How to Bury a Friend

Young, vibrant, passionate about life, dead.

No, that’s not a typo, this is my eulogy for my beloved friend and former compadre, Javi.

Yesterday, he would have been 32.

32 years on this crazy planet, 32 years of love, loss, and a knack for knowing exactly what someone needs at the right time; most of the time oblivious you even needed it. Not knowing what I needed often translated into a kind of push and pull between us; he pulled me in and I pushed him away.

We met in our early twenties, two lost souls with the all the talent and none of the drive that propelled our peers to finish university and make it in the real world. We fretted through unsuccessful ventures and ended up as waiters. I had just cut the cord on the worst relationship of my very young and inexperienced life. Two years of physical and mental abuse left me with no friends, but the drive to take my newfound freedom and piece together my fractured life with non-toxic glue.

Javi was beautiful (I’d like to think he still is), a pale, milky complexion, soft green eyes juxtaposed with an intense stare, and the most mischievous grin to graze a face. His short stature gave way to a sinewy, slight build; none of which deterred his many suitresses. His wrists were forever adorned with his signature Colombian friendship bracelets, his finger tattooed and his pointer was often encased by a ring.

I was intrigued by him for several reasons; mostly because in a world (or restaurant) of our darker skin, hispanic brethren, we could have been siblings. There was nothing naive or untouched about me, but sometimes it helps to not stick out like a sack of flour. We struck up a sly and humorous friendship relatively quick.

As the weeks turned to months, we found ourselves part of a tribe of misfits, a motley crew of South Park-loving-stoners, and our clubhouse was none other than my Junior 1 bedroom. Here, we began to carve out the memories that would cement us to each other for years to come. We drank, we smoked, we faced the world together with a constant stream of laughter, no matter how scary our personal situations and lack of motivation were.

Javi was a central figure in our friendship, mainly because he was always “on”. As you get older, you learn this universal secret to interacting politely when you don’t want to do a fucking thing- always invite the person/people who are just as apathetic as yourself. You put yourself out there, and it’s up to them to follow through (someone always cancels at the last minute); Javi didn’t. One time he showed up with a stolen Heineken Keg Can (they were just released) and nursed if for a week (no one else would drink Heineken). When I locked us out of my second-floor apartment, he scaled a drain pipe like a spider monkey on speed, and climbed through my window. There’s also the famous Jersey Shore-drunken bike theft-group shower extravaganza (mom, I was home for this one). He showed me what to do with a pair of nail clippers and Gap body shorts (for the vault). There’s not enough screen space to list the many indiscretions, but also a sense of protection that I feel; I will hold on to our secrets forever.

As the months turned to years, we disbanded and most of us drifted apart. What cut our own personal cord was Javi stepping over the line of friendship and drifting into seemingly scary territory. When your relationship exists on a plane of fun, games, and occasional mischief, showing your vulnerability to me is  confusing and terrifying. I didn’t want to accept my part in this new-found dynamic, so I did what made sense at the time- I ran away. I ran away, and put a medieval wall between us.

I moved on, and so did he.

For the next several years, I watered the seeds of my most intense and loving relationship to grow from my Chang’s venture with my best friend and twin soul, Luis. This was the “I’m going to call you and tell you exactly what you’re thinking at that exact moment”, and verbal communication eventually gave way to simple glances. Staying attached at the hip, we were able to pull each other in to various drive-by visits and chill sessions with our lost amigos.

None of them, however, included Javi.

It should be noted that Javi left the area relatively quick following Chang’s. The next several years saw him in Cali, the Carolinas, the world. He was the eternal nomad, always traveling, never leaving footprints deep enough to stick, nothing the water or wind couldn’t wash away. We heard whispers and slight mentions of how he was doing, and each time, it was like winning $40 in a scratch-off; it sustained you for a day, but did nothing to lift your spirit full-time.

Then one day, he was there.

Not exactly flesh and blood, but virtually; which for him was so out of character you had to second guess the authenticity. But it was him, and here I was in a Korean Spa, neck-deep in a sea of Pepto Pink short sets. The greeting was classic Javi.

Yo, woman! How have you been? When are we gonna chill?

Years have passed….people have changed….he was the same.

I drew comfort in the fact that so many things can occur in a person’s life to make them bitter, cold, and closed to renewal, yet Javi was the giant rock of reliability and sameness. He was the kissing rock that middle schoolers met at and sprayed their name, as if Krylon lasted forever.

You stayed with him, you resonated with him, and you always mattered.

