Lot 1: Stephen
by Adan Alvarado
Fill not your hearts with pain and
sorrow, but remember me in every
tomorrow. Remember the joy, the
laughter, the smiles. I’ve only gone to
rest a while. Although my leaving
causes pain and grief, my going has
eased my heart and given me relief. So
dry your eyes and remember me, not as
I am but as I used to be. Because,
I will remember you all and look on with a
smile. Understand in your hearts, I’ve
The prayer card tumbled to the floor landing right side up. I sat on the amber couch with my head between my knees. On the prayer card was a picture of Christ, who stood in front of a green background. It was the kind of green you’d see in a leaf of the rainforest; the leaf that the loneliest rain drop calls home. It was strange, almost as if Christ had headshots taken and asked for an eccentrically vibrant background to comically juxtapose the solemn bow of his head. I thought it was a general head bow as opposed to a bow for prayer because I have faked many prayers in my time, and the Christ in this prayer card was most certainly faking it.
I heard my Mother’s voice cutting through the chatter of the random huddled masses holding their cheese cubes and melon balls. Her voice grew closer but I kept my head down, kept my eyes on the posing Christ. I was no longer interested in the picture, but I knew raising my head would invite conversation with my Mother, or worse, a random wake-goer. My Mother arrived at my side, and laid her hand on my shoulder in an act of consolation. She didn’t speak; she figured my hanging head said all I had to say. She gently patted my back and made an indiscernible comment. It worked, conversation avoided. I gave Christ a wink of appreciation for the pointers.
Later, hiding from the mourners, I slid along walls and peaked around corners until I eventually found my way to the “kitchen” area. It was just a rectangular broom closet with a counter, a few cabinets, coffee pot, and, today, a shit ton of baked goods. I placed my phone to my ear in order to avoid an old couple monitoring the Madeleine cookies. I stood and watched the coffee slowly drip into the pot.
“Dude, your Dad is going to kill our asses”, I said.
As the screen from the window hit the ground Stephen responded, “Fuck him,” followed by a giggle that usually accompanied any curse; the pre-adolescent humor of broken rules. We rarely played with action figures. Correction, we rarely played with action figures together. See, Stephen was a realist; he dug army men, ones of various articulations, from solid molds to thirty six points. I myself preferred semi-racist space sheriffs or space explorers that piloted giant sword wielding robots; basically any nonsensical space shit. The philosophy that guided us in our action figure choice also manifested in the way we did combat. My figures would leap across the room in a single Superman like bound, while Stephen’s would utilize a marching step across the rug. For these reasons and many others action figures were not a typical past time of ours. With the exception of GI Joes; the world in which the Joes existed was a mash-up of the worlds each of us loved. The Joes wore tactical gear and had actual ranks such as General and Sergeant, yet they shot laser guns and battled eccentric villains with metal helmets and Klan like masks. Essentially, the GI Joes provided the balanced world Stephen and I required to do battle. Now, most of the battles we concocted consisted of us pulling out the window screens in his upstairs family room and having figures cartwheel to their gruesome death.
I heard someone calling out for me with the tail end of my name increasing in volume as the mysterious individual made his or her way toward the “kitchen.” I quickly poured the coffee slightly burning my thumb and disappeared out the back door into the alley. I had seen the alley thousands of times when driving past, I had strolled down it, ran down it, but never stood in it.
“Dude, look at the door; dents don’t lie.”
Stephen’s garage door, or rather his Father’s garage door took quite a beating during baseball season. We were in his driveway sun-up to sun-down, playing out different scenarios as our favorite players. We played seasons, keeping stats on official score cards. Stephen would actually find the score cards almost two decades later and we had a great time laughing at how silly we were.
Stephen and I were fans of players, not teams. Once we found a player we liked our loyalty was unwavering. One of those players in particular made for some amusing stats as we reviewed the old score cards. Rey Ordonez was a favorite of mine and in our “season” my Ordonez hit 37 homeruns. It was amusing when considering the actual Ordonez hit 12 homeruns… in his career. In Rey’s defense, he was known for his glove not his bat.
