Phony Avenues or the story about a lot of crying
The day I learnt of his passing, to be brutally honest, I felt nothing more than when a lone leaf takes flight, from a dying lightning struck tree, random in its sways, zig-zagging with accidental grace, to land on a random patch of earth, on a too casual gray day.
It meant close to absolutely nothing…except for the thought of crying parents, which was when I heard my heart twitch with a certain sadness that fizzled quickly to mere contrived sympathy; A footnote to the passing of another season. Like they say, another one bites the dust.
But earlier today, I was in my only black suit, well pressed. I took it off, paced my room, put it back on. Worked up a sweat.
Was this me looking for reasons to not go to his funeral, or to go anyway but (re)create this complex of resentment, untouched for so long, unabridged in flooding Technicolor of our yesteryears to numb myself from any expression of grief that at is to be done?
Then I thought about my own confusion, which then manifested into the thought of my father, a man slowly disappearing from memory like how he disappeared from his family, the day my mother broke down and called it quits. Like they say, another one bites the dust.
I had once written down what I lacked the guts to say to Mr. It’s-My-Funeral in person. The only thing I remember about it was this, “Wish I could stomp you into a pulp! Too bad I’m only capable of half the damage I’d like to inflict on you. Good thing you know Jujitsu.”
This was written under the influence of various stimulants and hallucinogens on a park bench in block letters outside the apartment we used to share.
Half of me wanted him to find it during his casual walks around the neighbourhood, suspect it was me, and hope that he will never once ask me about it but only to give me peculiar looks whenever we were to pass it by together. I made the careful decision to write it in permanent marker.
I have on other occasions indulged in writing mean and distasteful words directed to you, on toilet cubicle walls and library tables where akin juvenile compositions reside and age and probably already painted over, providing blank canvasses for the passive to liberate and vent their own parable of woe. That bench was my gateway drug.
But most of the time, a homeless man in a forest green parka would be lying on said bench, reeking of urine, and snoring loudly. If he weren’t lying there, he would blend right in with numerous professor emeritus’s from the university that I had gone to, going about in their nonsense babble.
He would have this notebook with him, pages upon pages of repeated alphabets and numbers (not unlike my professors), and he would scribble on the empty pages these words I have written, carefully examining its syntax with child-like curiosity and often repeating them like a delicate mantra at the top of his lungs in the night-time when he is most lonely and high on his dubious credentials, disrupting my study. Sometimes I regret writing them.
Because there was a time you punched me in the stomach and spit into my face. It hurt me something awful...
The drive to his parents’ house was a long one, but it wasn’t long enough. It was bright out and the bright yolk of the Sun shone yellow light into the car, reflected by the keys in the ignition and onto my steel watch to cause a disharmony of things too bright for my eyes. I was anxious.
There was a folk song playing which I found, or it found me, while messing with the radio. It was a really long song about something sad, I was pretty sure it was Dylan, who after many years is slowly sounding much like a certain Tom Waits. A very familiar playful jailbird croon, steeped in stream train blues, lamenting the Titanic’s finest hour.
In the dark illumination
He remembered bygone years
He read the Book of Revelation
And he filled his cup with tears
When the Reaper’s task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loveliest and the best
What a terribly appropriate song i thought.
The house with many cars lined up on either side came into view. This is your house. The hardest part was to address his parents — His mother in shambles while his father was her crutch. Do offer a handshake or do I just nod and smile, hinting on having a word with them after the service? I did neither one. I was told I was socially dysfunctional.
When we arrived at the church, which was just a 5 minute walk from the house, I stood at the back, both hands in my pocket fiddling with loose threads and stared at the ground as they started the eulogy. His mother came up first, and said only a few disjointed words before her father took over as she sobbed and howled uncontrollably.
Her words were “I’m thankful that..that…my son…my son…gone so young…too soon…oh god…”
The father was full of witticism and poetic nuances, but too noticeable were the hollow in his words, betrayed by clinching nicotine stained teeth. And he said “My boy…It was as if he knew he’d be gone and taking Harp lessons up in the sky by 31. He had an attitude that oozed “screw everybody”, like it was a caption shirt he had on all the time.
