I’d wore a suit for the funeral. And staring at myself in the mirror, I looked fairly out of place. I was standing in my room; the room I grew up in as a child. But it just wasn’t my home anymore. If I were suddenly standing on the surface of Jupiter, the feeling of strangeness wouldn’t be that different. All I could think about as I stared back at myself was Los Carlos . . . and Mongrel.
I looked down to the floor - at my shoes - faintly smiling as I thought about how I fell asleep the night before. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have slept at all. I wouldn’t even have felt a trifle better like I was now. I hated myself. I hated myself for always pushing dad away when he was alive; for always blaming him. But somehow, she made me feel better. She was my sunshine.
I locked the door behind me and stepped down the spiral staircase, looking out through the glass wall to the vast concrete jungle of New York city. Strange. Claire was helping Grammy out of her room, arm in arm and both dressed for the service. I went over to them. I took Grammy’s hand and kissed it. She smiled back at me weakly. Life indeed wasn’t fair at all sometimes. Grammy didn’t deserve this.
We met Matt and his family in the lobby. Vai was as excited as ever. After all, she’d got a new dress. Three limos waited for us outside. We’d be driving to Woodlawn Cemetery at Webster Avenue, East 233rd Street, Bronx, for the service. Dad would be buried at there next to Kevin.
Claire, Grammy and I took one Limo. Grammy sat in the middle while Claire and I sat by the doors. As we started to head South-East towards Park Avenue, I instinctively reached out for Grammy’s hand. I closed my eyes and forced back the burning sensation behind my eyelids. I pulled in a deep breath to ease the ripping kick on my stomach.
Everything came rushing back; the thought of Kevin, his memories. Though we usually took North-West to Madison Avenue for school at Riverdale Country, 1 Spaulding Lane (at Bronx itself) - avoiding the FDR drive - I could still feel the habit of holding his hand like I always used to do whenever we went to school. New York was my past. New York was where Kevin was.
I haven’t been here without him.
Throughout the thirty minutes drive from One Madison to Woodlawn, I kept my eyes closed or down at my shoes for the most part of it, never looking out, just clinging onto Grammy’s hand.
When we finally reached Jerome Avenue, the sight of gravestones on both sides of the long street was enough to make me feel nauseated inside. The all too familiar look of black iron gate and white-stone pillars of the entrance gate made my body burn inside. I leaned over and held my head in between my hands.
Six years just wasn’t long enough to accept . . . or forget.
“You okay?” Claire asked.
I nodded and then sat back straight again, hauling in a heavy breath. I looked out, willing myself. I couldn’t go on this way forever. We had driven through the entrance. Now we were slowly rolling down the narrow road into the cemetery. Trying to imagine myself as a tourist, I tried to pay attention at the beauty of the architectural stones we passed. The more I tried, the harder it was.
For a moment, the Gates Mausoleum almost distracted me, but it didn’t quite make the cut. The meek gravestone of Kevin kept flashing like a vision in front of my eyes at every single sight of a stone, a monument or another mausoleum.
Ten meters away from the chapel where the service would be held, I immediately groaned loudly - hitting my head at the headrest - when I saw the flock of paparazzi and reporters waiting for us. Claire told me that they’d limited it as much as they could, but it was still too many for me. I hated them.
“Figured.” Claire handed me a pair of black shades.
“Thanks.” I took it.
Claire moved out first. Uncle Gallagher opened my door. Biting down a curse, I got out too. Then I helped Grammy out. There were camera lights flashing everywhere, coupled with the sound of snaps. I had to force myself not to swear at them. Since the news that I had finally made an appearance in New York leaked, I couldn’t even stay at the hospital in peace.
There was even something like a running joke among them - The Prodigal Son Returns or something along that line of shit. That had been driving me nuts.
Keeping my gaze straight ahead, I took Grammy’s hand and led us straight inside the chapel.
We had a simple service; no gunshots or anything. Most people who attended were business partners; not really friends. It was saddening to think that for someone like my dad, even the final service to pay him respect was fairly business and obligatory in some way and not really out of love. But I didn’t lament over that much because Uncle Gallagher was there. One true soul was enough.
He cried a lot. He could even barely finish his speech. Most people started crying when he spoke because we all knew my dad was like a younger brother to him. And to be honest, people cried mostly because uncle Gallagher cried. It was empathy. Not exactly for the dead person.
A fairly good number of people cried. Even Claire did. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t cry in public; definitely not in front of these strangers. The only one I could lean onto and cry to was Alana. She was the only one with whom I could be free with my emotions. With her, I could be me.
As I walked behind my father’s coffin alongside Uncle Gallagher on my left and my New Yorker cousin, Zach, on my right to the burial spot, people stared at me as if they were eagerly waiting for me to openly mourn, like it would be something historic. I didn’t look up even once until the end of the burial.
“How have you been, Xavier?” Mrs. Andrews asked as we shook hands.
