Shower Beers and Sex Jokeshttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/img158.jpg?fit=1149%2C1920&ssl=111491920Jane M. FlemingJane M. Fleminghttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/4fd730e1505150a05459a418f5e2ee14?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Your father said he was glad we sent flowers to the funeral home for you. Our basket of sunflowers and daisies shining bright behind glossed photographs of your chestnut smile seemed fitting for the way we knew you, with sun glinting off a glassy lake and your limbs tucked into lazy canoes. Fishing poles and beer cans caught the light too, unlike the fish that were obviously a little wary of your hook. Photos on film caught rays on the top of your skull like the energy-saving bulb over your mahogany casket. But you are water. Despite the lazy canoes, I remember you floating in rubber tubes and taking shots of tequila with strangers while my feet bled into the bedrock beneath us. It was warm like your clarinet laughter and your wife’s brilliant smile and we all giggled and noted we hadn’t seen you like this in a while.
Echoes. Echoes. I can feel it bouncing in my empty torso, emptied just at the thought of you with steel in your long fingers— because all the language I’ve learned through twenty-two years of school comes out a ball of rubber bands held together by glue. And nothing comes forward, no food, no words. No wisdom from wrinkled mouths could help us understand, just bile and yellowed confusion and the image of your hands.
Your hands who held hers under live oak trees last fall and a cell phone that you borrowed seven years ago to take blurred pictures on a sinking couch, your tongue glistening just like your eyes and the camera too close to get a good angle of you. That same winter, I opened my apartment door and was surprised to find you standing there with a bag of ice and rum and piña colada mix asking if I had a blender. We sat in the middle of our kitchen with my roommate’s machine, crushing shots of rum in coconut-colored sips. We talked about porn and music and my unkempt hair and I told you that I wanted to die, but not today.
Not tomorrow. You told me we were all fucked up but I shouldn’t have quit being an athlete. You told me I was worth more than the weed smoke I spit through my teeth. I should have played basketball with you when you asked, when you reminded me that I was worth more than the trash I created with my Natty Light cans and fast food wrappers. And that no matter how many Twisted Teas I drank, I still couldn’t challenge you to go drink for drink.
You are Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” on a loop to me. And when I thought you hated me because I hurt your best friend, it always mattered most that I made up with you. Because you tell it like it is— like it could be. You ate my first home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and mac n’ cheese, a hovel feast for the three college drop-outs, adrift on the seas of cheap liquor and bad mixers. You were just embarrassed, like me, to go home yet. You helped me recover from the hospital and sometimes kept some of my secrets.
I wish you’d known that we would take your bullets in our arms and give back blanks to you. And that when you took the shotgun from me, it made me the kind of safe that I couldn’t give to you.
When we heard the news, your friends came together like elephants, in silent circles picking through the smoke and bones to ask hundreds of questions with no answers. So, we covered you in grass and leaves and grieved. And grieve still. And we told each other stories just to steady our breath and held each other close. But there is just so much and the words that we use- grief, loss- these words don’t hold any of you. They don’t hold you like we do in cloth car seats and Tom Petty songs. They don’t hold you in midnight dances and games of pong or in plastic cups of High Life. They don’t hold you in winter lakes or hospital stays or playing hooky at the beach or stubborn cars on snowed-in roads. They don’t hold you at all.
You were many truths at once. Like me, like us, you are languid streams and red canyons and frigid Texas beaches and shower beers and sex jokes and rugby and grunge music and Gucci Mane and country and pigeons and heated spoons and petty grudges and cats and fantasy football and professional basketball and drunk punches and overrated restaurants and loyal and strong and…
Your father told us he was glad we sent flowers to the funeral home for you, but I’m sure he wishes like we do, that we had stuffed the stems in your barrel and called you home.
You are many things and many pieces at once, sliding from our tongues and making us refuse lunch. Or take it, or just be grateful for a taste. We are busy stuffing stems in barrels of each other now, throwing suspicious hugs and telling each other lies like it’ll be okay. And it will be, just not today.
I see your sideways smile every day in a silver-framed wedding photo, brothers with arms clasped around each other. For three weddings I was impressed by each of you in your Sunday best ready to celebrate love and life. This time we were excited to be there for you. But I stumbled into the kitchen and run the coffee maker and turn on the local news. Every morning, I turn on the local news.
When I saw the darkened sign for your apartment complex behind the newswoman’s thin-lipped stare, my first thought was to text you, “Hey, sounds like you all had a crazy night. Are you doing okay?” When an hour went by and then two and then eight and my phone was silent, I texted your best friend to say, “Hey, have you heard from Michael today?”
And we kept telling ourselves it couldn’t be you. Despite the description, it couldn’t be you.
Now you are many places at once. Scattered between our heads in big or tiny grains. Mostly in your laughter or turns of phrase. When I talked about your smile three voices replied,
“I can’t imagine him any other way.”
There are some ghosts you cannot exorcise and I’m hoping that’s true for you. That you’ll hang around to tell us which restaurants still displease you. But that the paranoia I’m feeling in radio silence slips away and the biting pain of absence gets further every day. Your best friend worries that over time he’ll forget your voice and I am worried you’ll get buried behind deadlines and papers or that I won’t be able to hold your wife’s hand. And years from now, when we all get together— gather like elephants on dusty land— the hole will open up again.
Your father said you’re home with God and I hope to your God that is true. He said he was glad we sent flowers to the funeral home for you, but I didn’t know until now that sunny petals could be so violent. And conflicted. Whenever we finally wake up from this, I just want to say,
Next time, you don’t have to buy your flowers with bullets.