My best friend AJ really fucked up my eulogy.
He stood in front of my casket, fiddling with his tie. Uncombed hair, crooked glasses. He always over-blouses his Oxford to hide his gut, but he drapes it too much, and the shirt creases over his man boobs.
AJ is the kind of kid who wears t-shirts to pool parties.
As my funeral hushed around him, and everyone stared, AJ made a production of running his finger along the beveled edge of my closed casket. He looked up at the chandelier. Then down. He sighed, loudly, and blinked.
He tried to look thoughtful and inspiring, but he looked his typical mess.
Then, in front of every single person I had ever known, and even some people I don’t know, AJ let a single tear roll down his red-streaked cheek and onto his extra-wide Walmart dress shoes.
Fucking guy. He was going for it. You had to give it to him. This was world-class bullshitting, even for him.
Don’t get me wrong. AJ loves me. And I love him. Always have. Always will. My mom used to say that AJ and I were like “hot fudge and caramel…not at all the same, but always around each other. Always doing the same things.”
And AJ misses the shit out of me, too. He cries over me constantly. Cries like an ugly girl on the last day of church camp. Like a day or two ago, he was driving, listening to Imagine Dragons, and he started bawling. Out of nowhere. He was alone in the car, too, so I knew he wasn’t trying to show off. He even pulled-over. It was deep, and it made me sad.
I giggled a little, though. AJ makes funny-ass crying faces.
I know AJ. I know him better than anyone in the world. I know him better than he knows himself. Best friends since our first grade field trip to the turkey farm. We held hands, and AJ stood behind me when a turkey got a little aggressive. A local photographer snapped a picture of us, toe-to-toe with this wild-eyed bird screeching like a lunatic. It made the front page of the Sentinel on Thanksgiving. I’m leaning in, trying to quell the beast. AJ’s squirting his shorts behind me – one hand in mine and the other hand in his mouth.
And that was it. History. Best friends ever since.
My mom had the picture reprinted in the back of our yearbook this past year. Over it in big block letters she wrote “Going Strong Since First Grade. Congratulations Ty, AJ, and the Class of 2017!”
The newspaper gave us an official start—a time-stamped record of our friendship. The end of our friendship, though, well, that’s not so clear.
All of the Woodies were at my funeral. That’s what our town calls us. Well, them. Kids who go to Woodrow Wilson High. We live on SeaBreeze Island. Yep, that one, “America’s Favorite Family Vacation Spot.” Down the shore. People know our town’s jingle as far away as Canada. And they sing it. Even when you ask them not to. Especially when you ask them not to.
“It’s pink lemonade/It’s fun in the shade/Stay as long as you pllleeeaaassseee/Seeeaaabreeezzzeee!”
If you spend a week a year here, that’s the sound of summer fun. If you’re a local, that song haunts your every waking moment. Everywhere you go, people sing it to you. Disney World. New York City. My history teacher said a guy sang it to her when she was in line to for the Vatican.
Anyway, there were more Woodies at my funeral than at graduation. The line went out the front doors and around the block. Every girl, even the underclassmen, was watching AJ give my eulogy. It was a big deal. If he could play the mournful best friend and capitalize on some sympathy. Maybe he’d win himself a piece. He figured I wouldn’t care. Figured I’d be proud of him. And I would be, too, as long as he stayed the fuck away from Celeste.
“Friends,” AJ said with a gulping breath, “we have lost an honorable man.”
Honorable man. He stole that shit from Julius Caesar, Mrs. Perkins, AP Lit.
“Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Ty was daring and brave, and he had a special grace, a special spirit that says, ‘Give me a challenge, and I will meet it with joy.’”
Sounds impressive, right? Sure. Except AJ stole that line, too, from Ronald Reagan. 1986. The Challenger explosion speech. I watched him Google it last night. First he put in “great inspiring speeches.” But when he got nothing but greeting card crap, he added the word “America.” Bingo!
He printed the speech out and read it to himself in the mirror, but after getting tripped up a few times, he cut the paper into strips and Scotch-taped them on index cards that he could hold during the eulogy.
I watched the whole process. I watched him most of last night, until he started jerking off to Celeste’s Instagram.
I get it. AJ’s horny. His virginity’s been burning a hole in his husky shorts for years. He’d bang a gum ball machine if he thought it would let him. But he lusts over my girlfriend most of all. AJ knew Celeste before I did, and he never let me forget that either. Before I met her, AJ said plenty of lewd shit about her. Comment about her tits, that kind of thing, and even though neither of us brought any of those comments up after C and I started dating, I don’t think either of us forgot about them, either.