But that was the person he was, he wouldn’t stand up for mediocrity, always willing to put up a good fight. He wasn’t any push over…my boy. Always at hand for faithful friends and always the passionate lover of women who weren’t any good to or for him. He should have outlived me and my wife, but now he will live on forever. All his joy and sadness will be ours, not halved but shared.”
He paused, took a deep breath then continued. “There was a time when he was 5… he was in the garden behind our house, playing with trains and toy soldiers and such, while I was inside looking over him through the kitchen window, at the same time looking through some paperwork and doing the crossword while my wife made us fried cucur pisang and black coffee.
At this point I must admit, I wasn’t the best father, we had almost nothing in common, but that day I tried. I came up to him with a paper boat made out of yesterday’s newspaper and steadied it in the gutter. I then sprayed water into the gutter with the garden hose and we both watched as the boat sailed on never to be seen again.
He cried, so I taught him how to make one. And he made at least 1 a day just for me to admire. He would still make them 20 years after, simple like the one I taught him, always with old newspaper, and send them through the mail each year for my birthday. I have about a dozen of them tucked somewhere in a metal box between my coats.”
He must have made an analogy of how his son was at an ocean somewhere, navigating a rudderless boat to paradise unknown but it didn’t help my inattentiveness that in front me, stood a woman who was carrying a crying baby who had a cute little suit on, whom I suspect isn’t crying about the death of an uncle he will only years from now know through photo frames and candid anecdotes, but rather something more primal, like shitting his pants. I had a mental chuckle.
The priest read the scripture, after we’ve sang our hymns and then we buried him, along with a lot of dirt. But not before everyone had the chance to see him for the last time. One by one they made their rounds peering into the glass, at your swollen and powdery face, almost caricature like.
We then proceeded back to the house, in silent procession and protest against death, to continue the wake as requested by the family, to hopefully consume potent brew, for the certainty of mortality looms over everyone’s heads. When I looked back to the grave for whatever reason, a lone silhouette, slim and black was bent over it, forming a black rainbow, and then I walked on, without a single thought.
You kept score of the “good deeds” you did for me, which were really you voluntarily buying me beer which I didn’t want, and to recoup from me a week later saying something like, “Hey, could you clean the dishes?” which you and your little stink eyed girlfriend ravenously dined on earlier in the night, when I clearly at the time had something important to do, or which I pretended to do out of not wanting to do you any favours, which does not make a difference for you as you would never know. How deep we were, I was, in phony pleasantries.
Many paid courtesy to the family, false or genuine. I did too, lest you get the best of me, mocking me in the astral plane.
In the family home, I looked on at the incestuous crying orgy, a sad circle-jerk with his mother as the centrepiece near the dining table, I was afraid this contagion of sadness would spread through the musky air and infect me, through the nostrils, going straight to the tear glands and to cause myself great embarrassment, and by luck, just then I flared my nostrils and sneezed.
To look is hard, but to do is harder. The solution is to down another, then another, in quick succession with minimal thought. Soon I was ping-ponging between strangers and acquaintances, engaging in small talk.
We touched on Kevin sparsely, but never in any great detail, which was what I really wanted, to separate myth from truth, to distil some kind of essence of the man laid to rest, to mix with and subdue my bitterness, for you cannot hate a dead man forever. I needed to get someone alone. Then I downed another for good measure. You conceited urghhhh!
Then from afar, at the far right corner of the house sitting at the dining table, like a spell of quiet magic, a muted woman, disconnected, disappearing. Her left arm pressed onto her side, clutching her tiny black purse, while her head points north, and exposing her subtle silver earrings, out the window into the garden where tulips are abundant, perhaps a sign of hope in this solemn arrangement.
She was too self conscious to cry, to polite not to. What resulted were these minute fits of tears, and she would take a handkerchief out of her pocket to wipe them away. They were sudden but controlled and constant, like clockwork. I was fighting this sudden urge to walk up to her, take a seat and find out what happens next. This I did, to no fruition.
