Nicky, Carter, and I chose the best outfit to bury you in. We selected the grey suit you had worn to the Elton John concert, your red beatles shirt, one pizza sock, one rainbow sock, and your fancy dress shoes you almost never wore. I’m mad we didn’t think to bury you in cowboy boots. I hope they have a Kemo Sabe in Heaven. We gave the funeral home one of the rock necklaces you had made when you spent a month in the woods after high school. You were so excited to give one to each of your friends and family. We had the funeral home pin on a sheriff badge and Carter’s debutante button. I envisioned the clothes dressing you like an updated hologram in Heaven and you being excited for the swag we chose. You always did look better when you let me dress you. I took a handful of your eccentric ties and gave them out to your pallbearers to wear to your service. Houston made such a fuss when the other guys told him he couldn’t have The Beatles tie that they ended up letting him have it.
The morning of your service, January 7th, our family and your closest friends gathered around your elaborately dressed body to see you resting in peace. I had come an hour before everyone arrived just to sit with you and have one last jam session. I felt the weight of both our worlds crash down on me when I first walked into the room where your body rested in a casket.
The funeral assistant slowly closed the door behind her and left us alone together. If you would have been alive we would have greeted each other with a smile and some kind of sarcastic comment before going for a big hug. Instead, this was the least giddy reunion we’ve ever had. The pain in my heart ached all the way through my body and the tears started shooting from my eyes as I struggled to catch my breathe. Your hands, the ones we both inherited from Dad, were gently folded over your heart. They still looked just like his and mine. You laid in your humble casket and looked vacantly serene. I was glad to see you at peace but I knew this body no longer housed the soul I loved so much. I added an ‘I Like Ike’ pin to your jacket and put the glasses I’d worn to the Elton John concert in your pocket. I thought it would be more meaningful if we switched shades for eternity. Your spiky hair still felt the same when I ran my hands over your head but your hands were freezing cold to the touch. Your skin felt more like a mannequin’s than that of my dear brother when I kissed your forehead for the final time.
Slowly, everyone who was invited to see your body arrived. Carter initially refused to enter the room, but I grabbed her arm and pulled her in. I knew she wanted to see you, she just needed a little extra help. “It’s not him,” she kept repeating. Once we all said goodbye, we walked outside uniformly. The boys carried your casket with integrity. Nicky held my hand while we walked to your gravesite. Carter had her arm looped in mine. Dad had previously chosen the best plot he could. He thought it was funny to call Sparkman Hillcrest the Mercedes Benz of funeral homes. I think you’ve got the best plot in the entire graveyard. You have a great view of the water and are conveniently located near the parking lot for easy access. Got to love convenience. Dad also likes that you’re his close by neighbor, just half a mile down Northwest Highway. It hurt to my core thinking that this is where I have to come to visit you now but at least it’s beautiful. I haven’t told anyone this but I hope I get to be buried next to you. I will never love anyone as much as I love you and I wouldn’t want my body to rest next to anyone else. Screw becoming a tree.
It was supposed to rain the day we buried you. It was supposed to be a cold, dreary, January day in Dallas. Instead, the sun beat down on us and covered us in light and warmth. I know that was you. I know you were the sun. I told anyone who wasn’t too scared to get close to me. One by one, we all placed roses on your grave. I kept one and still have it crushed in your journal, which I have yet to read. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to take part in such an invasive breach of privacy. The grave diggers sealed you in marble and lowered you down to your new resting place. I didn’t see, but your best friends held hands around you and sang “Yesterday” once everyone had left. I know you were singing with them. You guys have showed me what real friendship looks like.
We had made over 1,000 ‘I Like Ike’ pins and everyone at your burial and memorial service wore them proudly. I’ve worn mine almost everyday since they came in. Even the lady at 711 recognized you, declaring “I KNOW HIM” to everyone at checkout when Georgia and I went on an emergency Juul pod run. Is that where you bought your dip? Did you really know this lady? Who am I kidding, of course you did. People would often stop me and ask about the pin thinking it was a campaign utilizing the old Eisenhower slogan. I always laughed a little at how uncomfortable they got when I explained, “no, these are for my brother. He died.”
