Take a seat.
What’s going on?
I want you to come to my funeral.
What?? Is this about—
Just listen. I don’t want to talk about this too long.
I would like to be buried into a tree.
Yeah. There are services these days where one can be cremated and grown alongside a bunch of seeds. I like the idea of becoming a tree. I’d like to be a tree somewhere where trees thrive. Where they won’t be chopped down and made into hospital pamphlets. Somewhere that won’t cost you much to fly in from San Francisco. For argument’s sake I didn’t go anywhere from here and it’ll be a grand old reunion.
What makes you think I’m going to move to San Francisco? I was just kidding about all that.
You’re going to move to San Francisco. If your work is selling well that month, which I am sure it will be, I would like you to fly first class. I would like you to recline your seat back and rest your feet on a cushion as a poised flight attendant offers you a glass of champagne—
I hate champagne.
Fine, a Fosters in a champagne flute. If there’s a God there won’t be any turbulence but don’t hold me to that.
I would like your wife to hold your hand as the plane takes off. She is to hold it the moment the flight attendants show you how to fasten your belt and access the safety vest below your seat in case of an emergency. She is to squeeze it tighter as soon as the plane shakes and sprints off the paved runway. Her hands are soft.
For the love of god, Kate…
Hear me out. Your stomach is not to be loose because she gave you Imodium before you boarded the flight. Her skin will glow. She will let go when the pilot turns the seatbelt sign off and the attendants offer pretzels; not the 4 oz bags with giant stale crumbs but the ones you hold in a paper sleeve, courtesy of Auntie Anne’s. Are pretzels vegan?
I think so if you ask to have them made without butter.
In that case you’ll dip yours in her cheese and she’ll scrunch her face at you and when she does you’ll kiss her nose.
You are to turn to your wife and apologize for whatever event you have had to postpone on account of my funeral. Maybe you were supposed to marathon Seinfeld: I’m guessing she’ll have given you the Blu-Ray collection for your birthday signed by Julia Louise Dreyfus herself.
And how the hell is that supposed to happen?
Maybe they go to the same local grocery store and had an in depth conversation about the myth of the superfood and maybe she brought up the story you told her about the times people mispronounced quinoa—“kin oh wuh”—when you worked at that Panera drive thru in Kentucky.
Do you really think Julia Louise Dreyfus would care about how people pronounce quinoa in Kentucky?
You don’t know what she’s into. Anyways.
Maybe it was your wedding anniversary. If I die and my funeral is scheduled on your wedding anniversary I hope I sent a card in advance.
I don’t even know this woman. She probably doesn’t even exist.
You don’t know that.
Well, how did I meet her?
You met when you were unloading your friend’s truck of cardboard boxes into your second apartment in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. Your woodcuts had been selling amazingly well and you had been given a small feature within the folds of the New York Time’s Arts and Leisure section. For the shoot you insisted on wearing your black V neck and your authentically torn Walmart jeans and battered TOMS.
What’s wrong with my TOMS?
Nothing. In fact, you wore the same outfit, TOMS and all, as you and a colleague lifted your faux leather couch into the apartment and up the stairs. A floor below you, she walked out wearing a sundress and a pixie cut, her Old English sheepdog on leash in one hand and a copy of the Times in the other. She recognized you immediately from the other side of the cover- because she’s not one to skim through anything- and waited until you had set the couch down in front of your flat screen TV to introduce herself. You told her that you’d been there three years. And that you hadn’t really found a great vegetarian restaurant yet so she showed you one. You proposed to her at a gas station not far from the Golden Gate Bridge.
What the hell does this have to do with anything?
Just bear with me. I don’t have a whole lot of time; I need to get this out.
What is there to get out?
A lot. I’m getting there, I promise.
At the airport you are to wave to the people who wave to you. There will be several. Your wife will ask you if you know them and you are to explain that the man in the hemp sweater spent several thousand dollars on pieces from last winter’s collection and you met the lesbian couple at a support group for survivors some years back. Your wife is to squeeze your arm and smile at you. You are to smile back. Your matching luggage will arrive to the airport on time and unharmed.
Goddammit. Go on.
You are to drop your bags on the floor of your hotel suite and throw yourself onto the king sized bed. I’m sure you’ll be in the penthouse suite. Your wife will crawl into the sheets next to you and you spoon her and stroke her now bob length hair. Maybe her hair is white as snow. Maybe it doesn’t have a single gray hair yet, it’s still blonde. I can’t say for sure but her back will be warm against your chest and with every stroke you’ll be afraid of breaking her.
I’ve never been into blondes. Come on. You know that.
Whatever. She will express her condolences and you will say it’s ok. She’ll recall the when she and I first met. I asked her a million questions and it turns out we agreed on the hierarchy of pizza toppings. You said she was your girlfriend, not mine. I also pronounced her name wrong, twice, and you teased me about it for years. Your wife will stroke your stubble and tell you it’s imperative that you find the number for the Pizza Hut so that the both of you can order a stuffed crust pie with pineapple, spinach and mushrooms in my honor. No, make it two.
I’m hoping by this time in my life I’ll have enough self-control to stop myself from consuming an entire pizza.
Like hell. The delivery guy doesn’t get lost and you are to give him a 30 percent tip.
I always tip 30.
I know you do. The room is well ventilated and the weather is your ideal 60 degrees but you are to insist on snuggling under the covers anyway. Your wife is to tell you how much she loves that about you. Her hazel eyes will shine in the unfamiliar dark.
Hazel. Jesus Christ, Kate.
