I never do well at these things, but then again who does? There’s obviously nothing happy, nor exciting, about funeral parlors and reasons for being at one. As I rest in a dimly lit area of the room, the mirage of voices and sobs becomes a discomfort to my ears. I never quite know how to act, or what to say, especially to those who offer condolences and it is our first encounter in over a decade. I can’t make eye contact as loved ones bow before me and embrace me in longer than necessary warm hugs. “I’m so sorry”, “I love you” and “ Remember that time when…”, were just a few of the awkward remarks and conversation attempts that were made. I won’t be able to stand this agony much longer; would it be terrible of me to check out of here a little early? I’ve always wondered what the proper funeral etiquette is because I think it’s just rude to stand around a dead person. No one wants to be stared at and talked about, especially when they aren’t even ‘present’ to defend themselves. Gosh, I hope my corpse never has to go through this.
ONE WEEK AGO
I have been waiting for this trip for far too long. Those four long years of college have all boiled down to this very moment: VACATION. My best friend, Ava, and myself have planned a road trip from Maine to the Pacific coast. There has clearly been ample time for planning, but what fun is a meticulous itinerary? “Can we go already?” I impatiently whine to Ava. I have always been very erratic and spontaneous, taking risks to try and get the most out of life.
“Chloe, will you relax already? We have the whole summer to do as we please. You will regret rushing out of here if we forget anything on this list.” Ava, on the other hand, is very calculated and organized.
“This list? Don’t tell me you actually created a list of things to bring, Ava. We have the car, our phones, money, and each other. Anything else can be bought, now let’s GO.” Wasting time getting ready to do something has never been my style, and I was not about to change things up right now.
I had already done the hugs and kisses, and more hugs, with my parents and siblings before picking up Ava at her house. She’s only a 3 minute drive away, but I gave her a good twenty minute heads up before heading over. In true Ava fashion, she was still scrambling to get ready.
“That’s the last of it. I think I’m ready,” Ava said as she finally got in the car. She had three pieces of luggage to my one tucked meticulously in the tiny trunk.
“Girl, it’s about time. You are going to be late to your own funeral,” I joked.
“Shut up, Chloe. You only wish you had my organization skills”. This was something Ava prided herself on every chance she got.
“Pfft, whatever. California, here we come.” With our larger than life sunglasses resting on our sun kissed faces, we bid a willing goodbye to home and set off to the beginning of the rest of our lives.
There was nothing but us and the open road. We had a fully loaded iPod with no song worth skipping over. The weather was perfect as we cruised down I-95, singing at the top of our lungs and hair blowing in the wind. My father let us borrow his Mustang convertible for the trip after much begging and pleading. It was an absolute must, the cherry on top for this trip, and I used every negation tactic Google could find for me until he finally caved. I was the oldest of four kids with hard working, honest parents. We were all very close, even though I was known to give them a headache or two by the end of each week. I am always very grateful for everything they do for me, and I could probably do a better job of showing it to them.
“I haven’t even been watching the signs, where are we now?” Ava asked inquisitively.
“You? Not paying attention? Excuse me but what did you do with my friend?” Sarcasm made up the foundation of our friendship, even though I was the one to mostly dish it out. Ava was more straight to the point, but we had a balance that worked for us.
“Chloe, always so dramatic. Just tell me where we are.”
“We have driven about 400 miles, so just about to leave New Jersey.” Having a sense of geographical direction is something I was truly gifted with. It is both a gift and a curse, considering my lack of direction in life. Maybe it’s irony; or maybe not.
Driving the northern region was something all too familiar to me. I would often lie to my parents about staying at Ava’s house for the weekend and take random road trips. Sometimes Ava would live a little and join me, and then there were times I just didn’t invite her. There was something about getting away and being alone with my thoughts on an empty road that was soothing to my mind and soul. My spirit was always longing to fly freely, and it was such a relief to actually be on a trip without hiding it from my parents. They have always urged me to just tell them where I am going and who I will be with incase of an emergency. But for some reason, the thrill of defiance always took over. This is a selfish trait that I intend to work on eventually, when I actually feel like dealing with it.
The sun was beginning to sink below the horizon as we crossed into North Carolina. We decided to take the East coast down to Florida then head over to California from the south. This was a last minute decision as I got a sudden urge to go to Miami and experience the nightlife. Ava was reluctant at first, since this threw her whole mapped out plan out the window. However, she promised to loosen up and enjoy herself, so we changed the plan to have no plans.
“You really drive me nuts, Chloe. I have no idea how I’ve put up with you for the last decade.”
“That’s simple. You love me, duh,” I joked. This was typical sisterly banter between us. No one else in the world understands or accepts me the way Ava does.
“I must, or I am just crazy, but I know I’m not crazy…or am I?” Ava began to question herself as if her sanity should be a concern.
“You have to be a little crazy to deal with me. But no worries, we are both nuts,” I chimed.