Your service was remarkable. Carter and I looked like a lesbian couple announcing a run for the presidency. I was wearing the pants, of course. On top of the 500 people stuffed into the St. Mark’s chapel I learned after that the overflow filled the auditorium where they live streamed the entire service. You always knew how to rally a crowd. I’m glad I didn’t know this when I got up to deliver my speech. I wish you could have heard our speeches. Mr. Ashton painted an incredible image of you, from the trouble making 6th grade student, all the way to the respected faculty member and coach you grew into. Your students loved the part of his speech about you jumping into the leaf pile with them during class.
Nicky’s speech emphasized your never-ending intelligence, your outstanding taste in music, your dangerously mischievous nature, and your genuine care for those you loved and humanity at large. Despite our shared hesitations, Carter did pretty amazing herself. I was so proud of her up there, so strong and beautiful, explaining the awe-inspiring person you’ve been since the day you were born and the lasting impact you will have on her forever.
Writing my eulogy was therapeutic. I went last, at Dad’s request, and tried to sum up the incredible brother, friend, and person you were and stressed that we are all changed for the better because you were once with us. Dad was the last person to leave both your burial and your service because he wanted to be the one to carry your spirit into the world. I hope you’re still with him now. Don’t get any ideas though. He’s not allowed to come join you for a long, long time.
Houston told me after the service that he is convinced you were some kind or messiah here for a short while to teach us valuable lessons before moving on to another life. He’s not wrong. You were so full of wisdom and taught me something new every time I was with you. A never ending fountain of knowledge. You will forever be missed from my trivia team. The Chaplain said Carter and I’s anecdotes about your childhood attempts to repel us from trees using dog leashes probably wasn’t the best thing to share with 6th graders. Haha, screw him.
Conner sang “In My Life” to the crowd at the reception after the service while your friends filled in the posters I titled “What I Did With Ike”, “What I’ll Remember Ike As”, and “What I’ll Miss Most About Ike.” I read over their responses often. My personal favorite is Miller’s addition: “Who do you think taught him how to wrestle?” Don’t worry, I’ve already taken over the difficult role of messing with him just enough so he understands what it’s like to have siblings. Through your burial, your service, and every get-together in between, we tried to do justice to the incredible person you’ll always be in our hearts. I think we did. I hope you agree.
That night, I had my first sip of alcohol since your passing. My managerial duties were over, for a few days, and I finally felt like I could handle the wall between my exterior and interior being broken down for an evening. We gathered at Mom’s with our friends and family. I’ve never seen so many people excited for pre-made sandwiches and dip. I drank so much tequila that I could barely stand up.
We all moved over to the Gruy’s for one last hoorah in their vacant home. I loved walking around hearing the stories of you that occurred within the same walls. That really was your second home when you weren’t at ours. We laughed that night. We danced, we sang, and we reminded each other how much we loved one another and would continue to be there just like you were there for all of us.
By 1 AM, I decided it was time to go home. Nicky caught me on the way out to give me one more loving embrace and remind me of his never ending love for the both of us. It was more special than I can put into words. A couple friends and I went back to Mom’s. By 3 AM, it was just her and me sitting outside on the back porch. I cried. I sobbed. I had to remind myself that breathing doesn’t happen without drawing a breath. Mom smoked her Virginia Slims and cried between each drag. I yelled at her and asked her why God had to take you, a magic person who lived each day to the fullest, and not her, the one who spends most of her days in a self induced coma behind closed doors. I regretted these words as soon as I said them but was too clouded with agony to apologize in the moment. I stormed into the house, robotically did my nightly routine, and quietly crept into bed to cry softly enough to not wake Nico.