Friendship is a Sulfur Match
Today I spoke at Cooper Baker's funeral ceremony. I didn't really want to as I am shy and do not like speaking in public, but I felt compelled to do so. I hardly never speak without preparation, and I was not prepared at all.
I mentioned how I wrote Cooper a condolence card after I found out his wife died. I didn't send it, and one day he came over, and I gave it to him, and he opened it, and it said "F*** You, Cooper!" He laughed like I knew he would, and answered me back, ""F*** you, Dougie."
I've since explained how that phrase, or something similar, was how we greeted each other for most of the years we knew each other and didn't really mean nothing bad, in fact, as we got older, that simple, profane greeting was the simple way we told each other, "I remember."
I've been thinking a lot about things and now I realize that there was lot more to it than just that. I didn't send that card for the same reason that I don't like to talk to the grieving family at funerals, I don't know what to say and know there ain't really nothing to say. I don't want to say that thing's are going to be okay; that it just takes some getting used to it because they ain't and it don't. The death of a loved one hurts you till the day you die.
I've messed around with words, both written and spoken, pretty much my whole life, and as I have become more and more aware of my own mortality and the fact that I'm in the twilight part of my existence, I have become somewhat obsessed with writing things down so that I might leave something behind that acknowledges the fact that I was once alive at this particular time and place on a planet zooming through the fucking universe like a Clayton Kershaw fastball, and that I once mattered somewhat and saw things good and bad, and knew people good and bad, laughed and cried, and fell over and got back up.
I have come to know the weight of words by the way they taste in my mouth and can detect bad usage by the way a single letter sticks on my tongue when I am trying to make things smooth.
Words at funerals lodge in my throat though and are hard for me to say because they don't do the things I want them do. I explained this to Cooper that day he visited, and he said he agreed. He told me that he had quickly gotten real tired of people telling him how sorry they were for the loss of his beloved wife. He was grieving and the words piled up and just kept reenforcing the grief.
He meant no disrespect by saying this, he was tired, and he recognized that the people who spoke them loved him and were just searching for ways to tell him how much pain that they were feeling. It's just that words at funerals are, well, words at funerals. We so much want them to say a lot more than they do.
Before I went to that podium today, I was trying to think of line from a John Prine song I always loved that lamented the fact that, "a person can't tell his best friend he loves him, till time has stopped breathing." That line has always stuck with me because of how it fit how things were back on the south side of town when I was learning how to be.
On the Southside growing up, everything had a bit of grit in it. The air we breathed had grit, there was grit in the food, there was grit in the advice our parents gave us, and grit in pretty much everything we did and especially in the everyday language that we used. It didn't come from our own upbringing but mainly from that of our parent's raising.
But if you glue some of that grit on a thick sheet of paper you can strip a heavily painted board down to it's bare self, its real self. Sure, we embellished shit a lot when we talked, but we didn't really lie to each other. I've always felt that I could trust the people I grew up with more than most people that I knew.
Looking back though, I wish sometimes that we could have told each other how we felt without the expletives, the sarcasm, and the code words, without having to show that we were the sons of men, and that sons of men don't use sissy words like love when they talk to their friends.
The closest that Coop and I ever got to that was on that day, one of the last days that we saw each other. He got half way out the door and leaned back in and said, "Take care of yourself, Dougie."
I looked at him and smiled, "You too, Coop."