The funeral was beautiful and I don’t think Barb could have wanted anymore for herself. If anything she would have wanted less. At the chapel her mother hugged me and wouldn’t let go. Her father looked at me with such dissention in his eyes; somehow he knew this was my fault too. He read my letter.
At the cemetery I stood next to Jon, who even after fourteen years of friendship, I had never seen in a suit until now. He didn’t say much during the whole ceremony and I appreciated that. I’m always afraid of coming home because I’m always afraid of finding out who will be the first to break the silence. Jon’s never first at anything, and that’s not a bad thing.
The preacher had a lot of things to say, and I thought, if you really knew her, you’d just shut up now. But he went on for minutes that felt like hours about Barb’s life, her passions, her love for everything, and what she would want us all to do now. I don’t think he had a word of it right. I leaned over to Jon and said, Promise me you don’t hire this guy for my funeral. All he said was, Back at you. It was a deal.
When they lowered the casket in the ground I knew it was over. My head kept imagining that it was me in that box. Most of those people there wished it was.
I sat in the passenger seat of Jon’s Buick and let someone else have the wheel for a change. It was a long drive back to Illinois and for the first time in a long time I wasn’t in any hurry to get back on the road. Any road. It was a quiet drive and I liked it that way. Jon was silent as usual and I just wanted to tell him, thank you, but I wasn’t talking if he wasn’t.
Jon’s house is quaint and tiny and nothing out of the ordinary. The house is as quiet as Jon is and it compliments him just fine. Jon and I both raced from the Buick and in through the front door and tore off our monkey suits as quickly as we could without ripping the fabric. Like two little boys hurrying out of their Sunday best so they could get out and play. We laughed and it was a good laugh, the sort that releases most of the tension you’ve been building up. We fell back on the couch and both just let a sigh out. Barb still wasn’t an easy topic on either of our minds but this episode had certainly made it better. She would have busted out to see us do that.
Jon’s got a back porch with a scenic view and we both know it’s more than Jon could ask for. Two Adirondack rockers overlooking an open field of nothing, but it’s better than something. It took as a couple beers before either of us said anything but when we started, it was hard to stop.
I asked him to come out with me the next time I left for the west coast. I told him what I had thought about before, that if I couldn’t have my solitude well then I’d want him to be the one to break it. He joked and said he’s never been a California guy and would rather wait around until the next time I head east. Maybe Maine or better yet Boston. I told him it was a deal but he’d have to promise that he’d write a chronicle of the whole trip. It was a deal to him as well.
Eventually the topic turned to Barb and it’s hard to write the things that we said out on this paper. She was a good woman, better than most, and she deserved a lot more than what I could have given her. Jon told her once that it was a mistake to fall in love with a traveling man, and as usual, he was right. Jon said, only the good die young, and it was cliche and trite, but right. How do you keep doing that Jon? For once he didn't have an answer.
When the sky was dark and the stars were out I let the first tear fall that I had all day and it was a good, lonely, single tear down my cheek. I didn’t wipe it away or ruin it by pooling it with a thousand others. Just that one but it did the job it was intended to do. I felt better.
I went to bed early but drunk in Jon’s guest bedroom. I had slept there many nights but this time was different, this time I had plans in my head that were good, not just monotonous. I had a couple of shows in Wisconsin to get out of the way but then I was dead-set on New Jersey and Massachusetts. Jon and I were leaving in a week or two, out on the road, two old friends. One to drive it and play the shows and one to write it all down. There is no one else I would rather share this trip with, I thought, as I laid awake wishing for dreams. For the first time in a long time I couldn’t wait. to get back out on the highway and just start over.
It was going to be a long trip back to normal but I finally had the fuel and the hope.