American Spirit

By Michael Tiffin

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The air in the church is suffocating. Actually, it might not be the air. It could be the rows of people dressed in black that could be mistaken for a death march. It’s a beautiful church, one that could put the Vatican to shame. Uncle Jonathan always joked that it took special events to get him here. “Easter, Christmas, and Ash Wednesday,” He counted on his meaty fingers in between drinks. I guess he forgot to count dying.

My mom stumbles up to the podium behind Uncle Jonathan’s casket. He was a massive man, six five with fists like bricks.  I flinched when I saw him. “My brother Jonathan was a great man,” My mom begins, shaking like a leaf. I’m surprised they let her out of rehab. “Despite having lost his wife, he took my son in when I couldn’t care for him. I’ll be eternally grateful for that.” I roll my eyes. Mom always has her head in the clouds. She never notices what is right in front of her. She makes it back to her seat without tripping. Family members that I don’t recognize take their turns, raving about my Uncle’s virtues.

After the fourth person mentions how generous Jonathan was to take me in, I can’t take it anymore. I stand and push my way out of the pew. The speaker falls silent. Walking out is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

I take a deep breath as the door slams behind me. The air feels lighter. I wander around the cemetery and run into a man sitting on a bench. I sit down next to him.

“What are you running from?” He asks.

“I’m not running.”

“Yes, you are. ” He pulls out a pack of American Spirits. “Want one?”

I take the cigarette.  We sit in silence for a while.

“He was an asshole, and I couldn’t stand ​my family ​calling him a hero.” Tears roll down my face.

“What’d he do?” The man doesn’t look at me.

“All I could hear in there was the crack of his belt.”

“Welcome to life, kid. It just gets worse.” He refuses to look at me.

“No. No. That can’t be true. Life’s full of bullshit, but there’s got to be more to it. I have to go back in there.” I toss the cigarette away.

Just as I stand up, people start streaming out of the church. Hopes of making a scene disappear. I sit back down.

“Life never works out the way you want,” he finishes his smoke and starts another.

“I have nowhere to go.”

The realization dawns on me. Mom will go back to rehab. uncle Jonathan was the only one who took me in. To the rest of my family, I was trash sitting on the curb.   

“Told you son, it just gets worse.” The man says. We sit there for a while. I start to agree with him. Eventually, he stands up, nodding goodbye. The sun sinks. I wish I wasn’t alone.

About Michael Tiffin

Michael is a high school senior in Pennsylvania. He is attending Emory University next year to study writing. His work has been published in the form of a novella self-published through Amazon.

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