“Unconditional”

Antonio Rodriguez


The coffin was made from a dark mahogany, the most expensive wood the funeral director had to offer. The design was elegant, yet simple; it was lined with imported velvets and adorned with silver and gold. Coffins had always seemed like a waste of money to me—something that would immediately be tossed into the ground. But this was my father’s funeral, not mine, so I paid what the director told me and began scheduling for the funeral itself.

A week later, I was in my hotel room staring blankly at the black TV screen. The plushness of the bed still felt alien under my hands—even after so many years it was hard to imagine myself in the position I was in. I traced the edges of the TV with my eyes, a sticker in the corner boasting the HD quality of its flat screen. I remembered walking through the mall with my mom when I was barely ten, gawking at the TVs displayed behind glass, yet only half as nice as the one before me. And yet, that same TV wasn’t much compared to what I had in my own house. I glanced up as my husband walked out of the bathroom, adjusting the tie of his brand new suit.

“You look good,” he said, as he leaned against the wall. I didn’t look up from the screen.

“Now’s not the time to look good.”

He sighed, and walked to the edge of the bed to sit down next to me. He took my hands into his. I felt the simultaneous smoothness and roughness, the cool metal of his wedding band and the grating as it rubbed against mine.

“You know what I mean… I’m just trying to cheer you up,” he let a beat of silence pass by. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah.”

“I can stay back here, if you want?”

I turned to him suddenly, furrowing my brow.

“No.” I let go of his hands, letting one of mine run through my hair. “Of course not, Eric. At least…” I stare him directly in the eyes, “It’s not something I can do anymore.”

I got off of the bed suddenly, pacing for a moment before stopping by the dresser. I see Eric’s usual cologne alongside mine. Another bottle sits behind both, a little blue square that’s almost empty. I lift it to my chest, spraying it and letting the pungent aroma fill my head.

“We’re married now, Eric.” I placed the bottle back on the dresser, then let my hands fall to its edge. “We’ve been married for almost five years.” I closed my eyes as my weight shifted to my hands. “And I would hope my family would be good enough not to give me shit about that at my father’s funeral. Especially since we basically paid for the whole damned thing.”

Eric got off the bed and walked to me, wrapping my body with his arms. His breath was warm against my neck.

“I know,” he said softly. My head instinctively fell back onto his shoulder, and I let myself be at peace for that moment.

“Alright, I’m ready.”

January in Texas was colder than I remembered, but still not as bad as what I had become accustomed to from living in Washington the past decade. I convinced Eric to roll down the windows as we made our way to the church, letting smoky winter air fill the car as rushing winds drowned out my thoughts.

The church parking lot was relatively full when we arrived. I checked how I looked in the mirror as Eric parked, making sure my tie was in place and readjusting the hairs that fell out of place. I stepped out of the car, feeling the uneven gravel beneath my shoes. I glanced over to Eric, mentally preparing myself before walking to the door.

“Alex!” almost as soon as I walked through the door, my brother came up to me. He rushed to me, enveloping me in his arms. A few seconds passed before my brain allowed my arms to awkwardly rise up and return the hug. We hadn’t really spoken in years, mostly just an occasional text he would send me. But I often found myself at a loss for words, and couldn’t really reply. And now with his arms wrapped around me, I was even more lost. He pulled away with a raised eyebrow.

“That cologne, is it—“

“Yeah, it’s our fa—Dad’s. I found some of his old things as I was preparing the funeral.”

“Well, it suits you,” he said, looking me down. He then turned, as if suddenly realizing Eric was there.

“And you must be Eric,” he said as he reached out his arm to give Eric a handshake. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“You too, uh—Reynaldo, right?”

“Please, just call me Rey,” he laughed before turning back to me. “I’m glad you’re here, really. I’m just happy to see you,” he said. His eyes glanced over at Eric and back to mine, “Both of you.” I searched his face in silence, looking for a reason to disbelieve him.

“I’m happy to see you too.”

Rey opened his mouth as if to respond before another voice called him over. He made a quick excuse as he nodded to both Eric and me, then walked to the other room. I walked from the entry hall into the nave of the church. The sound of the mariachi filled the room, and I saw the different clusters of my family all talking with one another—groups of aunts or uncles, some of my cousins and others I still wasn’t entirely sure my relation to.

