I'm sitting here now, in my lime green leopard print pajamas, face scrubbed, thinking about how to put into words what the last 24 hours have been like.

Today was Keith's funeral.

In the days preceding, plans were made, meetups coordinated, emails flying over the transom. Names I hadn't seen in years. Becky. Renita. Jason. I found myself sleepless at night, excited about seeing all of my old friends, saddened by the circumstances under which we'd be reunited. Keith should be here for this.

front row (l-r): Mr. Berlenbach, Keith, Stu, Robin. Back row (l-r): me, T.D., Sarah, June, Marisa

At the wake last night, I saw nearly a dozen people from high school almost immediately upon walking in the door. Matt's well; Beth's pregnant but on bedrest. Please please please tell Beth hello for me. Rob's a cop -- holy shit. Jamie's a professor. Here's Becky and Renita, and John and Jason, who's particularly keen on seeing my tattoos. Business cards exchanged. Kid's photos flashed on cellphones. The cloying smell of lilies kept bringing me back to the real reason I was seeing all of my friends again. That, and the casket in the next room.

You can't take the Catholic out of the girl. I made my way through the main room, up to the kneeler. As a child I would lie awake at night and work myself into a sleepless lather, trying to remember all the words to the prayers I was learning in school. If you didn't get the words exactly right, you may as well not pray at all. I knelt in front of Keith's casket and tried to summon the appropriate prayer.

"Keith. God damn it, Keith. Fuck."

I prayed with all my heart.

(l-r) Michael, Joanna, Keith, Marisa, Jon, John, Becky.

Everyone gathered at Tosca after the wake. More catching up. Nothing for me, thanks. I'm dry. This was a source of great interest for some, who hadn't seen me since I put down the sauce. Is it hard? Is this hard? Being around all of this? No -- it's not hard. TODAY it isn't hard. Tomorrow maybe it might be. But today I'm good. I forget sometimes that I'm the sober ambassador to Drinking World. I wondered what Keith would have made of my not drinking. In our last round of emails to one another, this hadn't come up. I figured he'd find out soon enough.

Then it was back into town to see Jon's band. They play good, fun country music with vim and authority, but jumped out of character for one song, for Keith: James Brown's "Sex Machine." Later on Jon would tell me that as he looked out into the audience, at all of us, he felt Keith's presence, if just for a few seconds. Keith touched down...for a moment. Then he was gone.

Today was the funeral. His kids were there. The triplets. I remember after they were born, and John emailing me: "I cannot believe that Keith Ryan has procreated in such a manner. It makes me question the presence of a benevolent God." I had to catch my breath when I saw Conor. In his little blazer and button-down shirt he was a pint-sized Keith. His eyes, the shape of his head, everything.

Jack, similarly attired, clutched an atlas almost as big as he was. Jack likes maps. Maps and birthdays. I had been told that Jack was autistic, and as such had very specific interests. I wished I had been in more frequent contact with Keith, wished I could've known more about his kids, about Jack.

I squatted down beside him. "Hey Jack, have you got Florida in there?"

He looked at me, flipped to the map of Florida.

"I lived in a town called Saint Leo. It's in Pasco County."

He thrust the atlas in my direction. "Show me," he said.

"Well, it's near Tampa." I ran my finger along the page, pointing out Tampa. Jack put his little hand on my shoulder. "When's your birthday?"

"September 14th."

"Mine's September 20th. Where's Saint Leo?"

"Well, let's look for Dade City. It should be right under Dade City."

He followed my finger, then cried happily: "Saint Leo! THERE IT IS!"

And then I felt it. Keith touched down...for a moment. Then he was gone.

lisamcc at 5:45 p.m.

4 comments so far
2008-02-10 01:50:45
A touching tribute to your friend. Sorry for your loss.

Lynette Estes
2008-02-10 21:35:03
All I can think to say is I love you. And I'm so glad you connected with Jack and his map. Made me happy to read.

lj lindhurst
2008-02-11 13:53:09
oh man... you totally have me in TEARS! I'm so sorry...

2010-01-10 22:20:17
simply beautiful

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