Here I was, with this mile above all of my friends; I had connected to our lost soul. Call it fate, Kismet, whatever you will, it was magic. We spent the summer reconnecting, first as a group, and soon enough, as a trio. Luis and I were already making tracks throughout the city, and we gently folded our Green-Eyed Bohemian into the mix.

Javi hadn’t developed an off button. He would drink until he needed to be practically carried out of a place. For Halloween, he dressed up as a 70’s-era Flasher, complete with a Burberry trench, giant floppy sock penis, Curly Wig, and Porn glasses. He spent the night yanking his coat open at unsuspecting strangers.

He was vivacious, lively, and spirited.

Everything was perfect again. Growing up made us happier and healthier. I gave up smoking altogether, and our drinks  (at least mine and Luis’s) were more refined, more elegant, more savored. The world was perfect for us; time stood still.

I wish I could have stopped time.

Not Zack Morris style, but the kind of time stoppage that exists in spirituality and enlightenment. Time doesn’t exactly stop so much as is ceases to exist. Your days are fluid and you live in one eternal moment. I believe Buddhists call this the 5th dimension of enlightenment (sleeping humans operate at the 3rd dimension).

I couldn’t stop time, and I learned nothing from the past, so I did what any self-centered person would do- I let him go.

Again, he drifted away from us, but this time he was truly cemented. The next couple of years, he made his home in his adopted city of New Orleans. This is where he truly lived, where he could be himself, a freak who loved the world and all of her creatures.

This is where he died.

But not so fast- I still had at least three chances prior to see my dear old friend. Each time he was here, I was summoned, and each time, I flaked. Luis was smarter and luckier. As if he knew that his time was fleeting. Luis and Javi connected on those nights that I flaked, and much to Luis’s delight, Javi was still Javi. This is what made Luis sit in the back of the funeral home and not pay his “respect”. He had this recent moment of pure Javi-induced joy, and refused to remember his friend as anything else but alive, really, really ALIVE.

It was May 3rd, and I had just picked up Dirty Bird, New York’s exorbitant answer to Boston Market. My little family was home waiting, my boyfriend, Boston Terrier, and the lovable, maniacal Labradane that simply “couldn’t”. Luis called.

There have been many occasions in our friendship where we’ve had to lean on each other through unbearable, soul-crushing pain. He knew I could be fragile and hyper-sensitive to the world around me and I knew he’d gone through more heartache than the average man would ever admit. Together, we were strong.

Still, nothing truly prepares you for “I have terrible news”.

The selfish, ego-centric being that inhabits my body immediately thought of some sort indiscretion against me. My boyfriend cheated was a big one. It never occurred to me that terrible news was terrible new.

“Yo, fucking Javi died……”

“What? You’re kidding me….wait what?”

He continued talking, but my brain just couldn’t catch up. No one knew the exact details at that moment, but he was hit by a car crossing the highway at 2:30 am.

FUCKING JAVI.

Immediately, we drew our own conclusions, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Javi would regularly cross the highway on his bike to get home. He was a man of the world, and had friends from all over the city, and secretly, my friends and I knew that he was too cheap to call a cab. Or take a car. Or waste time taking the long way.

He was brave, but he was also (supposedly) tripping. He had made it as far as the off ramp, when a taxi delivered the fatal blow. The driver, not surprising,  wasn’t charged.

There’s a space of time that has existed from finding out till today. Within this space, there are even smaller spaces that are broken down by different situations, people, and events. The time right after his death and up to his funeral is the most poignant.

Something inside my friends and I immediately pulled us together. It was a furious magnet of grief, despair, anger and complete denial. Javi died in New Orleans, but his family was up here. Are they flying the body here? Are they having the service there? Where did we stand in the vast sea of Javi’s admirers (which was in the hundreds) that now included a girlfriend and adopted city of a family?

Because we didn’t see a body, there was a chance that this was hoax. Normal people grieve and wonder these things I’m sure, but to know Javi was to understand that this was truly possible.

We fantasized and waxed poetic that he owed some powerful drug dealer money, and the death was staged. We imagined he would pop out from behind a curtain for his best performance yet, a simple “Gotcha!

Luis and I made our way to our friend’s house, and listen to our typical 90’s alternative Pandora. Everything was him, and everything spoke to the pain and confusion that we were feeling.

Yellow Ledbetter? Check. Bittersweet Symphony? Check.

I kept looking in the back seat and seeing him.

It’s not the worldly idea of seeing the dead, it’s a thing your mind and soul does when you feel someone’s presence in such a hyper state of reality, your mind shows you the person. I’m not saying he was even there, but in my ever-evolving view of oneness and the universe being inside of us/ being us, I refused to write it off.