Now, AJ figures, since I’m dead and all, he may as well be the guy who winds up with Celeste. Fucking guy.
If I could do cool ghost shit, if I could swoop down and grab him by his neck pudge, I’d warn him to slow his roll. I’d call “bullshit” on the eulogy, too, and make him admit he didn’t write the speech to honor me or our thirteen year friendship. He’s just saying what he thinks people want to hear. He’s trying to sound cool. He’s trying to impress the crowd. Celeste most of all, maybe even my mom, which is creepy.
I should say, though, at this point, technically, Celeste was my ex-girlfriend. And to be fair, AJ was my ex-best friend.
Truth is, C and I were broken up when I died. And AJ and I hadn’t spoken in a week. Which was a long time for us. We hadn’t gone a full week since the fourth grade when we planned to dress as Super Mario Brothers for Halloween. At the last second, I wanted to be in the zombie apocalypse group. I tried to talk AJ into switching with me, but he threw his typical fit. I dressed as a zombie, and AJ came to school dressed as Luigi, by himself.
The zombies won best group, and AJ spent the day being asked where Mario was. So, he didn’t speak to me for a whole week. The following Monday, though, he wrote me a note about how Mario’s name had to be Mario Mario because they were called “Super Mario Brothers,” and how crazy it was because Mario’s first and last names were exactly the same. We laughed about it all through lunch, and after, I guess he forgot he was mad.
This time, I screwed up a whole lot bigger than Mario Brothers, but still, none of it would’ve lasted. I was on my way. I was going to make it all better. I was going to get them both back. Celeste first. Then AJ. But the fucking bridge got me. Now, none of it matters.
It hurts to think about my old life. It’s hard to describe. I know no one can see me, but it’s weird to watch people cry over me. My funeral has been the worst. I don’t mean like bad because it’s been classy and all. It just sucks because it’s mine. I feel guilty. And embarrassed. Turns out, being dead is super embarrassing.
Being dead feels vulnerable. Like everyone owns a piece of you. Marisol Matthews, for example, wailed like a cartoon when she got to my casket, and I never even spoke to her outside of chem lab. She’s been talking all day like we were best friends. There were tons of acquaintances at the funeral. People I didn’t even remember till I saw them walk in. Guys I played football against. Businessmen from town. The mayor. Girls from the Catholic school across the street. Even girls I only knew through Instagram and Snapchat. This one girl, who used to Snap me pictures of herself in a bra (I used to send them to AJ), showed up and cried into her dad’s shoulder. I mean, what is that?
People act weird at funerals, I guess. Like, all people close their eyes when they kneel in front of a casket, right? But only the religious ones pray. Most people do weird shit, instead. Especially the ones who only kind of knew me. They count to ten. Five, even. One woman thought of her kitchen stove. Some guy berated himself for not remembering my mom’s name. A couple of Woody kids tried to picture me inside the coffin. One imagined me rising out of it, with this pissed-off look on my face and extra bushy eyebrows. So random.
Fun fact. I’m not even in the coffin!
My real friends were different. They thought of me. A lot. Memories. Talked to me in their heads. My closest friends stuck together through the entire service. They moved more like a single blob than a group of individuals. Never far away from my casket or each other—they kind of bobbed there in the center of it all. Celeste, especially, she seemed to float over the whole thing, carried around by her friends rather than moving on her own, like a jellyfish on waves.
And my parents? Shit, they didn’t talk at all. They didn’t even cry. It was like the funeral was their break from crying.
People can say whatever and think whatever they want about me now, and there’s nothing I can do to change anyone’s mind anymore. I can’t make anything better. The way people feel about me today is the way they’ll feel about me forever. I can’t even defend myself. Sucks.
My mom won’t even look at my room right now, but one day she will. One day she’s gonna open my laptop and find a shit ton of porn. And a maybe emails from Celeste. And pictures of me high. But mostly porn.
And just like that, I’ll forever be a perv in my own mom’s mind. Every time she thinks of me, she’ll think of MILF Hunter or Glory Holes. How the hell does a guy cope with that for an eternity?
This guy Bart, my death guide, says I have to stop obsessing over “the living.” He says I’m “bitter.” Maybe. But if you ask me, I have a fucking right to be bitter. Newly eighteen. D-1 football at Pittsburgh. ACC. Was already campaigning for Freshman Class President on Twitter, too. For nothing. Now I’m dead, and so many fuckers are still alive. How did my Uncle Geoff outlive me? He’s been on oxygen since I was born. My mom drove to the Poconos last summer because my aunt was sure he was going to croak, but there he is, in full Darth Vader, surround-sound glory. Motherfucker sounds like a human air conditioner at my funeral? My funeral? How’s that fair?
