some people don’t think thirty-five is young, but I do. It’s far too young to die, because while my story isn’t quite at the beginning, it isn’t at the end, either. Except that it is.
She’s dead, all those bodies in the pews must be thinking. Depressing. On that last count, they would be wrong. In fact, if the congregation knew my whole story—and I hope they will, eventually, because I need people on my side, not on his, and especially not on hers—it would be clear that I, Molly Divine Marx, have not lost my joie de vivre. On that point, I speak the truth.
“She would be here if she could,” he says. “She would be here if she could.” That’s Rabbi Strauss Sherman, pontificating over to my right. I wish he were the twinkly junior rabbi whose adult ed classes I kept telling myself I should take, not that I am—was—keen on the music of Jews in Uganda. But the speaker is the senior rabbi, the one who says everything twice, like an echo, though it stopped short of being profound the first time. I suppose I should get off on the fact that he’s the big-shot rabbi invited to homes of people who contribute gigabucks and, thus, rate succulent, white-meat honors on holidays. I wonder if Barry, my husband, made sure Rabbi S.S. spoke today just to stick it to me, since whenever he gave a sermon I’d squirm and mutter, “Kill me now.” I’d hate to think God decided on payback.
I realize I am not being kind about either Rabbi S.S. or the heartsick husband. Barry’s sizable schnozz is chapped from crying, and I caught more than a few people noticing as he discreetly swiped his nose on the sleeve of his black suit, soft worsted in a fine cut. Armani? they’re wondering. Not a chance. It is a close facsimile purchased at an outlet center near Milan, but if they took it for Armani, Barry would be glad. That was the general idea.
Perhaps some women in the pews wonder what I’m dressed in. The casket is closed—talk about a bad hair day—but I am being buried in a red dress. Okay, it’s more of a burgundy, but one thing that’s putting a smile on my face (only metaphorically, unfortunately) is that for all eternity I will get to wear this dress, which cost way too much, even 40 percent off at Barneys, where I rarely shop because it’s generally a rip-off. I’m sure if it had been up to my mother-in-law, the enchanting Kitty Katz, today I would have been stuffed into a button-down shirt and pleated pants that made me look like a sumo wrestler, but my sister, Lucy, intervened. Lucy and I have had our moments, but she knew how psyched I was to be wearing the dress to a Valentine’s party this coming Saturday. Go, Luce.
Wherever it is I’m off to, I hope they notice the shoes—black satin, terrifyingly high slingbacks, with excellent toe cleavage. I only wore them once, those shoes, and that night Barry and I barely left the dance floor. When we shimmied and whirled, it was almost like sex: we became the couple people thought we were. The Dr. and Mrs. Marx I, at least, wanted us to be. I loved watching Barry move his runner’s body in that subtle but provocative way of his, and how he nestled his hand on the small of my back, then cupped my butt for the whole world to see. It’s a pity we couldn’t have merengued through life as if it were one endless Fred and Ginger movie.
Will there be dancing where I’m headed? I digress. I do that. Drove Barry nuts.
“Our dear Molly Marx, she would be here if she could,” Rabbi S.S. is saying. That makes three. “The circumstances of her death may be mysterious, but it is not for us to judge. It is not for us to judge.”
As soon as someone tells you not to judge, you do. Everyone in this chilly sanctuary is judging—both Barry and me. I can hear it all, what’s in people’s heads as well as on their lips.
“She had a boyfriend? That mouse?”
“You have it all wrong. He had a girlfriend.”
“If it’s suicide, then why the ginormous funeral?”
I hear a smug tone. “For Jews, with a suicide it’s the burial place that gets questioned, not the funeral.”
“He won’t be single for six months.”
“Especially with the little girl.”
Yes, there is a child. Annabel Divine Marx, almost four, black velvet dress, patent leather Mary Janes. My Annie-belle is clutching Alfred the bunny, and the look on her face could make Hitler weep. Right now, I will not allow myself the luxury of thinking about my baby, who wonders where her mommy is and when this nasty dream will end. If I could be alive for five more minutes, they would be spent memorizing Annabel’s heartbeat and synchronizing it with my own, tracing the bones in her birdlike shoulders, stroking the creamy softness of her skin. I will always be Annabel’s mother. My mantra.
People can call me anything, but in the mommy department, there was never a moment when I wasn’t trying to do the right thing. I attempted to live for my child—not through her, for her. I tried. I really did. I never would have abandoned Annabel. Nothing ever mattered more to me than my unconditional love for her, a long, unbroken line that continues even now. The best compliment I ever got was from Barry when he said simply, a few weeks after Annabel was born, “Molly, you get motherhood. You really do.”
“Our dear Molly, our lovely Molly,” the rabbi is saying. “She was so many things. To our grieving Barry—a trustee of this very institution—she was a beloved wife of almost seven years, a woman with her whole life ahead of her. To Annabel, she was Mommy, tender, devoted. To her parents, Claire and Daniel Divine, she was a cherished daughter, and to Lucy Divine, she was an adored twin sister, absolutely adored. To her colleagues, she was a . . .” Rabbi S.S. refers to his notes. “A decorating editor at a magazine.”
