I don’t exactly know what the word vomitious means or, heck, if it is word at all. It could just be something I made up over the years to describe the poker play at low limit tables in Atlantic City.
But vomitious is quite precisely how I felt in the 24 hours leading up to Avery’s funeral service.
There had been no further information beyond the “apparent suicide,” determination Cee had given me on the phone five days prior.
And no further information would come.
Cee was flying in from Chicago, I would pick her and Linda up Thursday afternoon and we would drive to his wake in Queens.
It had been a few years since I’d seen either of them, but through the magic of facebook and deals they have both evidently made with the devil to never age, not much had changed. They’ve both known me in one form or another, since I was 12 years old.
“I’m going to vomit,” I blurted as we turned North on 10th avenue.
“I just spoke to him two weeks ago,” Cee said. “We had been talking about possibly going to a movie, but hadn’t made definite plans. So when he called from the theater asking me where I was, I said I was home. He laughed and said so ‘I guess no movie.’ I laughed and said no, but told him I was moving back to New York in three weeks and we would go then. He said okay.”
The regret was thick in her voice.
No one said anything.
“He came out to Brooklyn for my birthday party,” I sighed, breaking the silence. “He sat right there when I dropped him off afterward,” I pointed to Linda in the shotgun seat.
She squirmed nervously.
I laughed. “Dude, I don’t think you can catch suicide.”
The program we were in as kids, Prep, sent out an email to all of the alumni letting us know that he had “passed away after a long illness.”
The email included a brief obituary and then went on to quote one of his personal essays about the program from decades ago.
For some reason the entire thing pissed me off.
“First off, when I die they’d better not quote anything I wrote when I was eleven! I am a grown woman. No one needs to know about my plans to marry Michael Jackson and live on the moon with my pet unicorn Harrison!” #RUDE
Linda and Cee laughed. We agreed that our next joint venture should be breaking in and stealing our Prep files which are, in fact, PERMANENT.
It didn’t take long for us to get to the East side bridge to Queens on 3rd avenue, but the entrance was blocked off from the eastbound side of the street and this cop was directing traffic around to 1st avenue.
I was annoyed.
Then, the black SUV directly in front of me, U-turned out of our lane *into* the westbound lane, ran the red light and entered the tunnel.
So, frankly, in my defense, when I too made the U-Turn, I don’t know why the cop got SO mad at me. I *stopped* at the red light! I muttered “racist” under my breath after he walked away. And then corrected it to “same race racist,” cause he was a black cop.
I told him we were going to a funeral in Queens and we were already very late, so we didn’t get a ticket. Whatever. Hater.
We were finally in the tunnel, but stuck in insane traffic.
“I still want to vomit.”
“Yeah, I almost didn’t come,” Cee said quietly from the back seat.
“Oh my God! Me either! But then I was like Cee is flying in from Chicago, I have NO excuse!”
And Linda laughed and said “me too! But I was like if Stephane the shut in is going…”
I like those moments when you remember why your friends are your friends.
Traffic crawled, but honestly, none of us minded. We were in no rush.
“There it is on the left,” Linda said pointing to the funeral home sitting on the southeast corner of Northern Boulevard. It had giant tinted black windows and huge gold Chinese character lettering and I was pretty firmly committed to going the fuck back home.
We parked. It was pouring. We ran with our heads down toward the door. I caught a glimpse of the coat rack inside and some people milling about in the lobby. Linda stopped cold. I crashed into her from behind.
Cee stopped too.
“No, dude. You’re going. GO!” I nudged her toward the door.
The place actually reminded me of her father’s viewing from a few years ago. She was probably thinking the same thing.
We walked inside. The usher at the door told us to sign the book.
He handed us a stapled cellophane packet.
“Candy. For good luck.”
This infuriated me.
I didn’t say anything then, but on the car ride back I was all “what the fuck was that? ‘Good luck’? It’s not for good luck it’s because you give something sweet to counteract the sadness of a funeral.” (As I learned at Linda’s dad’s viewing.)
Linda said maybe the usher figured we were Americans and just wanted to give the touristy answer because Americans are always after luck and fortune stuff. Especially from Chinese people.
“Whatever. When he said that, I wanted to throat punch him and his ‘good luck.’ Fucker.”
Here lies Stephane: She had anger management issues.
Honestly, I was totally fine. I didn’t recognize anyone when we walked in, though the place was about eighty percent full. I was walking behind Linda and the inside usher told us we could pay our respect to the body and then the family. The casket was at the far end of the hall, so I didn’t see it right away. His sister and best friend, Zeudi, were seated at the front on the right hand side and there was a huge table of offerings and candles and food right in the middle of the room. It was blocking the casket, so all I saw was the table as we talked toward the front.
