Our old duplex is filled with things left behind; I am the newest addition.
My brother pawned the desk off on me when we moved into our first college house. Just like that coffee table, the dining room set, and all of our utensils. On the right corner of my desk is a burn mark, a remnant of our old smoking habits. I cover it with a coaster because it makes me feel like an adult.
Your funeral card is under a pin that says, “I LIKED CLEVELAND BEFORE IT WAS COOL.” I stole it from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, proving that I did not, in fact, like Cleveland before it was cool. Remember going there in the fifth grade? You said you were nervous around all that stuff that rich people used to own. I told you our stuff would be in a museum one day. You told me I was an idiot.
You never got rich people stuff and I still don’t have it. Most of your belongings are split between your dad's place, goodwill, and my new apartment. I couldn’t stand being in our old duplex because it proved I was right; the whole apartment was a museum to you.
That's the stuff that’s here, the things that make me up after you’ve died — a stolen pin, some pieces of paper, a burn-hole’d desk, and your funeral card, and me.
I couldn’t stand being in our duplex. My new place is quieter and smaller, I'm moving out today. Our office is the last room I need to pack, and I can’t. Every time I go to look at any of my notes on the cork board, I am sent into a spiral because I hate the poem on your funeral card.
I understand that in planning a funeral, grief is all too quickly shoved aside for secretarial planning. Your parents spent seven hours a day on the phone planning dates and times and flowers and songs. They had to be exposed to the radiant trash monster that is your biological mother.
I do not mean to suggest that there is some effervescence in Linda’s personality. No, the radiance I mean to attribute to Linda is that of yellow cake uranium or plutonium or whatever elements turn flesh into melted heaps of ooze.
While your parents were on the landline planning your funeral, I watched Linda. Saw the mechanics of a horrid toxic thing.
First, she insisted that her short husband deliver your service in his bumbling, derivative version of Christianity that cult members would find questionably sincere. Your mom and dad agreed, they didn’t have any religious notes for the ceremony, only that he shouldn’t talk about Jesus too much.
Next, Linda deemed me and your mom as “not family enough” to speak at the funeral. That’s when I threatened her tiny husband (1). I can’t remember the exact words, but it involved his face and either my foot or fist. He was actually nice about it (2).
Then she decided they should put a cross on your headstone. Your parents backed me up. Not sure if you can see it, but it says your name, and the dates, and then there is a small image of an apple with a bite taken out of it. To qualm her rage on the headstone, we conceited that she got to design the stupid fucking card.
The poem is meaningless. It reads like an Instagram caption an alt-right Christian couple would put on a post to celebrate the death of every sperm that never made it to an egg.
I mean this from the depths of my heart, as a Catholic, as your former writing partner, as a human being: fuck the writers of the poem on your funeral card. Fuck them both. I hope someone breaks into their home, breaks all their pens, pencils, laptops, and anything else they could ever possibly write with: crayon, charcoal, burnt end of a matchstick, tampon, colored pencil. The only thing I would spare would be a dry erase marker, so that nothing they ever wrote could be permanent.
I hope I’m not disturbing you, Myles. You are probably busy bowling with Elvis or smoking heaven weed with J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t mean to be unfair. I know that Linda had lost a son. Like all of us, there was a hole in her heart that would never be filled.
But you have to read this thing:
Our boy is gone.
God saw how tight we held,
He gave us your light for a time,
He gave us all the feelings we felt,
They rang like bells and chimes,
Though our time was brief,
He gave us memories,
God gave us you to prove our belief,
We will always have you no matter the endeavor,
He gave us the joy of your love,
You may not be here, but you will be my boy forever.
After the service, we got Applebees, your favorite, you absolute gutter trash. The boneless chicken wings weren’t the same without you telling us how good they were. All night I held our friends, I held your parents, I held my parents, I held everyone you ever loved in big drawn-out hugs. My only nice suit jacket collected the tears of everyone that ever had the pleasure of knowing you.
They were all there. Anna broke her “I’m never coming back to Cleveland” rule just for you. Kathy was there, without her big Marine fiancé (3). Matt baked his first red velvet cake that didn’t suck (4). We all sat down with your mom and dad, and Linda and her tiny husband at the biggest table Applebees had. $1 margaritas were ordered.
Dinner passed in tense silence. Each scratch of a fork seemed amplified by 1000 volts; each sip or shake of an ice-filled cup was vacuous.
“How are we going to split the bill?” Linda said, swirling the ice in her glass with the straw.
“Joe and I are happy to pay for dinner,” your mom said, rubbing your dad’s back.