Wrong. I stopped being a decorating editor when Annabel was born. Lately, I was a freelance stylist—the person who brings in the tall white orchids and fluffs a room so when it’s photographed for a magazine it shames most of the readers, since there’s no way their homes are ever going to look like that. Then they blink and smugly wonder if people actually live in that picture with not one family snapshot in a teddy bear frame sold at a Hallmark store. Who actually buys white couches and scratchy sisal rugs? How do you clean them? They turn the page.
I wasn’t brokering peace in the Middle East, or even teaching nursery school like my twin sister. But I loved my work, and in my sliver of a world, I was a giant. What I could do with a mantel was almost art. People must have hated inviting me to their homes, for fear that I’d rearrange their bookshelves and suggest that they sell half of their tchotchkes on eBay.
“Molly was a loyal friend, an accomplished biker, a graduate of Northwestern University with a major in art history.”
Is the rabbi going to recite my entire résumé? Disclose that I was rejected from Brown and never made it off the Wesleyan wait-list? Share that I took a junior semester in Florence and skipped every class—did I even buy textbooks?—while Emilio fra Diavolo taught me Italian of the nonverbal variety? Mention the two jobs from which I was fired and the fourteen-month gap between them? Point out that Barry and I were seeing a marriage counselor?
There’s Dr. Stafford right there. Goodness, she looks quite moved. I always imagined that when Barry and I were carrying on at her sessions she was thinking, How did I get stuck with these two completely shallow, nonintrospective, loser brats? Oh, I have three private school tuitions to pay. That’s why. But I see tears and I can tell they are real.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and when he takes away big-time, I have discovered he compensates you with a finely tuned bullshit detector. It is a minor consolation, but I think I am going to like it.
“And now we will hear from Molly’s husband,” the rabbi says. “Barry. Dr. Barry Marx.”
Barry kisses Annabel on the head and untangles his hand from hers. She takes a look at Kitty—who forbids the word grandma—and considers whether to move closer to her. “Kitty smells funny,” she used to say. “It’s just her cigarettes, honey,” I would respond. “Don’t smoke when you grow up or you’ll smell funny, too.” I hope Annabel remembers that. If she becomes a nose-ringed, tattooed fourteen-year- old hanging out in the East Village with a cigarette dangling from her lips . . . there won’t be a damn thing I can do about it.
Kitty is wearing a severe black suit—either Gucci or Valentino. She’d be horrified to know I can’t tell or appreciate the difference, though I admit it looks stunningly appropriate. The tailoring shows off her yoga-buffed sixty-four-year-old body, which, in clothes, we both privately acknowledge looks a good bit better than mine. Today she seems to have hijacked the first floor of Tiffany’s. With Kitty, more is more. She is wearing diamond studs the size of knuckles, a sapphire-and-emerald brooch dribbling over her breast like Niagara Falls with a bracelet to match, and a black lizard handbag that, no doubt, contains her smokes.
I hope Annabel eventually inherits some of Kitty’s baubles. I’m not saying Kitty’s glad I’m dead, but at least she has a good excuse now for not willing me any jewelry.
When Barry arrives at the front of the synagogue and bounds up the six steps, he clears his throat and takes some notes from his jacket. He tears them in half with a flourish. I knew he would do that! We saw the same stunt at my aunt Julie’s funeral last year. Does he think my family won’t notice he stole it? Ah, but he doesn’t really care about them, does he? And what makes it worse is that except for the Divines, everyone in the congregation is buying into his heart-wrenching grief. From every corner, I hear sniffles and snorts and see tiny tributaries of tears.
“I fell in love with Molly when I was a senior at college,” he begins.
I was a sophomore. He was the pre-med guy who finally had room in his schedule for a class on twentieth-century art and took a seat next to me in a darkened auditorium. Barry wanted to become a collector, he said, and I remember thinking the remark pretentious; no one I knew aspired to own anything more than an Alex Katz dog litho or a student’s work snagged at a silent auction on open-studio night. But Barry dreamed on a grand scale. When five years later I found out that he’d become a plastic surgery resident at Mount Sinai in Manhattan, I wasn’t surprised. If ever a doctor were born to woo women into rhinoplasty, it was Barry Marx, who managed to incorporate his own nose into his well-delivered pitch.
At least forty of his patients must be here today. All those weepers with the delicate, symmetrical noses aren’t my mommy-buddies, magazine pals, book club friends, or cycling partners. Do Barry’s patients have a phone tree, like the one at Annabel’s school in case of inclement weather? Did someone start making calls at 5:30 a.m.? “Sorry to wake you, but I thought you’d want to know Barry Marx is single. The funeral’s at ten. Pass it on.”
“There are four things you should know about my wife, Molly,” Barry begins. “First, she had the most musical laugh in the whole world. Many of you know that laugh. I married her for that laugh. I cannot believe I will never hear it again.”
So far, okay. To be fair, there was a lot of laughing, and no one thinks Barry married me for my breasts, which most wives of plastic surgeons would have had enlarged from nectarines to melons.
From the Hardcover edition.