I was standing next to Claire - beside my father’s grave - who did most of the talking with those who’d turn up.
I remembered Mrs. Andrews quite well. She was the wife of one of my dad’s business partner and a close friend to mom. I wondered if they were still in touch but I didn’t ask. She hadn’t changed much. Her fashion essence was still very smooth and refreshing; even at a funeral, dressed in a crossover collar dovetail dress with a hat. And that made me wonder about mom too. Had mom changed? I bet she was still as gorgeous as ever. I bet.
“Been well,” I answered, “Good to see you again, Mrs. Andrews.”
She returned with an elegant smile. “Look how you’ve grown! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw you in the chapel; towering over everyone like one of these monuments and handsome as hell. Well, I have a daughter about your age if you’d like to meet.”
I smiled. She smiled back. There was no daughter. If I remember right, she had a son who was around Claire’s age. But it’s not like her having a daughter would make a difference.
I’m taken. Amen.
“So I suppose you’re staying home now?”
I’ve always been home.
But my home to her was not Los Carlos. I don’t blame her. How could she have known?
“I haven’t exactly decided on that. But I’m definitely going back to Carlos for now.”
“You still don’t plan to move back here?” She seemed surprised that even after my father’s death I still haven’t loosened up.
What if I do now?
What difference will it make?
Besides, I felt it too bitter to move right back in after dad died as if I was waiting for him to die. I may have hated him but I wasn’t that heartless to the point of wishing him death. He was still . . . my father. Nothing could change that. Nothing could stop me from feeling something for him no matter how hard I tried.
“Oh. Well, what can I say? It’s your choice.” She returned with a faint smile.
She must be thinking what a dick of a son I am.
“If you don’t mind me asking, have you met your . . .” she paused and I knew exactly what she wanted to ask. “Christy?”
That was how she used to call mom.
She nodded with a rueful smile. “Well then, I guess I’ll be leaving now.”
She didn’t say anything about mom; not even if they were still in touch or if she’d seen her around. I still didn’t ask.
We shared a quick hug. Then, she left.
After the talk with Mrs. Andrews, I avoided people by hanging around Kevin’s grave, my back towards the crowd. If there was anything people would ever understand, it was not to evade someone’s personal space. I didn’t want to talk to anyone anymore, knowing that all if them would be asking the same questions.
I stood listening to the lovely sound of birds, the leaves of all those unique trees rustling, and wondering at the same time if Kevin was really at peace.
He should be. He deserve it.
Matt came and joined me in staring at Kevin’s black-marble headstone.
Kevin Henry Arquette
Child of light
Gone too soon
Dearly loved by mom, dad, brother Xavi, sister Clarrie and Grammy.
Sleep in Peace
2004 - 2011
“He loved baseball and Jerry the Mouse”
Someone had left a beautiful bunch of red rose with a small golden card attached to it for him. I figured it was either Claire or Grammy and didn’t touch it, not bothering to check what could’ve been written on the card either.
“How you doing, man?” Matt asked.
“Fed up.” I replied without looking at him.
Fed up of people staring to see if I would ever cry. Fed up of people trying to take my picture. Fed up of their questions. Fed up of everything.
Matt slapped my back. “It’ll be over soon.”
I sighed and nodded.
We looked back and Vai came running down the slope out of the crowd. She ran too fast that when she reached us, she couldn’t quite stop herself and I had to catch her. When I did, her little right foot kicked the roses over in the momentum.
“Stop running around, Vai. You’ll knock over a stone. This isn’t a playground,” Matt chided as he picked the roses and placed them back next to the headstone.
Like Vai cared.
“Look it’s golden!” She exclaimed, pointing at the card.
Anything golden was royalty for her.
Shifting my attention to the card now, I read the black-inked writings - ‘I still miss you. I Love You.’ Then something caught my eyes. I picked up the bouquet and stared at the card, my hands starting to tremble within seconds. I recognized that handwriting, especially the way the capital ‘L’ was written; neatly and beautifully cursive like calligraphy. I had imitated it as a child. I admired that ‘L’. These roses weren’t from Claire or Grammy. It was from mom.
She was here.
Beads of sweat immediately sprung onto my forehead. I looked up and started to scan the crowd, looking for her, wondering if she was still here somewhere. Somewhere. Somewhere I couldn’t see her.
“Xavi?” Matt asked.
“She was here. Mom was here. I gotta find her.”
The roses fell to the ground from my trembling hands. I started to stroll up the slope; glancing at every direction without blinking. Some reporters had the nerve to even come up to me and ask questions. But I didn’t hear a thing. My head felt numb. My eyes seemed to be the only sense working.
I slowly moved among the crowd like a humanoid robot. She was nowhere to be found. I looked down the driveway. She’d already left.
Of course, she’d left. That’s what she’s good at, isn’t it? Leaving.
This was supposed to be my chance. My only chance. And with that thought, I started to tread the driveway. I couldn’t lose my chance.
