In the movies, funerals are always rainy affairs. Everyone carries matching black umbrellas and wears perfect black attire and the rain hides their gentle tears and they turn away one by one at the end until only one person is left holding a single white lily that they place on the casket as if the wooden lid is not already four or five feet deep in the ground.

Andrew’s funeral was sunny. It was even warm, for New England in March. I remember thinking it was a nice day. I wore the same tired black suit I had worn to my mother’s funeral and drove out alone to a graveyard a little way outside of town. It had taken a few tries to find this graveyard. I have never been able to understand why people were so hesitant. It was just a body I wanted them to put in the ground; how hard could it be?

Everyone attending was wearing something different. Jack was wearing a black yarmulke, and had a little black ribbon pinned to his lapel. Scottie’s tie was facing inside out, which Jack was attempting to fix. Lucy had on a lacy black dress with a shawl over it to hide the open back. We did not match. No one brought an umbrella. There was nothing to mask the sound of Lucy’s sob breaking free from her chest, the snot Jack kept wiping away with his sleeves, or the way Scottie’s face screwed up when he tried to stop himself crying. Nothing to shield me, either, or my emotionless expression, the stiffness in my shoulders, the shuffle of my feet as the priest droned on and on. I could only imagine what my friends were thinking. Why doesn’t he cry? Doesn’t he miss him? What’s wrong with him?

I knew what Andrew would have thought, because he had said it to me before, after my mother.

“There are a million different ways to grieve, Rus. If you do it someone else’s way now, you’ll just have to do it again later.”

The priest was alright, but I am not Christian, and I did not know any of the stories or psalms he read. Scottie’s eulogy was well-worded, though when he tried to make a joke he started to cry, so Jack had to finish it for him. I wished I could have left. If it had not been Andrew in the casket, Andrew in the ground, Andrew in the eulogy, I would have. When it was all finally over, we dispersed from the funeral in two cars. Scottie, Jack, and Lucy were going to Scottie’s house to talk and to look at some photographs Scottie had found in his garage. We were the only people here in the grassy cemetery.

“Come with us, Rusty.” Lucy offered her soft hand and tried to smile. I looked at her palm, a few shades lighter than the rest of her brown skin, and touched a long scar that ran across it.

“I think I gave this to you,” I said. Lucy smiled for real.

“It’s not your fault I didn’t know how to pop a wheelie,” she said. I laughed. It was short-lived but soothing. Lucy’s face turned sad again. “Come back with us.”

“I can’t,” I said. I had no excuse and nothing else to say.

“Rusty,” Lucy started. I recognized the exasperated tone from when she spoke to her son. I shook my head. The others said nothing. Maybe they knew. I hope they understood.

I do not know how long I drove for. It could have been minutes; it was probably hours. When I stopped, pulling up to the curb, it was only to gaze idly up at an uneven wall of seaside houses, four stories each, painted in rich colors with crisp white trim. Had this town always been so pretty? As a kid, I hated it. But then, what thirteen-year-old boy has an appreciation for New England shoreline architecture?

To the right I saw, through the whispering reeds and wooden fence posts, the ephemeral sheen of the ocean on a calm afternoon. The air turned sour in my lungs. Andrew loved the sea. Everyone here loved the sea, of course, but Andrew’s love for it was deep and wild—as it was for anything he chose to care about. That was why we were here, Scottie and Jack and Lucy and me. We were here because to have been loved by Andrew was a privilege. And maybe the reason I was not crying is because I was not sad. Maybe I was angry. Angry at myself for loving him back and angry at Andrew for giving us that gift and then taking it away.

“Shit.” I hit the steering wheel and let out a long, stiff sigh. That was not fair. My gaze fell on the clear plastic bag in my passenger seat. Personal Effects of Andrew S. Clark. All of Andrew, condensed into a plastic pouch. I reached over, took the bag, and got out of the car with the keys still in the transmission. I climbed over the embankment, ignoring the way the grass cut at my hands as I pushed my way through it. I shuffled awkwardly down the dune on the other side and was grateful that I was the only person at the beach. I must have looked insane in my funeral suit, covered in sand and clutching a plastic bag tight enough to poke holes in it.

I got to the bottom and took a moment to catch my breath. I surveyed the sea and the beach to either side of me. To my left, the land curved away and disappeared into itself. To my right, the pier stuck out into the sea like a dark finger. I stopped dead.

I had forgotten.

How could I have forgotten?

