Two Steps

Your body didn’t look like you, lying in the casket. I can’t fault the funeral home, really. The accident did far more damage than makeup and putty alone could repair. Mike told me that the hospital covered most of your body with towels, including half of your face, before they let him see you.

I still can’t believe Mike walked away from the wreck. I am terribly, selfishly glad that at least one of you is still alive.

Writers with a Master’s in creative writing and a love of overly-precious ironic metaphors could have chosen no more appropriate time for this to have occurred. It’s Easter as I write this, two months after Eli was born. Birth, death, and rebirth have been on my mind a lot.

I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about our friendship. Did you realize that we’ve known each other for almost twenty years? I’ve known you for two thirds of my life. Outside of family, there are few people I can say that about.

I bet you don’t even remember how we met. It was at church one Wednesday night. I was thirteen. Knowing how suave and debonair I am now, it might be hard for you to remember how geeky I was, and how I didn’t really have a lot of friends at that point in my life. The local PBS station had started showing Dr. Who episodes: the Key of Time ones starring Tom Baker. I’d just discovered the show. I loved how the Doctor could always pull whatever he needed out of his coat pockets. I wanted to do the same, so I filled the pockets of my blue windbreaker with string, a yo-yo, Band-Aids, everything I could think of that might conceivably be useful or entertaining.

The pockets bulged a lot. There were only two, so I couldn’t spread the stuff around much.

Anyway, I was probably wearing it that night when I was hanging around on the church lawn. There were two new girls there that night, you and Yvonne. You must have come over to talk to me, since I wouldn’t have thought of talking to you. But talk we did, the three of us.

I don’t remember what we talked about, only that at some point you asked me, “Do you watch Dr. Who?”

Your funeral was passable. Your old friend Dr. Vizer gave the eulogy. I have to admit that he made the funeral much more bearable, since I didn’t recognize the person he was describing.

You had a lot of friends, you know. The little funeral home chapel was packed. The entire Crown Store you managed closed for the day and the staff came to the funeral. Walt told me that they put a picture of you sitting in the Easter Bunny’s lap on the door. It seems right, really.

Mike had filled the foyer with pictures of you. Some of them I recognized. There was that really goofy one from school where you’re dressed up like an American Indian and have this incredibly resigned look on your face. There was a montage from your wedding, including one of the three of us. I’d forgotten about that picture until I saw it.

The best part was seeing everyone from college. Scott and Andrea, Shawn, Brian and Gail, Tony — hail, hail, the gang’s all here. Walt came down from Fayetteville. I hadn’t seen him since we went to see Pink Floyd. We reminisced about you until the funeral home staff informed us that we had to leave.

Even then we malingered. We pulled the old “two steps” dance, where we all take roughly two steps towards the door, then stop in order to keep talking. The trick to actually leaving is to be close enough to the door that the first or second set of two steps you take actually carry you over the threshold.

I haven’t kept up with you as well as I wanted to. Misty and I got to see you and Mike a few times when we’d come back to Little Rock to visit family, but we didn’t make many visits to Arkansas while we were in North Carolina, and our families demanded most of our attention.

I wish you could have met Eli. You saw pictures, of course, but we weren’t due back in Little Rock until the summer. He’s a pretty great kid. He wiggles and wriggles so much that I’m sure he’ll be as hyperactive as I ever was. You would have loved playing with him.

It seems like everyone has stories about how good you are with children. You’ve always kept a child-like spirit. You can be serious and grown-up when the situation demands it, but you play with kids like you’re a kid yourself.

Many of my memories of you are from when you were a kid. So many of them involve you, me, Gene, and Yvonne. I remember going to Murfreesboro in his old Mustang. We dug for diamonds all day, and Gene was silly enough to climb up on a large rock, jump off, and twist his ankle. Yvonne was the only other one of us who could legally drive, so she drove us home. At least, she did until Gene couldn’t take her erratic driving any more and made her pull over. He grimaced all the way home while we enjoyed the fishbowl effect of having the Mustang’s sun roof off and all of the windows rolled up.

The four of us supported each other through the pain of high school. We partied after prom. We flew kites and raced remote controlled cars at your dad’s store. You and I even went to the same AEGIS summer camp, where we met Gene’s much dumber cousin and I tried to learn to draw by sketching you in profile.

You did well choosing Mike as a husband, just so you know. I haven’t come right out and said that to you before now, but I expect you knew. Mike and I were too good friends for you to have thought otherwise. Before college your taste in boyfriends was execrable. Thank goodness you and Mike were such a good fit that you dated all through college before getting married.

Your accident has made me a little gun-shy. Every time I drive on the interstate now I find myself imaging trucks flying across the median and onto my car. In case no one’s told you, the eighteen-year-old and her baby survived with no major damage. Cold comfort, but I would not wish for more death or pain.

Your death has left me with a lot of cold comforts. You died happy, killed so quickly that you probably had no chance to feel pain or anxiety. Your organs will help others. Your funeral gave me a chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t talked to in a while. I will see you again.

It was still too soon. Too soon to die, too late to change what happened, and I am left writing this letter to you and saying things that I hope you knew.

Two steps. We’re all taking two steps towards the door. I just didn’t realize how much closer to the door you were than all of us.

Stephanie McBrayer Self
1971-2004