No. I can’t.
My pace quickened from walking to striding and finally, I ran like I’d never ran before; like a whip flashing through the air. The reporters who were following me lost me in within a minute.
I didn’t know for sure how far the parking space was from my father’s grave. After I’d ran in a mad speed for about ten minutes, cutting through restricted areas and attracting the attention of the tourists along the way, a cramp started to get me in my stomach. Yet I didn’t stop. Woodlawn was a damn huge place. It was so much bigger than I’d imagined.
Another ten minutes of sprinting later, I finally saw the parking lot. I bent over to take a breath. The cramp only got worst. Sleek black cars were leaving the area. I realized it wasn’t going to be easy to spot mom out of all these people. But lucky enough for me, I wasn’t too late. I spotted her getting inside the backseat of her Audi. She wasn’t facing me but I was her son for God’s sake. I could recognize her even by the back of her head and that rich color of her chestnut hair.
Her door closed.
“Mom!!” I called.
I wasn’t loud enough. The breathlessness and the cramp was pulling my strength back. The car slowly began to roll out of the parking lot.
“Mom!!!” I called louder.
Her windows were shut. There was no way she could hear me. On top of that, I was also on the other side of the road and there were other cars too blocking us from each other’s view. I ran along my side of the road, keeping pace with the gradually accelerating car.
Once out of the Jerome Avenue Gate, the Audi started to pick up speed, heading North of 233rd Street, away from me.
“Mom!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs behind her.
I willed myself to run faster, challenging my legs, lungs and fate itself. I kept running until I was sure I was at least two meters ahead of her Audi. Then I closed my eyes in a short prayer and cut right through the running street. Cars screeched to halts, horns honked, people shouted at the moron I was. But I was too damned to even care. Then somehow, I found my way and my palms landed on the hood of the Audi I was chasing. The car immediately pulled its brake and then the next second I knew, I was rolling in the road.
I heard people scream and stuffs. I created a total chao on the street. Great job. I groaned a bit and pushed myself up to my knees. I wasn’t injured but the cramp which felt almost like a medieval torture to my insides was pulling me back. The car wasn’t fast enough. None of the cars were driving too fast. Lucky for me. But I felt a little dizzy too.
When I turned my face towards the car, the chestnut haired lady and her driver were already out of the car and standing beside their doors like stones. I stood up.
Christina Lopez, your son has found you. Congratulations.
I slowly tottered up towards her. Her shapely fingers slowly reached up to her mouth as her eyes misted over.
Does she even recognize me?
Of course, she does. I resemble her like a splitting image; my eyes, my facial outline, basically everything about my looks.
Everybody who knew us always used to say I take after her.
I placed a hand in the hood of the car and bent over, clutching my stomach with the other hand and gasping for breath. I wanted to cry immediately - my eyes started to get wet - but I told myself to be calm and collected as I stared down at the road.
Now that I’ve finally found her, what do I say?
Is she even happy to see me?
When my breathing finally composed, I straightened up to meet her eyes. So, of course, our eyes met.
“Again?” I asked softly though inside I was already screaming my lungs off. Since this was our first meeting after six years, I decided to act a bit decent. “You’re going to just leave without meeting me?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she just wept. And that triggered my temper.
Why can’t she just talk to me?!
At least say hi to your son goddammit!!
It’s been six fucking years!!
“You still won’t talk to me?” My voice grew cold and irritated. “It’s been six damn years already, mom. Why the fuck won’t you talk to me?! Why?!!!” I shouted furiously and kicked a tyre of her car in rage. “Goddammit!!”
“Xavi.” She kept on weeping. “I don’t think I have the right to talk to you . . . or to even stand in front of you.” She was still as soft-spoken as ever.
It hurt to hear her voice. It hurt to hear her call my name. I kicked the tyre again and again, punched the hood of the car, screamed curses like a maniac; trying to get the bottled up anger of six years out. Now that we were standing face to face, I felt more fucked than ever that even I didn’t exactly know what to say to her. It fucked that I couldn’t feel more but like a stranger around her.
I wanted to accuse her of all that she did to me; her lies, her betrayal, her selfishness, her silence. But I couldn’t bring any of them out either. There were no words satisfying enough to express. So I continued assaulting her car.
Action speak louder than words, I suppose.
With one last shout of frustration like a mad man, I leaned over the car with my palms and hauled in few long breaths; having had enough for the day. My face was wet with tears by now. Then, I slowly stepped up to her and threw my arms around her, hugging her tight.
Indeed. Action speaks louder than words.
“I just want you to talk to me. Just say something. That’s all I want,” I said as another flood of tears washed my face. I felt like a baby.
“I’m sorry, Xavi. I’m so sorry.”
When I felt her slender arms wrap around me, that was when I lost all composure. I pressed my forehead on her shoulder and cried into her arms like never before.
I had to struggle to get my words out.
“It’s okay, mom. I forgive you. I still love you.”