“Hi…may I sit?” I said, sounding as sorry as I could, being as sober as I could.
“Mmm..” That was her answer, already ready to choke if she said anything further.
“How did you know the uh…deceased?” Was it appropriate that I called Kevin the “deceased”? Damn it, I should have addressed him by name.
“He was my best friend. Thought he can be a thick-headed son of a…sorry…we all loved him so much…” It took her a few minutes to word out everything, with many hard pauses and still staring out into the garden.
“I’m sorry…so sorry. I didn’t get your name. I’m Maurice…he never told me about you. I was…I was his flatmate for two semesters in college.”
“I’m Samantha. Today I found out I got through an audition for a big time theatre production, he would have been proud, and he would have told me anyway that he won’t be coming because he has other plans, when we all know he doesn’t.”
At this instance, she clenched her fists and sharpened her eyes onto mine, pupils dilated in melancholia, the colour of sea foam green (contacts?), while mine have been planning skirmishes all the while, stretched out on her coordinates. Her lips were trembling, a soft and tired smile, as she contained the quake in her eyes.
I must have mistaken the gesture because then, I endeavoured to amuse my misguided yearn; I began to slide my arm up her right thigh, gently like a perverted snake sifting through the softest warm desert sand, leisurely coiling, turning into a firm grip, ending with a death rattle send off.
Thank god she was nice about it, with an expression not at all too shocked. Quietly she got up, straightened the ripples on her skirt, took my hand (gently), and walked me to the door, asking me to leave.
Before walking out the front door i looked back. Her face reads indifferent. As I turn I feel her eyes on me, leaning on the doorway, my vicious muse.
The nerve I had to hit on a mourning, fragile woman. Do we flirt at the tiniest pause and flex? When confronted with a beautiful full bodied woman, with locks of voluminous brown hair, at the brim of emotional capacity and inclined to too many bottles of wine later in the night, I would say yes.
Wanting to continue with the “festivities”, I hurried out and back in through the back door into the kitchen as soon as she got back to her mourning business to be greeted by a rather surprised group of men, all rather inebriated and gay and sad, taking playful jabs at the bastard.
In all my excesses, I proclaimed to the gentlemen of the jury, “He was a little prick wasn’t he!?” waving my arms like a baboon loose on the steering wheel. A tallish athletic type with flustered cheeks, of otherwise light-ish hue, a hint intoxicated and earlier on wept greatly, answered, “That he was! He was!” as if recalling a shared memory to all around him, and with a knowing smile, he said “But he’s our prick! Hahaha! We’re all terribly proud of him...he uh..he was going to marry, and I was to be his best man! Poor girl, you’d be a monster if you didn’t have sympathy for her…” he trailed off, and we all had a toast.
In the midst of good company and all the hunky dory, I thought of bleak death. And I wondered how many people would come to my funeral and the overheads that would come with it, in my head calculating every coat of veneer, every petal of red and white, how best to liquidate my estate, my remains buried or scattered in the ocean, to permeate in salty conclave of deep terrifying blue, of algae and coral, swam in by nature’s rogue gallery of precision killers and gentle creatures, left to the whims of the elements, below oil tankers and luxury cruise ships.
If a speck of me contained the determination, it would make its way through to the lakes and rivers, into industrious treatment plants, sift its way through layers of limestone, pumped through aging pipes into cupped hands at the turn of a faucet, to finally meet thirsty gaping mouths, to bind with someone anyone’s iron and protein, to finally live again.
But most of all, I fear that they will patronise me. And this ‘they’ is not the collection of specific persons, but something formless and ubiquitous, the genesis if which cannot be traced. And no, I need not worry about parents.
It must have been selfish of me to think of my own funeral, at his. Even more selfish when I comforted myself thinking that everyone else in attendance had taught of this at least once tonight. I have gathered them all in my head, roped them to the hip, confided into their ears the same words, “Don’t tell the person next to you what I told you.”
