Excerpt of By The Way


I am seventeen years old the first time I attend a funeral. Close family friends…so close for the longest time I thought they were family. A father and son, riding their bikes, bonding. I like to think in their last moments they took a break, perhaps for Nicolas to tell his father a joke or talk about something important to a sixteen year old. I like to think that in their last peaceful moments something special transpired between the two. Something so special that had they lived, it would reshape their lives. Colors of the world would be brighter, irritants not so bothersome. It wouldn’t have been just an ordinary bike ride between a father and son.

I can’t let my mind think it would have been ordinary.

As they rode, a car sped by, fast and reckless. Uncle Tommy shouted at the driver to slow down.

“Slow down, you crazy broad!” He insulted her and she heard him.

In a matter of minutes she turned around and ran them over.

They didn’t have a chance.

I am living with my father and stepmother when my mother calls. I don’t cry when she tells me the awful news. My father is in the room and members of my family do not cry. Not sober anyway.

When I did cry, it would be when I was alone. My safe place: the closet in my room. Dark with no light shining through, I could block out painful memories. It would be in that closet I would grieve for Nicolas and his father.

I had never been to a funeral or a wake before. I walk in stiffly to the wake, not sure of what to expect. I am relieved to see the two caskets closed. Royal blue caskets with sterling silver handles. I stare at the caskets, imagining which one had Nicolas lying inside. What does he look like?

I imagine his spirit standing next to me, hearing my thoughts. “I look dead, Buttface,” he says in response to my flickering thought. He doesn’t bother to whisper the Buttface remark as he would have any other time. He knows I won’t chase him. He also knows no one can hear.

He knows my mind is just playing tricks on me, avoiding to accept the harsh reality I will never see him again.

My mind goes back to the summer of years ago. Nicolas was ten, his brother Richard is nine and I’m eleven. We are playing near their pool and they are asking me which one of them I liked the best. I’m amused with their questions, feeling a little full of myself for them to even care so much. They promise they won’t get mad with my answer.

I say I like them both the same.

This is a lie. The truth is I like Nicolas the best, despite our sibling type fights.

Before I can change the subject, Nicolas flicks water on me and we start roughhousing. We take our chase into the house. The newly built house his father has been working on, with its freshly painted walls and new carpet. He is running faster after me, so I run behind a door. He sees me and rushes to ram the door with me behind it which will stab me with the doorknob. His house is still so new there are no doorstoppers. Knowing what he’s going to do, I move quickly and as if in slow-motion we watch the doorknob jam into the wall creating a hole.

“You did it!” I yelled.

“You moved!”

My aunt and his mother come running hearing our shouting and hearing the loud bang from the door. When Nicolas sees them coming, he whispers, “Nice job, Jaime. We’re dead.”

The memory flashes vividly in my head. It is almost as if it is transpiring right before my eyes. My aunt and his mother didn’t kill us that day, my aunt just took me home.

“Nice job, Jaime. We’re dead.” He had said those words to me and I had brushed him off.

I look at the caskets. “I’m dead.” I hear his voice. Standing beside me. Full of his same amount of teasing. Even in death, he can annoy me.

“Did you figure out MPH is miles per hour and not Miff, yet Dummy?”

I ignore the dead Nicolas teasing of one small infraction while reading a news article out loud about him and his speed skating. I was proud and read fast. Excuse me for living.

I stand in line with my father and stepmother to hug his Mom, Aunt Jean. My Aunt Sondra is standing beside her. Sondra and Jean had been best friends as long as I have been alive. Sondra, childless, loves Nicolas and Richard as if they were her own kids.

Now one is forever a kid to us.

I don’t know what to say to Aunt Jean. She’s lost her husband and her son. How is she smiling at people? Tears fill her eyes, yet the smile remains. She hugs me. I try to speak, but I can’t get any words out.

She hugs me tighter.

“Can you believe our Nicolas? He’s in Heaven before us all, that stinker!”
She smiles brightly and I realize she is trying to comfort me.

We hug again and I move away. Sondra is there, her face red, her eyes bloodshot. I am wearing a bright orange body suit, blue jeans and a blazer. I am sporting a good amount of cleavage, too much for a wake. She closes my blazer teasingly.

My stepmother will comment on it later implying my choice in clothes needs work. I will tell her I never got the clothing etiquette guidebook for when your childhood friend and his father are killed by a crack head.

The next day is the funeral. I go alone and sit with my Aunt Patricia in the back. I wear a black dress with no cleavage. I do not pay attention to the service. I talk to Nicolas in my head.

“I can’t believe you wore that shirt yesterday to my wake,” he says.

“I can’t believe you’re dead.”

“Believe it.”

“Are you sad?”

“For my Mom and my brother, but one day this will all make sense. You’ll see.”

When I leave the funeral, I go home to shower and change clothes.

I have a date with my boyfriend.

I try to explain my relationship with Nicolas to him, explain why I am so sad, but he isn’t listening. Instead he kisses me hard on the mouth. I am wearing the body suit. “Here,” he says reaching for the back zipper, “Let me help you with that.”

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