As we went through the “players” stats we reminisced about how his Father would periodically yell out the window, “you’re fucking up my door.” How his senile Grandpa would pull up as we were in the middle of a game and park his car over our pitcher’s mound; the time we found a stack of Playboys inside the garage and we had to call the game on the count of masturbation. We talked for hours and only covered the stories of our glorious concrete diamond. The garage door took the brunt of our enthusiasm during the summer, but the house in general was a time capsule of our seasonal destruction. Broken couch springs from goal-line leaps during the winter and broken walls from monster nerf jams during the spring. We grew up in that house, and we made damn sure we left our mark.
Going Going Gone
“I’m closin’ the book
On the pages and the text
And I don’t really care
What happens next
I’m just going…”
Thoughtful mixes and playlists are quite telling. They provide a glimpse of one’s desires, hopes, and even fears. A good one can be moving, a bad one can be enjoyable, but the best, the truly great ones, are fucking flat out macabre. I drove with the windows rolled down and the music at eighteen; the perfect volume that walked the line separating angst from obnoxious. It was sunny, upper 60s, a beautiful autumn day. If I was an optimist I would have thought it a fitting setting for a funeral, but I’ve never been an optimist, and I couldn’t help but feel as if I were being openly mocked. Give me overcast and swirling winds God damn it; rain that pitter-patters off my head and shoulders, each drop a minion of God sent to chant:
I just wanted to sob, grieve, feel, because up to that point, I hadn’t felt a damn thing.
Our last discussion took place after a game of one on one basketball. When we were young I dominated Stephen. His favorite player was MJ and mine Scottie, but in skill it was reversed. And I’m not just talking basketball. In school, art, with the girls; I was Jordan in life. However, over the years a shift occurred. He stayed in shape and maintained an athletic prowess that at least somewhat reflected his younger self. I on the other hand spent most of our games catching my breath, bitching about how raw my thighs were from rubbing together, and calling timeouts for smoke breaks.
Stephen was married to Laura; an advertising executive, who I would fantasize about fucking on a nightly basis were she anybody else’s wife. They had a warm understated ranch-style house that two surprisingly charming and well behaved kids called home. I on the other hand lived in a posh apartment with all the gadgets typically associated with a lonely overcompensating asshole. The place had been empty since my wife left with our Schipperke Bernice. Truth be told, the house was empty long before then. She checked out when she found out Bernice’s little feet would be the only ones running up and down the hallway. She hated herself for being “broken,” and she hated me for not sharing her disappointment.
Stephen went to a mediocre Midwest college in a Podunk town and majored in business. He ended up managing a local auto parts store only a few blocks from where we grew up. Here’s the thing: he absolutely loved it. He was able to talk cars all day with dudes who were equally knowledgeable on the subject, and he was always home by 5:30 to help the kids with homework, enjoy a family dinner, and watch a couple shows with Laura before calling it a day.
I went to a well known East coast university on a partial athletic scholarship. I somehow ended up a land surveyor for an international conglomerate with a six figure salary despite my degree in sociology and labor history. I hated my job, and that hate was the crux of our final conversation.
Nights when we played basketball were ritualistic. The actual games always included a mix of talking shit about each other’s deteriorating skills, and were followed by a couple of drinks and bitching about politics and work, though it was mostly me doing the bitching. That last time was no different, apart from Stephen’s response to my bitching. After some go to complaints about the unrelenting and unquenchable greed of my boss and her bosses and their bosses, and the corporate structure in general, I mentioned the constant detestable feeling of self loathing I had in the pit of my stomach every evening as I returned home from work. Usually, Stephen would have tossed out some generic words of support or encouragement: “you gotta hang in there,” “it’ll get better you’ll see,” and “well at least you got Itzel and Bernice.” The latter fell out of favor as the years went on. On this day his goofy smile was gone, and so were the familiar words which, despite their complete lack of originality or basic signs of intelligence I found comforting. Instead, Stephen leaned forward, and told me to “stop already.” He followed his uncharacteristic remark with an eight minute monologue in which he just spoke candidly. It was a Stephen I had never seen before. To be honest, looking back I should have realized something was up. What Stephen had to say wasn’t Thursday night advice; It was a friend giving every last bit he had to give. His comments were pointed, and moving; I half expected the bar’s patrons to stand and applaud because it was God damn Capraesque. Of course I realized no one was listening. No one ever listened when Stephen spoke, including me. But on this night I finally heard him, and it made me sad. It made me sad to think of all that I might have missed when I wasn’t listening.