Shit, what about AJ? God spared AJ? He’s gonna head off to college without me? He was only going to Pitt because of me, anyway. Now what? Without me he’ll hide in his dorm room for four years playing Assassin’s Creed and getting Kung Pao chicken delivered. Death might as well take his ass, too.
Because AJ is the kind of kid who makes his own problems. To him, everything is a big deal. His problems are the world’s biggest. He thought my life was so easy. That his was so hard. I had Celeste. He had no one. My mom’s awesome. His mom’s a manic depressive who spends weeks locked in her room watching The Voice. I was an only child. He has a shit ton of siblings. We had money. He’s poor. Never mind that my family took that tubby bitch to Disney World and pretty much every vacation ever.
AJ once said, in front of our whole English class mind you, when we were discussing The Stranger, that “Ty is too good-looking, and therefore unable to grasp the finer details of the human condition.”
What? Well, here you go, fuck-o. Now I’m dead! How’s that for a problem you don’t have? How’s that for your human condition?
I missed a good chunk of AJ’s speech with all my ranting. But I could tell by Celeste that he was bombing. His eyes were beat on her for most of it, but she sat and stared at him. No smiles. No tears. No nods. She didn’t sit up front by my mom and family, but she also wasn’t in the back with the rest of my friends. Her girlfriends kept a close eye on her, though. Like guard dogs in summer dresses. Celeste’s core group of girls keep a 24 hour watch on her since they found out I died. She’s only spent minutes alone since it happened. Otherwise, it’s a revolving, inexhaustible parade of Double Stuffed Oreos and Kleenex.
For this moment, though, she slipped in among my extended family. Amidst my cousins and the aunts my dad ignores. These were out-of-town kind of relatives who knew Celeste from parties and weddings and things. Perfect companions for her right now. Warm, but not questioning. My mom wouldn’t be good for anything but shooting Celeste the stink eye. With this kind of family, though, she could hang with my little cousins. Hug them. Wipe their tears. Fix a few bows. Buckled their little girl shoes. They loved her anyway, and it kept Celeste distracted enough that she didn’t have to cry in front of all these people. Celeste isn’t the kind of girl who likes to display weakness, and this was quite the test.
Celeste went to catholic school on the mainland till our junior year. She had a ton of Woodie girl friends from rec sports and because her family owns the jewelry store on the boardwalk. But none of us guys knew her before she got to school. And, luckily for me, she didn’t know any guys. Except fucking AJ. He met her at a county science fair. She lent him motor oil for his stupid ass diorama or something dorky like that. That summer he went on and on about her, and I didn’t think much of it until she showed up in AP Chem the first day of school that year. I had an “in” because of AJ, and I got to watch a lot of my boys try and fail with her. When C and I finally hooked up, and then later when we fell in love, AJ was always just around. And most days, we were cool with his third wheeling.
We had fun. Celeste’s grandparents came here from Cuba, and they still live in her house with her family. What’s weird is that Celeste doesn’t speak any Spanish. I mean, not a lick. But her grandparents don’t speak any English, except for like brand names and movie stars. They say my name like it ends in seven i’s. Tiiiiiii. Anyway, AJ’s always teasing Celeste that she’s Mexican, and that Trump’s gonna deport her or whatever. Celeste usually just rolls her eyes and makes a fat joke, but I think her grandparents are legitimately racist against Mexicans because one day, while I was waiting for Celeste in her backyard, her grandparents were talking. I used some of my incognito Spanish 4 skills to make out what they were saying. And it was pretty messed up. And it was about the Lopezes, who are pretty much the only other Spanish people on Seabreeze. They own a pizzeria. The pizza sucks, but they sponsor a sports team. They’re nice people.
I asked Celeste about it, and she said I need to ignore abuela. That old Cuban women are super racist and think they’re better than everybody. Which I totally understand because old white women are super racist and think they’re better than everybody else, so our grandmoms have that in common.
Anyway, one Wednesday we skipped 12th period, and me and Age thought it’d be funny to get some tequila for Celeste. I know tequila’s not Cuban, but I don’t know what alcohol is Cuban, and I knew where to get tequila.