Again, I was totally fine.
Right until the casket came into view.
And then I lost it.
This caused Cee to lose it and then his sister started to cry too and it was a whole ugly miserable circle of bawling women.
Zeudi, who I used to go to Sunday school with when I was 7, hugged me until I finally stopped crying. There was TV in the corner showing a montage of pictures and clips of Avery that people have been putting up on his facebook wall since he disappeared two and a half weeks ago. I watched some of the pictures go by.
“I was just telling his sister that Avery would have been laughing at that,” she pointed at a wreath that his high school had sent.
The funeral home had made a typo on the ribbon, so instead of saying “To the Man family from the Trinity School,” it read “from the Grinity school.”
“Avery would have said “there wasn’t much to ‘grinity about at Trinity.'” And we started to laugh. I felt better.
We walked to a row of empty seats on the other side of the room, but I started to cry again seeing his frail dad sitting alone in the front row. Avery’s mom had killed herself almost 20 years ago. We were all thinking about what a terrible time that was then…unimaginable what he must be going through now.
Zeudi’s mom came and joined us. The five of us talked generally about the past and what we were up to, intermittently pausing while one or the other would suddenly start bawling. Okay, fine. Mostly me. Finally Cee just gave me her whole pack of tissues, instead of continuing to parse them out one at a time.
But it wasn’t my fault! There was this adorable clip of Avery playing with his friend’s 2 year old daughter and he’s singing to her and hiding his face and so she’s all looking around wondering where he went and then he takes his hands away from his face and she sees he’s still there and laughs and waddles toward him and gives him a big hug and then they’re both laughing.
Another friend of ours, Imani, came in about fifteen minutes later. She was coming straight from work, so she’s got like bags and a purse and her sneakers in her hand and she’s soaking wet from the rain. Her entrance was the stuff comedic entrances on sitcom are made of. She drops her bag and the usher is telling her about the whole “pay your respects” thing, but her purse is tangled around her arm and she can’t get free. And EVERYONE is staring now and I can’t help but laugh even though I tried real real real real hard not to.
Oh, that wacky Imani.
We got there toward the end, so about 30 minutes later, the funeral home guy gets up to the podium, says the service is over, invites all the guests to say their final goodbyes and says we are to join the family for dinner afterwards.
I bawled my way past the casket one more time and waited for Linda and Cee in the foyer. We decided to just go home after.
The woman from Prep, who wrote the obit email, was there and introduced herself to us.
“This really is the perfect day for this, isn’t it?”
I stared at her.
“All drab and rainy, you know.”
And stared some more.
My cellphone started to ring, so I stepped away. We said goodbye and walked back to the car.
I can’t begin to tell you how many accidents we almost got into during that first 15 minutes. We drove past Citifield.
“Avery loved the Mets!”
“I can’t believe how composed his sister was!”
Finally, I was like. “Okay, no more talking until I figure this out. Or else we’re all getting crap obits about how much we liked 21 Jump Street and Menudo.”
I cannot explain it, but somehow I ended up at freaking JFk airport, which then meant I was lost at JFK airport for my mandatory “15 minutes circling the airport till I find the North Conduit.”
We decided to go to TGI Fridays for dinner. And again, by “we,” I mean me. What? I love that place.
They had a five dollar martini special and suddenly I was very very sorry I was driving.
We mostly tried to figure out the unfigureoutable: Why?
Did he plan it for a long time? Was it spur of the moment? Did he regret it at the last minute? Do we delete his contact from our cellphones? Where does all his promise go? Was it possibly an accident? My mom was like “maybe someone put a gun to his head. You don’t know!”
Nope. We don’t. We never will.
In the end, I guess I was most floored by how quickly it can all end. I know nothing lasts forever, but I thought there would be more time. Most of my friends look almost exactly the way they did in school, I still spend an inordinate amount of time playing with cards and board games.
Death and funerals…well, that’s the stuff for the grown-ups. We’re supposed to be having fun and becoming famous celebrities and going to Mets games. Avery promised me that the Mets would win another World Series in our lifetime!
But now, not.
Though, he did wait until the day the Yankees were eliminated to…
But there isn’t time…well there is, but there’s no telling how much. I wish I could say I’ve since been inspired to grab life by the horns now. Run with the bulls in Pamplona, climb Mount Everest or volunteer with blind children. But nope. If anything, I think I’ve been more struck with a sense of how futile all that effort is. I often joke about my sedentary hermit existence, but it actually is what I want to do most days. And I’ve been lucky enough that when I want to do other things like go to Patriots games or play poker that I am healthy and financially secure enough to do that too. It may not have been the someday I imagined for myself when I was 11, but it’s a today that’s good enough.