The day you left to attend your best friend’s funeral, your mom drove an hour from home to pick you up at college. Even though you had a car on campus, the thought of driving home alone in a metal death trap surrounded only by your thoughts terrified you.
Your boyfriend, at that time, walked you to the car to say goodbye. Being an emotionally stunted youth like yourself who had never felt actual pain before, he waved at you and said, “Have fun!”
Have fun? It seemed he had momentarily forgotten that the only reason you were going home was to attend your friend’s funeral, which was odd considering he had been at your apartment the night you got the phone call that she had died in a car accident. He had seen you screaming and crying. He had tried to comfort you that night as you somehow fell asleep. He had been there in the morning as you woke up, put on your makeup, and went about a typical day on campus because – what else were you going to do?
Looking back, you knew that relationship wasn’t going to last, but of course, it continued for a few torturous months after that. Unable to comfort you in your sorrow, or discuss the darker places life would inevitably take you – you ran out of conversations worth having.
The service was held at St. Mary’s, a tall-steepled brick church within walking distance from your grandparents’ house. It was a small town. You used to be a Rose of Sharon that grew on a triangular sliver of land at the intersection of Wyvil and Hanford Avenues. You blossomed there next to a swingset where the daycare children would play. The daycare also happened to be the home of your grandmother, and you were the Rose of Sharon that she cared for. She put your petals on the bus in the morning to go to elementary school, and when you got off the bus in the afternoon, she filled your plant body with nutrients so you could grow healthy and strong.
But that was then.
Now, you sat in the fourth pew back from the altar at your best friend’s funeral, and you felt anything but healthy or strong or innocent. You wore a low cut, purple dress that flowed like Rose of Sharon flower petals falling away into the autumn breeze. On the bench, you sat next to more of her high school friends. You all wore similar dresses, though not in style, color, or texture. They were similar because they had all belonged to your Maine Coon too.
Before the ceremony, Maddie’s parents invited a group of us to visit her childhood bedroom. In typical Maddie fashion – and in the way of someone who had left intending to eventually return to clean it up one day – her room was trashed.
Clothes were strewn about the floor, half-used makeup covered the vanity, and general chaos abound. Your mind dictates your space, and vice versa. Imagine the room of a young woman who had ventured to art school in New York City for a year, who had always wanted to escape this small town, had come back home to live with her parents just a year later – and then died in a car accident.
It looked like that.
However, as you sifted through her room, you found a row of dresses tucked pristinely in her closet. The dresses she wore to prom, school dances, and summer outings were all there, even the one you had gifted her a few months prior.
You recommended that the girls should, in her honor, wear these dresses to the ceremony – because what more could any of you have wanted at that point, really? She would get to see us in a runway show of her curating, and we would get to hold her as close as we could to our bodies without her actually being there. It was the smallest win-win in an otherwise lose-lose-lose situation.
The ceremony was another lose-lose.
Sitting in that church, you were forced to listen to the pastor describe her prestige as an altar girl, a dedicated young woman of faith who was ‘lost too soon’ and had become ‘another angel in heaven.’
It made you furious.
You clawed through the fleshy parts of your fists, bit your cheek, and dug your nails into the pew as you stared down at the Holy Bible. Envisioning her as an angel in white robes serving the Lord was as unfamiliar to you as seeing her in a dashiki. Your molten tears dug gashes in the moon and lit the sky with the saddest rage.
Who was this girl they were talking about? Not the one you had known.
Not the friend who had driven you to your boyfriend’s house the night you lost your virginity.
Not the girl who had a Hannah Montana themed birthday party in the 8th grade where you sang karaoke in her basement.
Not the friend who drove you to Tim Hortons immediately after passing her driver’s test, and proceeded to drive straight over a parking block in the parking lot.
Not the friend who gazed deeply up at the stars with you while trespassing at the Buddhist temple.
And not the friend who bought alcohol illegally with you at the local gas station.
