Chapter 7: Sometimes I Don't Mind
By Allora Atwater

There was a funeral held in the following days. A standard, generic service that did no justice to the true soul in the casket. Not that there really was a soul left in there; that part of him had found its place somewhere in the astral plane, far from my deduction. All that remained of Sully Jarran Howerdel was a body, an empty cavity placed unnaturally amongst red velvet and mahogoney. Nothing that represented his character; as we all knew, Sully's favorite color was orange, and he didn't like the sound of organ pipes. Reminded him too much of church.

The mortuary was relatively full that afternoon. Sully would have wanted a nighttime service, if anything. I doubt he'd appreciate the acknowledgment anyhow. He was never one to be caught in a social situation, and didn't like drawing attention to himself, though his appearance suggested otherwise. If his family desired to show their respects, they would have been better off burning his body in the backyard and spreading his ashes along the muddy banks of the Marion. At least the service was held indoors. The blistering heat would've driven anyone away.

Addressing the matter at hand, I was pretty surprised to witness such attendance that day. Sully didn't like people much, so he had very few friends. Most kids at school were afraid of him, because he was different than they were. I didn't understand why they wanted to see him now, after years of being shunned by him. It wasn't as if they were saddened by the loss of the person himself. His untimely demise gave them a reason to feel sorry for themselves, and then to play it off as though they had so much to live for and would value the rest of their pathetic existences to honor the deceased. It was fabricated bullshit, plain and simple. None of these punks cared about Sully. If they didn't bother to get to know him when he was still alive, then they shouldn't have been there to mourn his death. Two girls in the back - girls I knew had been looked harshly upon by my best friend - were crying profusely, pretending to hold back their cries as if anyone cared. They were as fake as the synthetic flowers next to his casket.

Of course, after the initial "shock", the media would stain Sully's image with their yammering about teen drug usage on the rise and how, if Sully had been a good boy and played by the rules, he'd probably still be alive. Whatever. Sully didn't want to live, and I didn't blame him. What was the point of living if all you did was die? Striving so hard, working long, laborous decades only to be met by the grim reaper when your number's up. Every second that went by was wasted, everything and everyone aging that much quicker. Why make life even harder for yourself by meeting the ever-changing social standards and following every law precisely up to par? Would you rather live by your own rules or by those that others make for you? Sully reached the end of the line early on, but at least he could say that he did what he wanted without giving a damn about what others thought of him.

My parents were there, but they didn't sit next to me. Mother sat with Mrs. Howerdel, rocking her in an embrace as she sobbed like a child. I felt no spite towards her; she was a pretty good mother to Sully. She treated him with kindness and didn't give him any shit about his clothes or hair. Sure, she'd force him to take a shower every Wednesday and babysit his little sister every now and then. But even so, she'd supply us with cigarettes, so long as we gave her the money, and even though she'd lecture us afterwards, we knew it didn't bother her. Apparently she and Mr. Howerdel had made an appointment with a marriage counselor and hoped to stay together. