Wrote this piece a while ago… god I miss her.
It took me a long while to decide what to wear to Zoee’s funeral. Spread out over my black comforter were a number of different options. What do you even wear to a funeral? Black, I suppose, would be the normal color. That was the answer that immediately popped into my head, at least. The ‘color of mourning’ for however much that was worth. Figuring out what to wear for a funeral wasn’t something I had a lot of experience doing. Any, actually. Suddenly, another thought jarred itself into my head — did it made a difference that I was headed to just the service and not the actual burial itself? I looked at my phone in search of a distraction — 10:51 — I had nine minutes before I had to leave, nine minutes to continue to delay the inevitable.
“Are you ready?” My mom’s voice broke the train of thought as it rang though the house, cracking a heavy silence. My mother wasn’t sure what to do in this situation. I’d never lost someone close to me before and she had no idea how to react. I just wanted to be left the fuck alone, though I was tact enough to not tell her that.. I’m a notoriously moody person and since Zoee had died, things had been very dark indeed.
I did appreciated the fact the funeral wasn’t something I’d have to take on alone. I keep saying funeral. I think technically it was a remembrance or some or shit, though does it really matter? I didn’t really want to go, but I knew it was important and there was no way I could — or would — miss it. I sighed, and again looked at my bed. The choice was coming down to a yellow dress shirt or a dark blue shirt. It was a harder decision than it might first seem. Who would ever wear a yellow shirt to a service for a friend? Zoee, probably would have, honestly. She was a bright, vivacious person with a tremendous appetite for being alive. The bouncy, smiling blonde girl stereotype to its most extreme. Always happy, at least on the outside. There was plenty of pain, but she was never down for too long, at least on the outside. The idea she had for her own funeral would have involved laughter and people singing. Bright colors and loud music. Not the black oppressiveness of a person who loved being alive taken far too early in their life.
I decided against the bright yellow shirt, even though I’m fairly sure she would have told me the opposite. I settled on a dark blue dress shirt. In my head, I told myself this day was about remembering her and standing out would be rude. In reality, I was just a coward.
I found out about her death in a very roundabout way. It was a Saturday. July 11th, in fact, and my brother was having his Eagle Project. He was building a new fence for this historical site — the Granger House. Someone had long ago decided to preserve the old building, though it ended up coming down to volunteer groups to keep the damn thing running. The house had an eerie look to it and I’d always hated walking by it at night, even though it was on a main thoroughfare. I didn’t really want to be there and it was probably showing. Eventually we took a break when my mom stopped by later in the day. She had been running a few errands for us and arrived with a strange story of traffic being diverted on her way back from Menards. We had all been wondering how hard it was to find some decking nails, but it all made sense now. She said there was a crash. She did not, however, provide much in the way of details other than the diversion of traffic.
It bothered me, though only a little. I had a long drive ahead of me and hearting about a bad wreck always put me on edge. I’d almost been in one myself a year before, narrowly escaping harm when my friend Dakota spun out on a busy interstate.
The prospect of a 70 or so mile trek to northwestern Iowa suddenly became a whole lot less exciting to me. I had, however, promised my then girlfriend — Caley — I’d come to a fair with her the following day. She was showing her horse and I’d promised her that I would make the trip to come see her compete. Little did I know I would get a frantic phone call from my friend Haley about Zoee as I finished the last few feet of the long drive. I walked into Caley’s parents’ living room in a state of shock, sitting down and hardly speaking to them. It was an incredibly awkward situation, especially since Caley was at work. Trying to make small talk while processing the intricacies of death isn’t exactly easy. The rest of the day simply numb. We ate at Pizza Ranch. Maybe went to a movie. I remember everyone trying to make me feel better and talk about it. All I could do was sit and think. I could hardly respond. I felt frozen. Cold. Distant.
Pulling up to the funeral home, I felt the same feeling I had the day Zoee died. This was the first time I’d been to a funeral since my great-grandma died and that was when I was about five. I didn’t know what to do or say, so the feeling was just to be cold and frozen. It was a miserable feeling. I think my mom tried to say something comforting, but what really could you talk about at that point. As we walked in, I realized that the funeral home looked the same. Of course it did. They probably all do. The little entryway with some flowers. People standing around, not wanting to go into the large hall the funeral would take place in. This one, however, did have one thing the last hadn’t. Picture of Zoee, everywhere. Young and still in the prime of her life. It was also depressing. The memories of the last funeral suddenly jolted back into my head. I felt sick. My great-grandma had been very old when she had died. It was “her time” as people like to say. I thought about Zoee. She was just 19.
As we walked inside, the first person I saw was my former or maybe estranged best friend, Dakota. No need to drag him down into this black little hole of a memory. We had a complex — and that’s putting it mildly — relationship. I nodded in his direction. We made eye contact for the first time in a year. It sounds petty — and was — on both sides. The specifics aren’t all that important, honestly. But despite it all, he nodded back. I wandered past, finding a seat. Zoee would have wanted us to hash out our differences after the funeral. He texted me. I didn’t respond. He wanted me to meet him and a couple mutual friends of ours at the reception-type thing scheduled after the funeral. It was at a park where I worked. I didn’t want to go. One of our mutual friends texted me. I did not respond. It took Dakota and I another six-months after that to actually have a conversation. The first thing we talked about was Zoee.