I maneuvered my way through the separate clusters, greeting people as I went through. Eventually I end up next to my tia Flor, my father’s eldest and most compassionate sister. She had spent many nights with me after my parents split, watching over as I cried, wondering what I had done wrong.

“Mijo,” she said, opening her arms for a tight hug.

“Hi tia Flor.” I give into her embrace. She pulls back to look at me.

“Aye, mijo, look at you! You look so nice.” She then motions to the surrounding room, “¿Y estas decoraciones? Mijo, this is all so beautiful! I’m sure tu apá would have been so proud to see all that have done for him.”

I felt my chest tighten with her words, but can’t find any to say back. Instead I notice Eric hovering by in my peripheral.

“Tia Flor, this is my husband, Eric.” I motioned to him and he stuck out his hand.

“Alex has said a lot about you. I’m glad to finally meet you,” he said.

“Oh,” She said, before hesitantly taking his hand. “Of course, uh, happy to meet you. But Alex,” She let go of his hand and turned back to me, “You didn’t let anyone know you’d be bringing your partner here with you?”

She said it with innocence, meaning no harm. And yet there was venom dripping from every word. I furrow my brow at her.

“He’s not just my partner, tia, he’s my husband. And why would I need to announce his presence? This is my father’s funeral, of course he would be here with me!”

“I don’t see what you’re upset about Alex. It’s just that some people brought their kids with them, and I’m sure they would’ve appreciated a heads up.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Other people have turned their heads now.

“Alex, there’s no need to raise your voice like that.”

Before I could say anything else, Eric took hold of my arm.

“I think Alex and I will be taking our seats now, Flor.”

Eric and I sat in the pews until the ceremony began officially. Rey took his seat next to me, his wife and two kids waving as they sat as well. As the pastor spoke and eulogies commenced, I was only focused on the picture of my father and the coffin behind it. He hardly smiled, and even when he did, it ended up looking forced and rigid. But the coffin remained in its tragic beauty—something all for my father, though he would never know. I struggled to understand why I would even want to buy it—to buy any of this around me.

But I stifled those feelings, forcing myself to listen to each speech. Or at least seem attentive to them, as I constantly reeled back my thoughts from wanting something I now can never have. The pastor motioned in our direction, and Rey gets up to the podium. He launched into a speech admiring our father, praising him for the hard work he had put in to forge a path for our family despite the odds. He eventually spoke of how proud our father must have been for his two sons and where we were now.

My chest tightened unbearably, and I couldn’t hold back the tears that came down my face. Eric once again took my hands, rubbing them in an attempt to soothe me. I wiped off my face, and cleared my throat just in time for Rey to invite me up to speak. I had risen slowly, Rey meeting me halfway with a hug before he sat back down. I looked out into the room, the lights too hot and too bright. I see uncles and aunts who refused to come to my wedding, cousins who had never checked in since I moved away. But of all they’re shunning, it was my father who hurt me most. He was the one that caused a deep set resentment in me, telling me that homosexuality was unnatural and unholy before I even knew what it meant to be gay. He was the one who left me feeling most alone, most isolated from the world—the one who should’ve been there to help me, but refused.

And in all these racing thoughts, I found myself almost unable to speak at the podium. I stood silently almost too long, before letting my emotion drain away.

“My father was a tough man who led a tough life. But despite these hardships, he still tried his best to build a good life for my brother and me. And it is my hope that I made him proud with what I’ve done.” I nod to the crowd and go to sit back down. A short murmur washes over everyone before the pastor returns to give the closing prayer.

“Do you believe it?” Eric said to me as we drove back to the hotel. We had been silent since leaving the funeral. I hadn’t said anything since the eulogy. “Do you believe that he would be proud of you?”

“Maybe,” I said. “But now he’s just dead.”

He glanced over as if he might try to say something else, but remained silent. I turn to look out the window, nestling my head in the corner of the seat. I pretend to fall asleep, letting images of darkening trees take over my mind.

Fiction piece by Antonio Rodriguez