Naturally, I went to the makeshift mini bar, administered by his alcoholic uncle, whom was also the priest, and had a beer with a shot of whiskey which he called The Boilermaker; a catalyst for self gratifying spiritual discovery. His words, not mine. This uncle also had a familiar jailbird croon.
A child of the dirty 30’s, fought along the Malayan straits in the war, which I concluded was a lie if you did some simple arithmetic, and plainly cannot tolerate middle aged yuppie types, a term as old as his arm watch. “Youngsters these days, so damned eager! They would riot to anything, as if they are owned this mystical special privilege! Part me a fucking sea!” verbatim, from his mouth, that smelled like hell itself — but really just too many cigarettes.
He then explained to me about the act of transfiguration, about how an old friend of his, long dead, whose “soul” entered into a little known young singer-songwriter and by the act of which singlehandedly kick-started a reasonably successful career that ended up with alcoholism and women beating that ultimately led him to have a seat in a local township. This was the experimental 60’s.
He believed so because the day his friend died, he heard a song called “Night is the only time of day” by said singer which became a moderate hit, and that they shared the same namesake, surname and everything, Henry Henry. This was also when he was messing around with the radio, in his old Toyota, before the Lord claimed to have appeared to him in the creases of his sail, off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
He went into a tangent and made a very convincing account of how everyone came from a single mother cell which came from this primordial soup somewhere in Africa, then still in Pangaea, and that we are all essentially an endless stream of consciousness, separate but whole. His case was superfluous and glossy but remarkable, which ended with, “Everyone is everyone. Some just experience live at a higher frequency.”
I amused his hoot and he grinned like a cheeky old monkey which made everything he said less than they appear, making him out to be a well-read charlatan. Regardless, it left me perplexed and curious of our many possible ex-lives, myself all too eager to have a re-appearance. And you would expect this sort of philosophy to come from a gypsy pagan ceremonial magician, not a Catholic priest.
My stomach lurched. Then I had to go to the toilet and paint it a whole new colour scheme. Must have been that purple looking meat.
I was looking for a specific answer to a specific question, from someone who knew something no one else does, and I will find this person past the sea of mourners, back into the kitchen, sitting on the kitchen top, fiddling with a lighter, and when he or she speaks, it is profound. The answer will be simple; the answer will echo, repeating itself until it too believes it.
And on that kitchen top I found myself an hour later thinking about the missteps I have had tonight, and getting a pack of cigarettes on the way home, the usual, Marlboro Reds. It is as though my mind has been untangling a synaptic knot the entire time, and when it broke loose, the tension caused vibration, and the vibration, an esoteric chord, a calypso beat dragging to my chest, leaking out and appearing to the unsuspecting as a sigh.
How bad of a guy could he have been, if he, after all these years, has kept sizable and loyal company? I for one cannot say that I am as innocent and infinitely sage as an infant Jesus Christ.
All the while, he was the one that held up the proverbial mirror to me. And reflecting back is me, pointing a perpetual middle finger, in a vulgar stance, whist naked. Embarrassed and angered that you caught him in the nude. Everyone should have a friend like him.
I felt an unmistakable splinter in my throat, a welling up of a certain something that forced me to leave, cowardly and discreetly, albeit clumsily in my drunken stupor, tripping on flat ground and falling into vegetation. On the drive home I thought of black ice on the road, two cars colliding like tossed salad, the girl of quiet magic, about the little known singer-songwriter, my head heading for the windshield, happening at the speed of a fraction of a fraction of a second. They said he wasn’t dead when they found him, he said everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
In the house, 50 odd people stood and sat awkwardly. Side by side they merely added up. But standing side by side, we were brothers. Once.
Like many things that are hard to admit, he has shamed me in death, playing a posthumous game of rope-a-dope, pulling the 1–2 punches as I am unable to stand upright from my stool. We’re one and the same, him and me, both uncouth and running on cavemen software. Like the lone leaf, he zigged, I zagged. But we were part of the same pattern, we met at variable angles, making up small corners, he ends where I begin, then we all land on random patches of earth.