We paid The Whale fifty bucks for a bottle of Jose Cuervo. The Whale is a clerk at Sixth Street Comics who sells booze out of a giant backpack he keeps in a cabinet under the kids section, behind stacks of Popeyes and Caspars that nobody buys. Woodies call him the Whale because he’s albino or something, but he has these huge patches of brown skin all around his mouth. Maybe he got burned there or something when he was a kid. That day I dared AJ to ask him about it.
“This?” The Whale said, putting our booze in a brown paper bag. “I ate some bad pussy, kid.” He laughed for several seconds. “You know about that, big boy? You know about bad pussy?”
AJ just stood there.
I could tell Celeste was offended, but she was too scared of The Whale to say anything.
Anyway, my room was in this part of my house my folks called the in-law suite. I don’t know why. My mom-mom’s dead, and my Nana lives in Fort Lauderdale. It was like having my own apartment, a separate entrance, bathroom, tiny kitchen and two rooms: one for my bed and a living room area. It was above the family room, so we had to be smart about having too many people there, but my folks left us alone.
AJ stopped at Party City and got us sombreros, and Celeste and I bought a bunch of Taco Bell. We drank almost none of the Cuervo, but enough to sing and dance to Pitbull songs in Spanish from YouTube. Celeste kept repeating this little monologue she had memorized from the beginning of Telemundo news. It was fun.
The next day in school, though, to hear AJ tell it, you’d think we blacked out from the tequila and got naked. But every kid at school got jealous of what became known as “Margarita Wednesday.” AJ dreamt it. Celeste and I pronounced it a tradition, and every Wednesday for months, we skipped 12th period and engaged in Mexican-themed activities with an ever-growing entourage of other Woodies. We drove to Chipotle off the island. Walked around in serapes. Wore fake mustaches to class. One night, we wrote “Woodies son acqui” in the Hess bathroom. We drank more tequila than any of us could handle.
Margarita Wednesday went strong for a long while until we decided to go “Mexican Bowling” one Wednesday, which meant regular bowling, just wearing big sombreros and mustaches. But a couple of workers at Bowl’d Over thought we were making fun of them and tried to fight Mark Dyson in the parking lot. Mark tried to explain Margarita Wednesday to the guys and took a left hook for his trouble. Margarita Wednesday ended that night. Let’s just say Dyson had a harder time explaining his black eye to his parents, than he had explaining anything to the real Mexicans. Phone calls were made around town, and Margarita Wednesday burned out quick.
But that’s the kind of shit that became Woody legend. And it’s why AJ, C and I were so popular.
When AJ was done with the eulogy, no one clapped, but I don’t think they were supposed to. Father Peter broke the strange silence with his booming voice. He said other stuff about me and my family. It was nice. He mentioned I was a huge Flyers fan. He invited everyone “to follow the family” to Seaview Cemetery for the burial.
One of our Margarita Wednesdays took place at Seaview. We held a Dia de los Muertos séance trying to conjure the spirit of the dead Mexican pop diva Selena because AJ thought she was hot. When we got tired of messing around, C and I followed the trails away from the gravesites, and out into the woods, towards the other side of the bay. We picked up cold pebbles and pressed them against each other’s cheeks, laughing and high on thimbles of Cuervo. Then I grabbed Celeste around her neck and pulled her from behind to the ground. My head pounding so hard. I pulled myself on top of her and felt her heart beating into my body. I kissed her and pulled out wet leaves that were stuck in tufts of her hair. She just lay there smiling up at me, and I remember watching her eyes for a long while. Then I ran my finger along the creases around her mouth and on her forehead. I wanted to tell I loved her, but I was so scared. The dark in her eyes seemed like it was flashing, and I could feel the sun setting behind me. I told her that the freckles on her chin were like a archipelago. I don’t know where I got that shit from, but I said, “I’m gonna name each one something different. Each one it’s own separate island.”
It thought that sounded smooth, and it did. Because she said “I love you, Ty Falls.”
I’ll never forget it. She used my full name. I said it back right away. To let her know that I wished I had said it first. I went to kiss her again, but instead my lips met the inside of AJ’s hand. He was on my back, in a flash, muzzling my mouth. “Aye dios mio,” he exclaimed. “Selena, donde esta?”
I laughed breathless and pushed him off. Celeste kicked up at us both until her Uggs came off. AJ and I grabbed one each amidst her protests and pretended to throw them up into the trees as she screamed and laughed, still on the ground by our feet. .
I can still hear her. Still see her there, wiggling in the leaves. The Seaview pines spinning above my head as I twirled to catch her Uggs. All of it’s so clear now, and soft as this early summer air, as they lower my empty casket into the ground.