The 32-year old had a large tattoo across his sternum of a cow skull decorated by roses and a rope burn around his neck. There was no escaping the permanence of his choices in the cramped prep room where I saw both. They were mine to tussle with now as I stretched his skin back into place after his autopsy.
I am familiar with that claustrophobic space in the mind where it feels like each decision is a final one or should be a final one or god, let’s hope it’s the last one because the thought of doing this shit again or making the wrong decision is devastating. It’s the control corner of my brain, the place where I fall under the illusion that everything depends on me.
I am less familiar with just accepting whatever results come from my decision. I try. It feels like a constant state of confusion.
A week later, my friend got a call that her father had died. She wept for a while before another friend and I drove her back to her house in the dark countryside, east of town. On the way there, she talked about her father’s 3-year illness, her clairvoyant abilities, her cat’s death a week earlier and how peaceful she felt now, having decided back then to move home and take care of her father.
When we arrived, her dad was in a bed in the living room while groups of family and friends crowded into the house, spilling into the yard. I sat in silence most of the night on her porch listening to our friends try to verbalize the moment.
Later in the car, while a high hat shimmied across Kool Keith’s Super Hero, I realized I did not want to renew my license as an embalmer in the state of Texas. It has been on my mind since I the last time I paid to renew it, but next month is when it would actually expire, bringing the reality of the choice to bear.
“Embalming” in Texas doesn’t just mean injecting folks with chemicals; it encompasses all parts of prep room work, including the necessary washing done before green burial cases, which I prefer to do. It would greatly limit my ability to work as an independent contractor by restricting my abilities to only arrangements and paperwork. It would undo a lot of the work I have done to distinguish myself from other funeral directors in the state as a hands-on body worker who rejects chemical intervention.
Yet, I am weary of keeping it. It would require me to pay money to the state that would further support all the fallacies of embalming, starting with the name itself. If the license was for “mortuary tech” or some other body preparation title, I’d more likely reconsider. But “embalming” just upholds a label that I’m pretty against. It is almost confusing to see it next to my name.
“What a great choice,” my friend said about the high hat on the Keith song. “That’s the kind of music I want to make, a single beat over some dope lyrics.”
I’m not an embalmer, I need to be real about that.