As I sat down, it became obvious there was a long line to look at her body. This was something I wanted to avoid with every fiber of my being. To me, there would be very little solace in seeing her small, lifeless form laying in a coffin. As the service started, I tuned pretty much everything out. Nothing the minister (or whoever the clean-shaven man at the front of the room was) could say would give me solace. If God could let Zoee drive across the median into oncoming traffic, then I had little use for him. Maybe that’s harsh, I don’t know. This isn’t fair, I screamed in my head. Dying in a traffic accident just seemed so… unseemly. Zoee wasn’t supposed to die like that. A brain aneurysm, causing her to veer into the other lane. At least that’s what I heard. I never felt the need to find out for certain. Mostly because it wasn’t the how that mattered. All these thoughts cascaded into my head at one. This wasn’t the time for thinking about it, I decided. There would be plenty of time to do that later. I was correct. Looking down, I realized the service guide in my hands was crumpled and damp with my palm sweat. I really hadn’t looked in it, but I saw what I expected. A Sylvia Plath poem. Notes about how eccentric and nice and beautiful she’d been. How her friends loved her. How her family loved her. How she had doted on her dog.
How she had gone to college. At Iowa.
No mention of how she struggled to not go out all the time once she got here during my sophomore year. She let it take her in. No mention of how she stopped going to class, how her grades went downhill and how she dropped out of school completely. No mention of how awful it must have felt coming back to our hometown and be branded a failure. No mention of the crushing disappointment that must have come with that. No mention of those texts a few months before her death, letting me know she was trying to get sober.
No mention of how Caley had tried to become her friend. No mention of how I stopped spending time with her. No mention of how I stopped asking how she was doing, outside of a few stray texts. No mention of how I’d been an all-around terrible friend to her. I stopped caring enough. For whatever reason, once she again was in the same city as me, we grew apart. I never really understood what happened and I guess I never will. It haunts me to this day.
I continued to thumb through the cardstock. Sadly, I couldn’t find a mention of how good she was with word games and how we spent long hours playing them together. Or maybe I just thought she was good at it and was in reality was just happy to have someone talk me through my first real breakup. Or maybe it was just nice to have a friend when it sometimes felt like there were so few in my life.
The words of whomever was talking stopped hitting my ears and I started to think about the last time we’d had a good conversation. It was in the winter. I was a freshman in college, back home on winter break. She was still a high school senior. It was snowing. I closed my eyes.
“You know Jordan, I think you’re the first guy friend I’ve ever had that hasn’t tried to fuck me,” Zoee said in an amused voice.
She took a drag of her cigarette as I thought about what to say next. I’d never really thought of us in that way. Sure, I’d always found her smart and attractive and a lot of other things, but I’d never really looked at her in such a way. It was a pure friendship and I was determined to keep it that way.
“How am I supposed to answer that?” I said evasively.
She just laughed and the subject changed. We continued driving. It was snowing hard and we’d drove through half of Linn County. This all had started earlier in the night asking me if I’d talk with her a bit. I slipped out of the house before my mom could warn me about the weather and set off to get her.
She stayed quiet. I wondered if something was wrong, but I hadn’t exactly gotten out of her why she wanted to drive around. I never would.
It wasn’t the first time we’d hopped into a car and just talked, though as it turned out, this would be the last. It was a sad thought. We had so many happy memories. So many. And there wouldn’t be time to make any more.
That realization brought me back to reality, though my mom nudging me in the ribs might have had something to do with it as well. She wanted me to go up and say something about her to the service. I don’t think the people in attendance would care much for that story. There was no way. My voice would choke up halfway through. It might come across as genuine or endearing, I suppose, but I would just feel bad. I don’t like speaking in public all that much and a moment such as this, I didn’t feel it was my place. Instead, two of her new friends from college said some words and some family members said some words. They talked about how she was always volunteering and wanted to make the world a better place. I realized very quickly I should have just taken the microphone instead. I just wanted this to be done. It felt so fake and so sad. Zoee would have wanted loud music and dancing and people laughing.
Instead, more of her relatives came and shared their memories. It was often short bits, straight to the point. No one wanted to say too much. No one wanted to drone on. Her family was really struggling to keep composed. That, perhaps, was the hardest thing to watch. Meanwhile I kind of stared at my feet in an attempt to block it all out. This was getting to be too much for me. It was more to handle than I thought it would be. I didn’t want to look anyone else in the eye. I knew everyone else had tears in theirs too. I would see people I’d never seen cry before, cry. But that sounded so voyeuristic. This was such a profoundly personal moment. Everyone had known this girl in a different capacity. I didn’t think I needed to be the one to gauge people’s reactions. So I continued to stare at the floor, glancing up at whomever happened to be speaking occasionally.
Eventually, thankfully, it ended. They dismissed the service, but to my horror they let us go row-by-row so we could walk by her casket. We were seven rows back. I remember. I counted. As the usher got closer and closer I tried to steel myself to look at her face.
They got to us. I got up. I walked forward, dragging my feel. A whole bunch of thoughts coursed through my head. Should I say something? Stop and get a good look? For whatever reason I also was extremely concerned with holding up the line. I didn’t know what to do.
All of the sudden I was there. End of the road, I thought to myself. I looked in the casket, looked at her face and spoke just two words.
Her pale, white face looked back at me. She was dead. So very dead. I didn’t want to believe she was dead. But here the evidence was in front of me. I cannot recall what she was wearing or what color the casket was, because all I can remember is her face. Her features were crafted into a slight smile, the impish sort of grin she might have had during life. Her eyes were closed, and her hair framed her face. Her blonde hair was strewn out around her head. She looked beautiful.
After a moment or two, I looked away. Before I did, however, I made sure to burn her face into my memory. I owed it to her to never forget what she looked like. Then, tears started to burn the corners of my eyes. I continued to walk towards the exit. I think someone called my name. I don’t know. My vision blurred as more and more droplets of sadness came out. The small stream became a gushing torrent. It didn’t subside for a long time.