Let’s just get the sad part out of the way first. Josh was one of my best friends in high school. He always had your back. He’d give you the shirt off his own. But he always had his demons. A series of half-hearted suicide attempts, a near-fatal drug overdose, a restraining order from his ex-girlfriend. I loved him like a brother, but I guess he wore us all down a little. It’s not easy, caring about someone so bent on self-destruction.
We’d been going in different directions for a while. He joined the army two weeks after 9/ll, and we lost touch. When I reconnected with him on facebook, years later, he was out of the service, married, and living in Utah.
Like I said, he always had his demons. Probably the last thing he needed was a few tours in Iraq. But that’s what he got. He saw some heavy combat, and he never was the same afterwards.
We’d chat every now and again. We made vague plans to get together and catch up. But he stopped posting much on facebook, and he just sort of slipped out of my mind.
Then one day while I was on vacation in Koh Samui, I got an email from a mutual friend informing me that Josh had killed himself. I spent most of that day in my hotel room on an island paradise, crying like a little girl.
So, that’s the sad part.
He was going to be buried in the local veteran’s cemetery. When I returned home I shined up my shoes, put on my good suit, and went out to pay my last respects to an old friend.
I’d never been to this cemetery before and I wasn’t sure how traffic would be, so I arrived early, just in case. I pulled in and crawled through the huge cemetery grounds, trying to figure out where to go. I saw a sign that said something like, “Funeral processions park here.” So I drove that way. It turned into a narrow, one lane piece of blacktop with curbs on both sides. There were a few cars up ahead, and I pulled in behind them. I got out of the car and asked somebody if I was in the right place for the funeral. They said I was. I didn’t know any of these people, but then I hadn’t seen Josh in ten years, so I didn’t think too much of it. I got back in my car to wait.
But then I realized. All the people surrounding me, milling around and waiting for the funeral to start, they were wearing air force uniforms.
Josh was in the army.
I shifted my car into reverse, ready to gracefully back away and hide away in shame.
Just then, another car pulled into the procession behind me. Then another. I was blocked in. Cars behind me, cars in front of me. Short of explaining the situation to everyone present or driving over the curb, I was stuck. As I sat there in my car, quietly panicking, mulling over my options, I noticed people started getting into cars. A hearse drove by, and the lead car in the procession pulled out to follow it. Then the next. Oh shit, I thought, okay, just go with it. You’ll have a chance to pull over and slip away. You can just stay in your car. Nobody will notice. It will be fine.
I put my car in gear and followed the car in front of me as it pulled away.
Oh my God this is actually happening.
The procession drove slowly through the cemetery, cars in front, cars behind. No stops. No cover. A simple one-way road. No place to gracefully exit. No place to hide. Finally they reached the site of the funeral. Again, I was trapped. We were right out in the open. The parking was in full view of the funeral site. People climbed out of their cars behind me. Somber, white-gloved honor guards stared me down as I sat there. Finally, like a man on his way to the gallows, I climbed out. Just keep cool. What would James Bond do?
I was in a crowd of black suits and class-As. I got a few questioning looks, but nobody said anything. I stood in the back and tried to look serious.
Now here’s the problem. Humor is my defense mechanism. It’s how I deal with all the screwed up things that life throws my way. The more screwed up things get, the more I want to make a joke. I’m literally the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral. And there I was at a funeral, and this is one of the most hilarious, screwed up things that’s ever happened to me. And I can’t laugh.
I felt like I was trapped in an episode of Seinfeld. Here’s this man in his coffin, with his family and friends surrounding him. His widow is crying. I’m an interloper. A rubbernecker. I’m intruding on their grief. I’m the world’s biggest asshole. And I’m biting my tongue so hard it’s bleeding, just so I don’t start laughing.
“The thing about Dan,” said the minister, “is that he touched so many lives in so many ways. His family tells me that there are people here who they don’t even recognise! I think that’s amazing, that this man meant so much to so many people, that they’d come here and pay their respects today…”
Please God. Just kill me now.
Finally, the minister finished up. The honor guard fired off a three-volley salute. They folded the flag and handed it to the widow. White-gloved soldiers picked up the coffin and carried it back to the hearse. People started to file out… right towards the guest register.
There was no way out. People were forming a single file line, waiting to sign their names. In for a penny, in for a pound. Like a fucking secret agent, I walked up to the guest register, scribbled something, mumbled and nodded to the family, and fled back to my car.
As the rest of the attendees headed for the exit, I took a right turn, going all the way around the huge veteran’s cemetery. I came back around to the entrance and saw a group of my old high school friends standing around. I parked the car and got out.
“You’re not going to believe what I just did…”
I like to think that somewhere, Josh was laughing his ass off.