We continued to make small talk as traffic began to come to a halt. The play list was now beginning to recycle in the iPod so we switched on the satellite radio. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber came on and up went the volume. There is no getting sick of this song, however the cars surrounding us seemed to disagree. Or it could have been our singing, but I refuse to think that was the problem.
“Ooh, someone is driving daddy’s car,” some random jerk yelled over to us.
“What’s the matter? Are you jealous that you don’t have as much power under your legs? Or is it that your girlfriend stopped putting out?” I retorted. I had too much pride and Irish temper to ever bite my tongue when it came to defending myself.
“What do you know about power under your legs?” he smirked. This guy with his perfectly gelled, black hair was seriously about to get the best of me. It didn’t help that his chiseled jaw and devilish grin were my kryptonite, but I was not going to let that distract me from proving a point.
“Is that a challenge?” I tested back through the honking horns. Traffic was beginning to move again, however this guy and I were moving at a crawl because we were caught up in our juvenile dispute.
“Chloe, just let it go and let’s move on. We have better things to do,” Ava quipped. She knew just how stubborn I could get. I always had to be the one with the last word, even if I came out of an argument looking like an idiot.
“Ava, just this one time. I can’t let this ass think he has the upper hand. I need to teach him a lesson or he is going to walk over the next female who makes him feel insecure again,” I stated matter-of-factly. She knew I was right even if she didn’t want to admit it.
“Whatever, you’re going to do what you want anyway,” Ava sighed in a defeated whisper. There have been many times Ava has gotten to say “I told you so,” to me and she was definitely looking forward to saying that after this charade.
Traffic was spread out and there was a clearing in the next lane, in front of Jerk’s Honda coupe. I slid across the lane in front of him without warning and floored the gas with my middle finger in the air. With the top still down, I could see the cloud of smoke envelope the Honda in my rear-view. Ava and I screeched in excitement and clapped our free hands together. It was pitch black now and the only car I could see behind us belonged to the punk who just ate our dust. He was getting closer and I took this as an invitation to drag this joke out a little longer.
“Ava, grab the wheel for a quick sec, I wanna up the ante a little bit,” I directed in sheer excitement and blind adrenaline.
“Chloe, are you out of your mind?” Ava chastised me, accompanied by ‘the look’.
“Come on, it will be fun. I have it in cruise control, all you have to do is steer to keep us in the lane.” She has no idea, but I’ve done this before with other friends in the car. It was one of my lone ranger road trips and I was bored, as was always my justifiable excuse.
“Alright, just this once. Make whatever you are doing quick so we can move on, please,” Ava pleaded. There was a hint of excitement in her voice that would go unnoticed to the average person. But I knew Ava better than she knew herself and could tell she was on board.
“Okay, so I’m going to unbuckle and count to three and then you grab the wheel,” I said.
“Let’s do it,” she cheered.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and the indicator chimed on the dash. I could see the headlights of the Honda only two car lengths behind. It was now or never.
“One, two, three….grab the wheel, Ava.” I steadily rose to my feet in my seat, my front facing the car behind us. I put my arms in the air for a split second to take in the sensation of flying then lifted my shirt and shimmied.
“Oh my God, Chloe, you are nuts, ” I heard Ava scream between laughs. It felt like I was there forever, and I almost did not want to sit down. The rush of excitement and the thrill of pushing the envelope was exhilarating. “Okay Chloe, you’ve proved your point, c’mon sit down,” Ava demanded.
“Take that you asshole,” I yelled though the dark air. We were going a steady eighty-five mph, so I doubt he heard me in the distance, but saying it just felt too good. The Honda was honking and only a car length behind now. He was itching to pull next to us, I could tell by the way his tires were licking the white lines. I began to slowly go to my knees, taking my time to turn around. Standing backwards in a moving car had my head spinning and I didn’t want to make any sudden movements. I thought I could hear Ava screaming, but the wind was too loud.
Before I turned to sit on my butt, I caught a glimpse of her face and finally heard her scream,
Oh no. We were still on cruise control. I turned to the road in front of us in just enough time to see a line of Mack trucks at a dead halt.
I never do well at these funeral things, but I have noticed that no one really cares about how another person acts. Everyone is so caught up in their own grief, drowning in their own tears and sorrows, that the discomfort of anyone else goes unnoticed. As the sobs and whispers begin to sound further away, I think back to my parents. I have to remember to tell them how much I appreciate them more. I have time, right? Everyone is always telling me to grow up, take things seriously, and set goals, but we are only young for so long. I have my whole life ahead of me to worry about adult things. I think I’ve had enough of this place; it’s time for me to say my goodbyes and go spend some time alone. I think to myself that I need to rise from the dimly lit area and go give my parents a hug, but I can’t move. It is getting darker and darker and I swear I hear my mom in the distance screaming, “Not my baby. Please don’t take her from me…”
What is she talking about? I am right here in front of her. Why can’t I reach out to her and tell her I am alright? The mirage of voices become less audible and the dimly lit area slowly turns to darkness. I am gone.
Photo Credit: Ryan Holloway (via Unsplash)