It was strange lifting him. Despite having done so on multiple occasions: The Ricky Waters incident, Razor Ramon power bombs, or more precisely Razor’s Edge, and the 7th grade LotR play. I had heard the expression dead weight many times before, but this wasn’t dead weight; It was foreign weight. It was the immorally priced casket his wife could barely pick out, it was the loads of plaques and medals his mother insisted on shoving in with him despite that he no longer gave a shit about them, and it was the heavy three piece suit he wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing, or so I thought.
In His Name
…For none of us liveth to himself, and no dies to himself.
We always lose the best among us. This can’t be true can it? I know it isn’t. If we always lost the best we’d be left with only the decent and the despicable. And this isn’t the case. I am inspired by acts of kindness every day. By the teenage girl who holds open the door for a fellow customer at the post office, by the young man who rushes to stop a shopping cart from hitting a stranger’s car, by the cashier who finds every way to help the mother of three save on her groceries. When we lose the Stephens of the world the loss is felt deeply, and the loss requires explanation. So we craft grand theories of unjust and malicious providence to make sense of our pain, and to excuse the behavior that accompanies it.
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
We live a paradoxical existence. One of isolated togetherness. We open up only to hide, and we share only to become silent, all to secure our perpetual state of mobile immobility. But what might we achieve if we gave each other not a part of who we are, but all of who we are?
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
We are not offered re-dos. Stephen was always smiling and I never had to ask him why, I knew. He, better than anybody, understood the dimension of time.
In his name we pray.
Front of the Line
Funeral goodbyes are social constructs, created by the emotionally feeble and Hollywood. I already had said goodbye. It wasn’t overly dramatic, profound, or spectacular. It was pleasant, instinctual; mundane even… it was goodbye. Stephen was headed toward his car in the parking lot of the bar and I was stepping into mine when he called out my name.
“If you decide to take a chance, name the place after that band you always used to make me listen to.”
“The red home painters or whatever.”
“Get the hell out of here.”
Stephen laughed, “later.”
The flowers lay on his casket in a peculiar fashion, the work of some ghoulish topographer. Plots of white land with green borders and the occasional patch of mahogany working as murky bodies of water. A map of the future, long after we’ve destroyed the earth and there are no longer any mapmakers to make the maps from which to plan invasions, play board games that plan invasions, or plan trips, grandiose trips that never come to fruition. Trips that include rail passes and backpacks. A trip whose success relies heavily on the misconceptions of European countries, as well as the generosity of strangers.
I dropped my flower and embraced a fellow funeral-goer in a way that meant something…anything…all things, and yet somehow…nothing at all.
I exited my car and made my way down the cracked pavement. I entered the office and placed the two green files titled “Lot 10: Food Depository” and “Lot 18: Clinic” into the top drawer of the cabinet donated by the local school district. I placed a few paper towels under the sink in the bathroom, and returned the calculator to its appropriate shelf. Closing the door behind me I stood out on the sidewalk and looked at the copious amount of dirt lots surrounding the office. I had troubling imagining that in just seven months time families would be calling these very lots home. I stood listening to the birds, knowing that in an hour their chirps would be drowned out by sirens and the clinking and clanking of development. As I passed the newly hung wall sign outside of the office I ran my fingers across the embossed red house. I crossed the road to lot three and picked up the shovel that rested against the shed and plunged the partially rusted blade into the earth, and started over.