When we got to my friend’s house, it was a sense of relief but also a much heavier weight of sadness. We were together, and we were safe, but we would never again be whole. Cracks and imperfections are beautiful, but death leaves a black hole, where depth isn’t even a possible measurement. We now measured this loss in terms of nothingness.

For the next few days, things became clearer, plans more adamant, and reality more real, like the wake was on Mother’s Day real.

We walked through life as ghosts, floated actually. If ever there were a time that I questioned physics, this was it. We stayed connected through phone, Facebook, group chats, and visits. We traded Javi stories like Pokemon Cards, although most of our communication is a blur now.

Still, there was a shared general notion of “why?”

Unconnected friends and coworkers wore proverbial hazmat suits around me. I was tainted, I was touched by death, and everyone was uncomfortable. I have been on the other end of these feelings many times, and tried my best to empathize with the sufferer, but it’s unlike anything you can prepare for.

To know that someone has stopped existing is sad. To know someone who has stopped existing is surreal.

The funny thing about death is the people who appear. We knew Javi was loved; it impossible to not be embraced by his spirit. As the hours turned to days, and the countdown to his wake began, we noticed something incredible- his Facebook page.

This was a man who despised social media, another paradox. He preferred to be social in person, and truly experience life with people, not at them. People from all over the world left messages, stories, anecdotes, and pictures. Each person was more colorful than the next.

Then it hit me- Javi was a collector.

He wasn’t collecting Jordans or watches or rare coins- he collected people. He collected beautiful and broken people, deep and complex people, and touched every single one. He made each of them, of us, feel as though we were the only important people in his life.

And through people he collected experiences, life lessons, and many, many stamps on his passport. He loved, he was loved, and he was rare. While we all tried to come to terms with living to work, he stayed high on the beauty that is this ever fleeting thing called life.

And now he was dead.

It was Friday night, and his body was just delivered to the funeral home around the block from my apartment.

Around.the.block.

I can’t make this shit up.

Here I am, the weather is beautiful, I’m young, I’m alive, but I’m around the block from one of my most treasured friend’s body. This was very hard for me to swallow. The journey of 1,304 miles lands him within spitting distance. The universe has a way of pulling open my eyes-A Clockwork Orange Style-and really just fucking me.

When Sunday morning came, my friends and I walked there together. We had to hold each other, brace each other, to even walk in the door.

You are dead.

It’s real. You are no longer alive and now you are laid out like a 6ft hero. It’s bizarre, it’s….twisted. The person who lived more than anyone, is now on display like my grandmother’s China. Everyone is weeping, devastated, shocked. We don’t go straight up to the casket. We take a seat all the way in the back and just stare ahead. You are far enough that we can’t see the death on you, but close enough that we can make out your features.

We finally get the nerve.

My lovely friends Crystal and Rosemary link hands with me, and we walk. It’s not the walk to the refrigerator, or even to pick up your things from your ex’s house. Shit, it’s not even the walk to sentencing. This is the walk through an ocean of pictures; your life story being told from beginning to

end.

You’re still sinewy and handsome. You’re in a grey pinstripe suit, brown shoes, and your ring. You have a beard (this is new).

You’re purple.

The funeral home didn’t do a good job. You were in a horrible car accident. Your body was in New Orleans, no doubt in a sub-par facility in scorching heat. You traveled 1,304 miles to be here.

And here you are, purple and I will see you this way for the rest of my life.

It’s not that I won’t see you alive, how I remember you. It’s not that I won’t see the different stages of your “look”. It’s not like I won’t see you in the middle of the dance floor with your almost floor length Biggie Smalls T-shirt. I can’t erase any and all aspects of you. So now, I will see you as the chameleon that you are, with purple being your final color.

The days that followed were another haze. I know I broke down several times for several different people. Each time I had to talk about you, it was like reading the book on your life, and never, ever being able to stop at “I’ll see you tomorrow” or “yo woman!” I had to finish the story that is your life, and burn your spirit, your beautiful spirit, into the souls of those who dared ask if I was ok.

Exactly one month passed, on the eve of your death anniversary, and you were in my dream.

I was standing on a regular street, a few feet away from a corner bus stop. The bus pulled up, and as you were getting on, you waved goodbye.

There was more to the dream, but nothing else mattered before. This was you saying goodbye, saying you were going to be ok. This was the first glimmer of hope and comfort that I felt, and it wasn’t religious in nature. I just felt like you were at peace, finally. You were back to your original self, before this violent ending. You were easy-going, so a bus suited you.

I also dreamt about you on the eve of your birthday.

xx

 

 

 

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