And there I was on the beach with Andrew’s things in my hand, staring at the pier in the distance. I could not see it clearly with my eyes but in my mind, I pictured the dark wood, the barnacles and soft seaweed, the cracked remains of crabs. I tried very hard not to picture Andrew there, floating in the water. I tried very, very hard, just as I am trying right now, but it never works to tell yourself not to think of something. In the days and years since that day the image has resurfaced on a regular basis. I have to beat it back with images of Andrew, the boy, with thick black hair and shining green eyes and a nose just a bit too big for his thin face.

That is the most effective way I have found to drive the other stuff out. Andrew, the man, had died out on that pier and been buried in that earth. Andrew, the boy, had moved somewhere out West in his father’s old truck and maybe he had never returned.

“Shit.” I turned fully around on the beach and closed my eyes tightly. I inhaled a few times forcing myself to let the air go back out, too. “Shit.” When I opened my eyes, they caught on something down the beach. Was this really where I had ended up? Was it an accident or had my mind, numb and working on autopilot, brought me here? Either way, I kept breathing in and out and walked resolutely away from the pier and towards the Highrock.

The Highrock. It was a tall slate overlook that my friends and I frequented in our youth. It was our castle, our treehouse, our secret base. As a boy of barely five feet, this outcropping had seemed an insurmountable beast of nature. As a man of medium height, I almost smiled. It was not so grand after all. I could not quite have climbed it, but it was only three times my height, at most. Nothing was as frightening or as magnificent as it was when you were a child.

The plastic bag was growing heavy in my hand. Here were the contents, as they remain in a locked file drawer in my office:

A picture of his parents (deceased)

A brown leather wallet full of obsolete cards

And a pocket guide to birdwatching.

I flipped through the guide and looked up to watch the gulls wheel above. They cried out in their harsh voices. Don’t seagulls always sound like they just got done crying? Andrew loved the birds almost as much as he loved the sea. We had found a dead gull once, its neck broken, a great big seagull with a smooth white belly and soft gray feathers the color of new storms covering its back. There was no blood or rot. This bird might have been lucky. A broken neck was not so painful a way to die.

“I’m gonna poke it.” Scottie went to do so, but Andrew snatched the stick out of his grasp.

“You are not,” he said with feeling. Andrew knelt and touched the bird with two fingers.

“It’s gross,” Jack said, “and you’re going to get, like, every disease. Stop touching it.” Andrew did not listen. Instead he scooped the bird up in his arms and looked around at all of us.

“We are going to bury it.”

“Why?” I asked, fairly, I think.

“Because if we don’t do it, no one will.”

We made quick and silent work of the grave. It was just a hole nestled against the cliffs, but that was all any grave was: a hole in the ground. Unceremonious until we decided otherwise. Andrew held the bird with such tenderness and sorrow it nearly made me cry, even then. He stood with his toes at the edge of the hole. We followed Jack’s lead and clasped our hands together, heads bowed. When it was over, Lucy took a stick and jammed it into the earth nearby.

It was gone now, of course, but I touched the ground where it would have been.

“This way, we’ll know where it is,” she said. We all nodded.

“I would know,” Andrew said. “Without any help. I would know.” He looked at the ground where the bird had disappeared under the earth.

At the time, we went on with our days, playing in the cold waves and trying to catch scampering hermit crabs, and we forgot about the bird for a long, long time. I traced the loose shape of the bird in the dark sand and smiled a small smile. I was probably wrong, but right then I was sure I knew where it was buried.

If I didn’t do it, no one would have. This was not entirely true. The others would have, but it would not have been the same, because they did not remember. I could not seem to forget. I let my eyelids shut and rested my head back against the cliff.

“I’m sorry no one was here.” We had let him go, all of us, one by one, over the long years since childhood. I would not let him go now. I sat on the beach in the cool salt air until the sun went down over the water and longer still, until the moon rose up and the stars bloomed like icy flowers.

I did not cry. That came later, when I was already back in the city and I went to get a soda and I remembered that he liked them better when they were flat, and then I was on the tile floor sobbing into one of my cats’ fur and trying not to scream. But on the beach in the growing dark, I did not cry. I sat and listened to the waves. When the sun broke again, pink and yellow in the morning sky, I wondered if this was the last thing Andrew had seen. That would have been okay, I think. If he had gotten to see this sunrise. That would have made it okay.

Powered by Froala Editor

Powered by Froala Editor

Powered by Froala Editor

Powered by Froala Editor