At the funeral you are to shake hands with my sister, my high school friends, my current work colleagues as well as the people you worked with and supervised in our printmaking class back in the day. I am hoping you won’t see my mother there.
You’re hoping? What the fuck, Kate?
Let me finish. The Modest Mouse fan is to tell you about how he finally designed the band’s last album because as successful as he is as a designer he can’t help but look up to you. The guy who shares your name, the one we like, is to tell you how sorry he is for your loss. He will introduce himself to your wife and tell her about the time the three of us sat on top of metal tables in an art lab and discussed television for two hours. He and your wife will get along splendidly and it is genuine. They’ll exchange business cards.
What does she even do?
For the sake of this scenario let’s say she owns an independent bookstore in your neighborhood and it’s thriving and expanding.
That’s not how things work, Kate.
You don’t know that. I’ll be sure to include several vegetarian options for you and your wife. I’ll throw in some quinoa for laughs. In return I ask that you console my sister and cheer up the rest of our friends. This is not to be a sad funeral because I have died in peace. Maybe I didn’t look both ways when running across the street. Maybe someone dared me to hijack a private jet and I crash land into the cemetery by Bowman field. But odds are it wasn’t as adventurous and laughable as any of those things, odds are my death was a cautionary tale and someone will start a foundation for it.
You’re scaring me, Kate.
It’s back, Michael.
What do you mean its back?
It’s started to metastasize in my liver.
What are you going to do?
Can you let me finish?
I want to die in peace. You are not to sneak in a jug of bourbon because I promise to make sure to provide enough for a 36 hour hangover for each attendee. I might even throw in some moonshine and lemonade. You are to go around and roast me. You are to make sure that there will be laughter and choruses of agreement. You are to toast to my sexual mishaps and embarrassing moments and yes, play all those videos on YouTube from middle school.
You never took those down?
I didn’t have the hear t to. You are to sneak out with your wife. A good time would be two hours after you’ve belted Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” on the karaoke machine, because there will be karaoke and it will consist of songs written in this millennium. If timing and the place is right I want you to take her to our Mexican restaurant. She’ll recognize it. She will refuse to exit the vehicle you rented because she’s a good person; she knows it’s our place. You are to tell her that I am giving the both of you permission to order the #2: a quesadilla with a side of beans and rice. Order hers with avocado the way I did.
This doesn’t matter. None of this fucking matters. You’re going to be fine. They’re going to fix this.
I really need you to let me finish this.
Why? Why are you doing this?
Just trust me, ok? This is the most important thing.
At no point are you to regret anything. I don’t want you to get tears on your quesadilla because you couldn’t go to any of those indie darling festivals with me. I don’t want you to cry over the times you weren’t allowed over at my place. I don’t want you go get upset thinking about the time you couldn’t be there for one of the operations. Or the time I got mad at you during chemo. Or the time I tried to fight your ex in the parking lot of the mall. These are my regrets, not yours. I would say you are to tell your wife about everything that happened with your ex but I know as soon as you’ll try to explain why you’re holding back tears she’ll hold your hand because she’s going to be a smart woman. She’ll know. She’s the kind of woman who picks you up from therapy and support groups. She’s the one who won’t raise her voice or get physical over you ordering something wrong on her salad. She’s the one who will put off seeing the goddamn Fault in Our Stars because she knows it’ll hurt. On the nights you wake up frightened she will hold you and she will say you are loved, you are safe, you are loved, you are safe until you fall back asleep. She is to wipe away the tears on your cheeks and the refried beans from your lips.
I don’t deserve any of that.
Yes, you do.
By the time I die I hope I have made enough to leave something valuable for you. A vintage Harley Davidson, a collection of rare vinyl records. If I don’t, which is very likely, you can have my books, the receipts from Walmart, the sweaters you bought me at the mall. Your wife can wear them but they might be too big on her so Goodwill’s an option as well. I also want you to have my collection of Swiss Army knives. I trust you’ll only use them for good. My Mace is up for grabs, too but you won’t need it and neither will she.
I don’t want any of this.
Well, it’s yours.
The flight back to San Francisco is to be as turbulent free and nice as the flight to the funeral. To your wonderful surprise there will be an in-flight Seinfeld marathon. Your wife is to rest her head on your shoulder. You’ll tell her, you’ll say, did you know there was once a time when I thought I was going to stay in one town forever? Her eyes will widen and she’ll say really? Yeah, I didn’t even want to be near the ocean, you’ll say. Well why the hell did you choose to move to San Francisco then? And you can give her whatever answer fits; maybe you wanted to be a working artist, maybe you needed to leave the South. But you won’t say them out loud. You’ll tell her, I just wanted to be happy.
How am I supposed to be happy?
You’ll be happy.
No I won’t. I need you.
No, you don’t. You’re going to be just fine.
I don’t want to be fine without you.
But you will be. You’re going to do so well. Oh, man. You’re going to make so many friends and see so many things and eat foods that give you heartburn and see places that aren’t in the least familiar to you. You’re going to live to be so old and cranky and sit your grandkids on your lap and tell them about the time we tried to finish an entire pizza between the two of us five minutes before we were supposed to line up for our graduation ceremony. Or you can tell them about the time we stayed all day in a rotting tree because we couldn’t bear to see it chopped down. Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be fine.
I don’t want you to go.
Hey, I’m here, okay? I’m right here. I haven’t gone anywhere just yet. And you’re right here and you’re not going anywhere right now either, am I right?
Well, then I don’t see a problem, do you?
Can you admit I’m right?
Huh? What’s that, now?
Of course I’m right.
Come on, get up.
Well, there’s still a lot to do, isn’t there?