This short story was written in loving memory of Topeka native Katherine A. Rose-Malone, who died Aug. 3, 2017; and for her tenacious daughter Rosie.
We piled into the minivan, one by one, like an anxious group of kids heading to vacation Bible school. To passing drivers, the scene must have looked ridiculous: a handful of thirty-something women dressed to the nines, donned in red lipstick, hair coiffed to perfection in the dead heat of a Midwestern summer. My mascara slipped from place and formed dark rings under my already-tired eyes. Inside the minivan — with memory rhymes of sweaty soccer cleats, half-eaten hamburgers, and our favorite 90s music blaring on the radio — it felt like a safe space on an otherwise dreadful day.
Somewhere between ages 15 and 25, I’d filed minivans into the same category as Dr. Scholl’s sandals: something I’d never be caught dead "doing." Out of respect for my minivan-driving mother, I’d kept these opinions mostly to myself because I didn’t want her to think I wasn’t grateful for the steady rotation of carpool, ballet drop-offs, and 6 a.m. swim team runs. Minivans marked the end of wild, carefree days and instead made me think of practicality and selflessness. I was ill-prepared for these things in my twenties, now thirties, if ever.
As the minivan tootled along the familiar streets of Topeka, our hometown and memory-making factory, we tried to make conversation but the words kept trailing off into mumbled nothingness. Yet, I found solace in the comic irony of our situation: former popular, stylish high school girls pulling up to their best friend’s funeral in a well-used, unwashed minivan.
"She must be getting extreme amusement out of this," I said, pointing to a pile of wet crumbs I’d been avoiding by propping my hip on the door handle and throwing my high-heeled foot up against the window. Laughter erupted, the minivan shook.
I breathed a sigh of relief. A glimmer of hope that perhaps, at some point, we’d find humor and joy again. But today, these moments would be fleeting — signposts for otherwise zombie-like actions and forced conversations about the hot, humid weather. I was almost certain that anyone who uttered the words "God’s plan" would get punched in the face.
We pulled into the parking lot of First Presbyterian and slowly extracted ourselves from the minivan, our trusted carriage. I used the finger-printed window as a mirror and attempted to fix my undereyes. The mascara had won, so instead I shifted my attention to flattening the front of my dress and hiding my exposed bra strap. I grabbed the closest free hand I could find, then we all ascended the stairs together.
Pragmatically, patiently, the minivan awaited our arrival; then we drove around well into the evening hours, hitting every hot spot in town where we could cling, just a while longer, to the memories of our beloved Kate.
Rebekah Iliff is an entrepreneur and writer based in Nashville, Tenn., with roots in Topeka. To learn more about her work visit www.rebekahiliff.com.