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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Taylor

What I Learned When I Was 8

Here is what I learned when I was 8:

Funeral clothes don’t have to be black.

It was the 2nd grade and our teacher

politely shuffled the class to watch

a movie. We sat giggling

amongst ourselves wondering what

we did for this special surprise.

As the TV crackled on,

a tape played.

To my extreme torture,

it was Charlie Brown.

I hated Charlie Brown.

I hated him and

his little Peanut-headed concubines

with all the fire that I could hold in my tiny

adolescent heart.

But nonetheless,

it was an escape from math equations

and reading tests.

We all sat gawking at the television as

one of Charlie’s friends lay in

a hospital bed.

She was sick with something

that was sorta hard to pronounce. A word

we’d probably learn on a spelling test.


being the tiny asshole he is, remarks,

“Are you going to die?”

From there,

my memory is blacked out.

All I can remember is

one of our friends was sick.

She was sick for at least a year.

And then at 9

she passed.

Her mother wanted the kids to wear

rainbow colors.

Black is sad clothes.

She wanted us to be happy

because her daughter

was Happy.

My parents didn’t let me go.

I was too young to go to a funeral.

Too young

to see people cry

Too young

to know about death.

My papa passed when I was 19.

We wore white.

I always thought it was linked to meanings of

rebirth or peace. But it was due to the fact it was

90 fucking degrees in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

90 Fucking degrees!

I’m not sure what he wore.

I was too afraid to look and

my parents didn’t mind me.

It was my first time.

First time seeing

people cry for a man that’s not

gonna be able to comfort them.

First time

seeing death.

My grandpa Butch passed when I was 20.

It was the first summer of COVID

So we had to do everything


His casket was caustically wrapped

in plastic.

Nobody knew much about the virus except

they didn’t wanna get it

and we wore

all black.

Imagine it:

Black people dressed

in black,

sitting in closed

black cars

in 100-degree weather.

All to watch a tribute video of

my grandpa Butch.

I wanted to ask

“Are you hot out here?”

‘Cause South Carolina has the kinda heat that

make you wanna fight God

and his angels.

There he was,

dressed to impress.

He looked so —


Get this suit offa me! And

Get this saran wrap

offa my casket! I’m

Hot! I’m tellin' ya’ll I’m Hot!”

I wanted to give him a cool glass

of water.

Make him perk up and say,

“Thanks, baby girl”

and laugh

but he can’t.

I couldn’t look at him really.

I don't see how anyone can look at

somebody and say

“Despite him being gone and everything…

He sholl look good.”


everyone said you looked good.

I don't like to think much about


Especially not what somebody wears in them.

Charlie Brown didn’t hesitate to

pick out his friend’s funeral clothes before she

settled into her hospital gown.

I toss and turn at the idea of asking someone something

so scary.

“Are you gonna die?” sounds like

“What color should I wear to mark the day

I won’t see you again?”

I don’t like that I can’t see them again.

I can’t decide if it is a phobia or

if I'm forever trapped between these stages

of anger and denial.

One day,

FAR FAR FAR from this day,

God be willing:

When I go,

don’t put me in clothes.

Don’t put me in no hot dress and don’t you

dare prop me up in no South Carolina.

Let us be as free as we’ll ever be.

Because no fabric or color

can summarize the lives we have

intertwined with.

Cry and scream to your hearts’


Laugh and play as you can.

Let’s not huddle in hot cars.

Let’s not shield each other from

life’s harsh truth.

We don’t have to bring out Charlie

Brown’s square head ass to know

We are here


we are not.


the color I will request is

au natural.

There’s no meaning to it.

No reason at all.


Funeral clothes don’t have to be


That’s what I learned when I was 8.

Edited by: Ava Pauline Emilione

Cover Photo Displays: Veronica Taylor

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1 Comment

Leslie Vargas
Leslie Vargas
Jul 31, 2022

In the Dominican Republic when someone dies we wear white or black, we sing and cry at the same time and go to church for nine days. We copied our enslaved ancestors with a mix of Catholicism and island magic.

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