11 December, 2013

The Laugh

(3 seconds after the reception)

The Funeral Reception of Doom did—eventually—end.

dessert at Fran's: WORD.
After an hour or so, our numbers dwindled. The remainder of our group (which included my mother’s friends, as well as a handful of mine who had gotten the entire weekend off from college), piled provisions and headed over to The Steinman’s house for what could only be described as an epic dessert wake. It was time to cut loose at our very own “Second Funeral Reception,” which eliminated the crazy people and included everyone’s very favorite thing: dessert.

 Those Upstairs People needed to get lost before we all kicked off our Sunday shoes right onto their shiny Cadillacs. Before a rogue Sunday shoe knocked some ancestral luminary over and broke a hip. I quashed the impulse to shout, Look, I know all of these bozos came to this funeral thinking they were going to corner me and force me to apologize, but I’m not going to do that. 
Furthermore I actually need to go somewhere. 
Somewhere important
Like Fran’s house for cheesecake...

That evening at The Steinman’s was the reception I will always choose to remember—when everyone relaxed and smiled and celebrated not only Dad’s life, but life itself—friends gathered together from every corner of the country, eating delicious food, telling stories, recalling memories, and performing parlor tricks as only theatre people can. If one had looked into the window of The Steinman’s house that evening, to see our faces you never would have guessed it was a funeral—exactly the kind of party Dad would have hosted.

But that had to end too.

After we helped Fran clean up and pack away the treats, everyone had to head back to their hotels, schools, or lives, and only a remaining few of us ambled back to 1367; full, and numb, and literally everything in between.


With our numbers dwindled and our bellies full of flambé, the remainder of us at 1367 gathered in the very seats the Enemy Forces had occupied hours earlier.

After a while we decided we needed “real food.” So Mom made guacamole. (What? That is real food.) Utilizing thirty or so avocados, she whipped up her—pardon the expression—killer recipe and put it in a giant salad bowl (accompanied by two bags of donation tortilla chips someone had given us), and we inhaled this all on the hand-painted Haitian coffee table my parents acquired in Port Au Prince circa the late-70s.

Besides Grey, Lilly and Kent, only Jessica and Jeremey were to remain at 1367 for the night. Jeremey was occupying the place with a sense of real ownership—I suppose at the time he knew the place far better than anyone. He belonged there.

Jessica did too—she was the unofficial 'Mayor' of our inner circle and my other dearest friend. Jess and I had a proclivity for long journeys taken together deep into the night. The previous summer we’d roomed together while working at the Interlochen summer camp, and had driven to lakes for midnight swims, to the “E-Z mart” for emergency Popcicles. No to mention a magical drive to Honor, Michigan where we stared at the stars on the hood of her vintage pickup truck.

We decided to take a walk in the oddly warm October evening. It smelled of first fires and Michigan musk, the kind of evening that makes you think you are within the pages of a nostalgic novel. The sky was like a painting—deepest purple at the edges with a brick-colored moon, and leaves dried, glittering like precious metals of gold, amber and ruby. In hindsight I think Jess was trying to give me permission to let go with her, to give me safe passage away from the public stage of grief and family and even our friends.

But the truth was, even if I had wanted to let it go I didn’t know how.

Saying as much, she took my hand and we walked in silence before coming upon the local High School Homecoming dance, which we promptly went to (for about twenty minutes), laughing our heads off at the oddity of it all before turning back. To this day, we fondly recall the night of my Dad's funeral where we...ya know, went to Homecoming.

Last to arrive home were Grey, Kent and Lilly— they’d dropped everyone off at their buses, airports or various hotels.
     “We come bearing more food” Grey droned. They entered holding enormous bags of food from their various drop-off points, though no bags larger than the ones beneath their eyes, “luckily the German couple down the street also plied us with fancy 17% alcohol lager which I will now be setting a direct I.V. up to if anyone else is interested…”
     “Me...” muttered Kent, and the boys withdrew to the kitchen to do exactly that.

Lilly was silent as she entered the front doorway, soundlessly removing her clogs, sighing as she tucked her short hair behind each ear with her precise wood-winder’s fingers. She made her way up the three little steps from the entrance to the main living room. She looked exhaustedly over all of us, looking exhaustedly back at her. No one spoke. It was hard to discern what Lilly was about to do.
Then, in her own bewitching way, Lilly did something that in hindsight seems so achingly inevitable it is a wonder we ever hesitated to wonder otherwise:

She laughed.

It started modestly— a little chortle in her distinctive way, all charm and delight and Virginian sunshine fed by exhaustion, sorrow and utter disbelief at all that had transpired. The look on her face as the laughter escaped her open mouth was brighter than any sunlight, and it flooded through the living room, drenching us with its radiance. Lilly laughed and laughed, hysterically cackling into her hands until she ugly cried.
How could we not join her?

Something had tilted. This was it— the end of the line. You are here the imaginary sign proclaimed! We had reached it— this burnt out, fully smoked, nothing-left-but-the-filter, cigarette stub of this raw, preposterous week had come to an end.

Lilly’s laughter spread, and caught us all. The room erupted, everyone clutching at the arms and legs of another member of this ragtag crew, not ceasing, but growing, the sound of it mounting as tears flooded down our faces and we hit our chests in a desperate attempt to breathe.

     “What’s so funny?” the boys asked, entering from the kitchen.
Soon they were guffawing too. Overwhelmedness took us over, and, in safe company at long last we were free to share in a seismic earth tremor of sleep-deprived hysteria.

We all knew we were gathered for a sober purpose, but holy hell did it felt good.
Even at the end of this horrible day, we found a way to laugh.
All together.
To eat guacamole.
Because that is how any day should end— whether it be a funeral, a hanging, a luau, your quinceañera or just Tuesday.
And though I have never been part of a street gang, I would wager that this kind of camaraderie felt pretty close— the kind of feel good we-sure-weathered-that-storm-together type togetherness that put one in the mood to play chicken and steal a stop-sign.

I never would have believed it, but as I rolled on the floor, face aching, lungs positively burning from the sheer strength and necessity of the laughter, I knew:
     it was all going to be alright.

1 comment:

  1. Al, I love this and everything else you've written. I didn't know I needed this until now (which is the thing I say after reading each of your posts)



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