The American Degenerate

Published in United States of America - Social interactions and entertainment - 3 years ago - 0

A friend of mine that I have known since we were 16, pulled a Leaving Las Vegas, only in Long Beach, CA. He drank himself to death.

These are real life facts. The rest is fiction.

I attended the funeral of my best friend. I’ve known him since we were children. We grew up together, attended the same school, went to the same summer camp, had sleepovers at each other’s homes.

We joined the army and served in the same unit, when we were discharged we married a pair of identical twins, moved in across the street from each other, and every summer our families went to the shore and rented adjacent cottages.

One of our children was swallowed by a shark. A week later, the other was trampled to death at the grand opening of a black Friday sale at Toy R Us. We shared in the grief of both losses.

Now I watch as one person after another gets up and recites a poem, or a verse from ure, or sings a song, or tells a story about my deceased friend. The stories, sometimes sad, sometimes amusing, are received with tears and laughter.

My friend’s little daughter gets up and reads a poem about “My daddy in heaven,” and her older brother, accompanying himself on the guitar, sings a song based on the 23rd Psalm. And then his eldest child, a teenage girl, performs a tap dance “for my father,” which she’s worked on for the last few days because she’s an aspiring Savion Glover style Broadway dancer.

Watching all this, unable to contain my emotion, tears are streaming down my face and my nose is running.

But now I feel a mounting sense of dread, my heart pounding, perspiration breaking out on my forehead; I was the keynote speaker, the time is fast approaching for me to deliver the eulogy. My friend’s older brother, the last to speak before me, says, “And so, in conclusion, I would like to leave you with this one last thought…”

And soon, all eyes turn on me, because, as the deceased man’s best friend, my task is to deliver the final words. For a moment, I find myself rooted to where I stand. I can’t move. There’s a long silence. Finally, I take a deep breath, stride up onto the dais, put my hands on both sides of the podium, and look out at the assembled congregation. I see many familiar faces. Some are crying, others are smiling in a sympathetic way, children are fidgeting, and men are standing stolidly, their eyes brimming with tears, barely able to control their grief.

I’ve spent two days in front of my computer writing and revising my speech. It felt like the most important thing I’d ever do in my life. Now, I reach into the inside breast pocket of my jacket, and it’s gone. In a panic, I realize that at the last moment before leaving my house, I changed suits because the other one had a slight stain on the left cuff, and my speech is folded in the pocket of the suit hanging on the hook of my bedroom door.

But I do remember the first line. “We are all gathered here to remember and celebrate Clement’s’s life.” After this, in a dreamlike state, wishing I had not drunk so much wine in the antechamber of the funeral parlor, I improvise. “But I would rather speak of Clement in death. Because here he lies, stretched out before us, stiff, motionless, with no heartbeat, no blood pressure, his eyes closed in the semblance of sleep, dressed in his finest suit, his tie perfectly knotted, his hair exquisitely done. Yes, he looks so handsome, so robust, it’s as if he might step right out of the coffin… “

I hear someone gasp, and all the faces before me look quizzical, as if perhaps I’ve lost my mind. Even the children have stopped fidgeting.

The American Degenerate


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