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Why Funerals Make Us Horny

Written By Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a Philip K. Dick and Locus award winning author, as well as a Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Otherwise awards finalist. A prolific short story writer and essayist, Elison has been published in Slate, McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. megelison.com

It’s not easy to talk about. It might seem ghoulish or macabre. It might even make you feel like you’re disrespecting the dead. But it’s not just you. A lot of people find themselves very horny after a funeral.

It was a kid I knew, but not a friend. He hadn’t gotten into any colleges he’d applied to, and his back up plan had been to join the army. He didn’t pass the physical and he walked home from the recruiter’s office in the strip mall between the snow cone place and the salon called Scarlet O’Haira’s. He and his best friend jogged up the same hill every day, but he wasn’t at the bottom at dawn.

He was at the top with his dad’s gun, already cold.

The funeral was a nightmare; half the house was teenagers. I could barely endure it, and after my girlfriend sheepishly showed me where I’d driven my nails into her palm. I started with licking the blood, but before long I was licking her everywhere. We clung to each other. It seemed the only sensible thing to do.

Freud’s theory was that there are competing drives within the psyche, pushing us toward the basal functions of the living creature. The father of psychology thought we had a life drive that he called Eros (the Greek word and for personification of erotic love and desire) and a death drive he dubbed Thanatos (ditto but death). These drives seem self-evident when we examine the way that we live, doggedly pursuing sex while also letting slip the dogs of war. But humans hardly ever hold fast to a binary, no matter how brilliant the man trying to lay down a “there are two kinds of people in the world” sort of lecture. There’s more to us than that.

My mother died broke in a hospital not far from where I lived. She didn’t ask for me and I didn’t go. There wasn’t a funeral because no one she knew had any money. There was a wake of sorts in my kitchen: me listening to S.O.B by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and getting too drunk to think in her wretched memory. A friend told me I should get into the shower, and I remembered someone I had seen for a while in San Francisco had a hell of a nice one. I texted him from the cab that I was en route and in what state I would be delivered to his door. I asked him to take pity on me, to take me at my word, to take the consents I had previously given, to take me. Obliterate me. When I reached his bedroom, I saw he had put up the seven-foot iron apparatus I could trust with my whole weight over his bed. My mother to her coffin; myself to his bed, we were both laid to rest.

As long as we’re dealing with the Greeks, it’s important to point out that eros is not the only kind of love they slapped a name on. They also gave us philia for the love shared between friends, storge for familial love, pragma for companionate love, even philautia for the love of oneself. Why would Freud pick just the one to dance opposite Thanatos in this gothic tango? Could it be that he, too, had a case of the hot black funeral pants?

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    I went with a person I had loved to the funeral of a child in their family. The worst kind of tragedy: a father, newly home from deployment, had fallen asleep while the toddler was napping. The toddler woke first and discovered that the screen in a third story window could not bear his weight. We white-knuckled through the service. Coffin like a mini-fridge, audible screaming from the bereaved mother up front.

    Driving away, they’d put a hand high on my thigh, pushing my black skirt back and I asked them.

    “What is it about a funeral that makes us feel this way?”

    “After all that, I need to prove that I am alive,” they answered. They pulled us into an olive grove off the main road, and they proved it every way they knew how. I wondered if those young grieving parents would do the same; prove that they could make life again. How often we make both life and death without meaning to do either.

    Each of us is like an open grave; a void needing to be filled. Each of us is like a coffin; a physical container for something wonderful and terrible, needing to be placed in a void of just the right shape and size for our contours. Each of us can feel a thousand types of love and a thousand drives, many of them having nothing to do with either sex or death. Each of us is our own myriad as the Greeks would say; 10,000 selves inside the self.

    When we ask why funerals make us horny, we are asking 10,000 people why they live and what they live for. There’s no single answer. There aren’t two kinds of people in the world. There are more than two kinds of people inside you right now. They’re burying versions of you that you’ll never be again, and their busy making people you haven’t yet become. They’re falling asleep and they’re waking up; they’re falling out the window and jogging up the hill. They’re in the olive grove and the hospital, they’re putting up the iron frame and thinking of all the different meanings of the word hung.

    Each of us knows that death is coming. Some of us want death to know that we are coming, too.