He was silent all day, Myles. I've never seen him like that. He wasn’t drinking, wasn’t sharing stories (5). He just looked at the linoleum floor. At the end of the service, he thanked everyone for coming and dipped out the back entrance to the funeral hall. But when Linda brought up the money, he looked up.
“That’s not what she means, honey. She means the funeral costs,” he said, staring through his ex-wife. “She wants to know how much we are covering.”
“Oh, well, you know we don’t have two six figure salaries in our house,” Linda said, “so I talked with the funeral director before he left, to pay my half, and we used the donations on our bill. I hope that’s ok.”
My rage transported me back.
We were eighteen and taking prom pictures, Katie was dating that guy we couldn’t stand from church; I was in love with Anna, and she was in love with you; Matthew was just happy some girl wanted to take pictures and dance on him all night; and you were in love with the moment. Linda was struggling to get out of the car by the time we were ready to leave for the dance. She insisted we take more pictures on her phone, and you took her aside. I saw you settle into a depression for the rest of the night.
Your father had the same look when Linda brought up the money: the feeling a chess piece must have – knowing that this game will go on forever, knowing agency will always be limited by the player.
I screamed every bit of ammunition I had gathered on her over 20 years. All the times my parents drove you home from practice on her weeks to pick you up, every time I rode my bike past your house to see you waiting on the front steps with your head in your hands, and now that stupid, stupid poem she decided to put on your funeral card.
My anger was insatiable. It was like when you go on a roadtrip and you eat M&M after M&M until the whole bag is empty, my words were calorically shallow, pilling and spilling out of my mouth.
Your friends and parents, even your tiny stepdad tried to interrupt me or calm me down. I needed you and you weren’t there. So, I kept going, driven by the feeling that it was cosmically unfair that she was still here and you were not; that she remained and you didn’t, that you weren’t left behind.
It’s bullshit that my future children will not know their uncle Myles — I know you hate it when kids call their parents’ best friends Uncle and Aunt, but I would make them call you Uncle just to piss you off (6).
Linda left after my tirade. Your parents too– your dad looked like he was drowning, and your mom couldn’t do anything to help. Katie had to go back to the east side, Anna had to go back to New York, and Matthew had an early morning at the bakery, and I sat there alone in Applebees. My parents texted me, and I ignored it. Everyone was staring at me because I had just been screaming for 20 minutes inside an Applebees.
It’s not that you were perfect. You weren’t. But the fact that I was here, and Linda was here and you weren’t was belligerently unfair. I just wanted to make you laugh again.
My first instinct was to look up. I saw the shitty ceiling of Applebees but then I saw through it. I saw your face, and your smile, and 1,000 fights and 1,000,000 hugs. In my head you said, what’s this guy’s fucking problem? I laughed and I heard your laugh in my head. I cried and I tried my best to imagine your hand on my shoulder. You weren’t there but it was just enough. I had expelled the hate and memories and regrets, and your memory gave me the push I needed.
I went home and started packing up my things. Into totes went clothes and notebooks and pictures. I went to your side and started packing too, labeling things I wanted and thing’s I knew your Mom and Dad would want.
I already know where your left behind things will be put in my new place. I curated your things around so that every corner of every room had a touch of your essence, of the energy you left behind. I keep your Claddagh ring on my keychain and your notebook on my bookshelf.
But I’m just left behind. Like the burn hole in my desk, like the Hall of Fame pin, and the note card, and the shitty poem on your funeral card, I'm here and you are gone. The desk will fall apart, and I'll have to get it replaced. The pin on my cork board will rust and I'll throw it out. The paper of your funeral card will dissolve, and the shitty poem will become illegible.
I’m here and you're not, and that’s never going to be ok, but it won’t be true forever.
(1) I’m sorry, I know you liked him, it made me feel bad when I did it.
(2) It made me feel very guilty.
(3) The one that insisted on wrestling us at our college grad party.
(4) Three years into his baking apprenticeship, you’d think he’d have picked up cake earlier.
(5) He didn’t bring up the cost of waterfront property once.
(6) You would pretend to get mad everytime, and I would cry laughing when you would scream, “I AIN'T YOUR UNCLE BABY! I BARELY KNOW THIS MAN YOU CALL DADDY.”
A Cabrera's poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in The New Guard, Brain,Child Magazine, Colere, Acentos Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Best Travelers' Tales 2021 Anthology, Mer, Deronda, and other journals. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and adapted for stage by the Bay Area Word for Word Theater Company. She writes, teaches, dances and ride bikes in San Francisco, but not always in that order.
JT Godfrey is a writer and humorist in Cleveland, OH. JT's work has been published in the Rappahannock Review and WildRoof Journal. In addition to prose writing, JT serves as a lead comedy writer at Imposters Theater.