Back in May, I was in scouts
with my friend
Bryan. Bryan had a stepfather
named Hal. Hal was one of our scoutmasters until he was diagnosed with lung cancer
from smoking all the time. When we were assigning nickname
s to everyone in the troop, Hal’s name was “Smokey.” It was funny at the time. Anyway, one day I decide to call Bryan up on the phone. He answered and said “Give me . . . ten minutes, Ben.” So I gave him fifteen. I called back and he said that I would have to call him back later. So I did. Then his step-grandmother answered and said that Bryan would call me back when he could.
That was a Tuesday night.
The next day, Wednesday, was scout day. I sat in my parents’ room, watching SLC Punk, which I had borrowed from Davie the Atheist. It was at the part where Heroin Bob dies when Bryan drove up in his Cadillac to give me a ride to scouts. I was very close to the end of the movie, so I asked Bryan if he would wait a few minutes so I could finish it. So we sat on my parents’ bed, watching Stevo sell out and become a lawyer.
The movie ended, and we got into Bryan’s car. We were just pulling out of the driveway when Bryan said, “Ben, Hal died last night.”
I don’t remember much else of what happened that day. I guess I went to scouts.
That Thursday or Friday was the wake. Julia and Jeffrey were there. A lot of Bryan’s friends from his school were there as well. I got to meet some members of Bryan’s family. When I was walking over to see the body, I started talking to Bryan’s step-grandfather, who was our scoutmaster as well. He started telling me how bright I was and how I needed to go to Hammond (a private school, where Bryan went). Anyway, I went to see the body. Hal was lying there as a dead person would.
Then on Saturday was the funeral. For reasons I cannot remember, my parents and my sister were out of town that weekend, so Julia had to give me a ride to the church. Since I was going to a funeral, I decided to dress way up. I had the pants, shoes, and undershirt concepts down, but I realized I didn’t know how to tie a tie. It was hours before Julia would arrive. I had no way of contacting my father. So I did the only thing I thought I could do: I got on the internet and went to Ask Jeeves and asked “How do I tie a tie?” As luck would have it, it took me to a very informative site that helped me get the darn thing on. After much struggling, I got it looking pretty good. I then went outside and waited for Julia.
As I sat in my driveway, I noticed how the sun was shining and the birds were singing and the bugs were flying around. The omnipresence of life around me contrasted deeply with the thoughts of death in my head. And then I thought of that part in SLC Punk where Stevo is talking to that hippie (I think his name is Rich, but I am not sure) about anarchy and order, and the hippie says that when we die, our atoms become atoms of other things. Or something like that. And then I thought of how one day Hal’s atoms might be part of a tree or a dragonfly or a pinecone or something. And that somehow seemed to make it better.
The funeral was bizarre. A lot of Bryan’s schoolmates showed up. A lot of girls showed up just to see those schoolmates. That pissed me off. The most important man in Bryan’s life just died, and they go to the funeral to ogle some football players. The music that was chosen just plain sucked. The singer was some pompous guy who went to our church. He was the Associate Minister of Music or something. He sang some tear-jerking songs and then Hal’s childhood friend delivered a eulogy. After that, Hal’s sister gave a eulogy. Everyone at the funeral cried except me.
Very few teenagers went to the actual interment. It was Bryan, Julia, Patty, his brother, and I. Julia was my ride to the cemetery, which was near my house. For some reason, we did not follow in the funeral procession like everyone else. We just hopped in her car and drove off. We arrived way before the others did. All I remember from the waiting time was that awful song “Kryptonite” coming on the radio. It was the first time I had heard that song. And I hated it.
Eventually, everyone else showed up. We went over to the tent-type thing and stood in front of the coffin. They asked if anyone had anything to say. Bryan spoke up and said that Hal was the biggest positive influence in his life and that being a part of the Snuggs family was the best thing that ever happened to him. I almost teared up.
And with that, the funeral ended. I never got to see Hal put in the ground.
We (Julia and I) went over to my house so I could change clothes. I was going to change my clothes because Bryan had invited us over to his house for lunch. There was no shortage of food at Bryan’s house because, as Bryan put it, “In the South, sympathy=food. ” So Bryan, Julia, Patty, his brother, and I all ate lunch on Bryan’s back porch. Then I think we stayed over at his house for a few hours longer. Bryan seemed to want to spend more time with his friends after Hal’s death, which I heard was normal after a loved one’s death.
Then I started thinking about the months before he died. I thought about the last few times I saw Hal. He looked like a skeleton of his former self. Since he was under chemotherapy, all the hair on his head fell out. He also seemed to be more tanned that usual. Once Bryan and I were sitting on the dock-like structure in his backyard, and Hal came out there. He said “hey” and I didn’t recognize him because his moustache was gone. I felt ashamed for not knowing who he was. And I hoped that he didn’t fade out of everyone’s mind as quickly as he had faded out of mine, if only for a moment. And I remembered one of the last things that Hal said to me. It was “Ben, don’t be a stranger. You should come around here more often.”
And I did.
I can’t even remember all the times I went over to Bryan’s house after Hal’s death. I do remember playing football in his front yard with Julia and him, particularly the way I ran around with my shirt pulled over my head. I remember seeing ducks in a cage on the kitchen floor, ducks that someone had rescued from the pond in the backyard. I remember going to see Big Momma’s House, and I remember us being about the only white people in the audience. Bryan laughed like there was no tomorrow at that movie. We also went to see X-Men. We both decried the absence of Beast and Gambit and Nightcrawler, like all the other comic book geeks. I guess we were both trying to recapture a part of our lost youth. I know I was.
Since Bryan was around 315 pounds, he started a club at his school called the Fat Man’s Society, or the FMS. He wanted me to write and record a theme song for the FMS. This was a few days after some musician friends of mine came over and left their gear in my garage. I had a nice choice of pedals and microphones at my disposal. So I did a feedback-laden three-chord thing with metal vocals that lasted about two minutes. Then I recorded an abstract version which was me messing around for an hour with a chorus pedal and some baseball bats. I made a cover for it and gave it to Bryan. He said that he liked it, and I know he wasn’t lying, because earlier he had seen a movie that I made and said that it was “absolute shit.” Numerous times. So I gave him the tape and we drove around Columbia for a while. That was one of the last times I saw him.
So anyway, here I sit, in Conway. Far away from my friends. I fear that if or when I ever see them again, it will not be the same. Something will be different. And neither my friends nor I will be able to say exactly what it is, but it will hang in the air just the same.
I know that I digressed a lot in this, but when I was writing it, it all seemed connected in some way. The death of Hal and my moving, that is.