Pranav, who worked at the gas station, would let you sneak in to buy Four Lokos when the other patrons were out of sight. You would wait in her car until the coast was clear, then flit inside and back to the cooler where you would sneakily place the goods into your purses. When you got to the cash register, you would show him your collections and pay the appropriate, if not lesser, amount as he asked about your days.
He was a great guy.
Although he was unarguably doing something illegal, you never felt any negative energy from him, and he always asked about your lives in the most caring way. He was like your principal outside of school – a principal that didn’t care if you drank underage or what your grades were but genuinely cared if you were happy individuals.
When you went into the gas station that night after the funeral, you were not a happy individual. You had to break the news to him that your Maine Coone had died. You used to go to the gas station all the time together. He probably knew her face better than yours because she was the one that had stayed in town for longer after you graduated.
You went inside the gas station that night to break the news to Pranav, and he let you buy beer underage for the night’s festivities.
After the funeral was the Friends Only Wake. Maddie’s closest friends came, as well as many other people from high school who you hadn’t seen in over a year. There were snacks, beer, and balloons. There’s a picture of you from that day where only your head is visible from behind a giant balloon bouquet, waiting to be released in memoriam and pollute your small town.
As the evening grew darker, you all lit floating lanterns to release into the night too. You walked over to the great lawn of your elementary school, formed a circle in the field, popping beers in her honor, and poured one into the grass. Everyone partnered up: one person holding a lantern and the other lighting it from underneath.
Maddie’s ex-boyfriend was there. They had dated on and off for much of high school. As you helped him light his lantern, the flame starting to inflate the paper cloud above, the circle of broken people started chanting:
“Let it go, Luke.”
“It’s time, let go.”
“Let her go…”
Luke released his fingers from the lantern, and the wind carried us above the field, the trees and away over the elementary school where we had all been innocent once.
After the Friends Only Wake, you traveled to a friend of a friend’s house for the After Hours Wake – essentially, to the home of someone who had an apartment big enough for a funeral party of misfits. At the party, you were surrounded by kids who had gone to your high school. There were people you had graduated with that you hadn’t seen in two years, older kids that you knew only from yearbook photos, and former close friends that you hadn’t kept in touch with (and who hadn’t kept in touch with you either).
There were people who had known of Maddie, had fallen in and out of love with her – and then the rest of you who thought you knew her more than most. Your anxiety was already high because your best friend had just died, and now you were surrounded by people you didn’t know anymore, and probably never did.
After seeing how visibly uncomfortable you were, a friendly kid that you graduated with took you into one of the back bedrooms. You cried with him on the floor of that bedroom for a while, until some other guys came in and started snorting cocaine.
This made you extremely uncomfortable and angered you to see the kids you had once known and cared for fucking with their bodies that way. Having never seen cocaine in use outside of TV shows only added to your agitation. The child in you watched with horror and shrank back into her hole of ignorance. You promptly left the room and to get another drink, like a hypocrite.
Drugs are a spectrum of terrible, and yours was less terrible for the moment, so you judged them instead of yourself.
After that, you floated around the party in a depressed daze, trying to connect with people you hadn’t seen in years, and pretending that you weren’t an introvert anymore. The drinks were flowing.
At some point, you ended up in the bathroom—a moment of peace. You were staring at yourself in the mirror, agitation growing further in your drunkenness. Turning around in the small room, you saw the shower curtain hanging there, peaceful in place as it was meant to be. Strong and sturdy as it ever was. Mocking you.
Something inside you reached a breaking point, and you yanked that shower curtain down, pulling the pole from the wall and leaving the curtain in a heap in the bathtub.
You stared down at what you had done.
Maybe you laughed, imagining what the next person would think when they walked in the bathroom, and then you cried. You turned the light off and left without trying to fix the curtain.
Because everything was already broken, wasn’t it? It couldn’t be fixed.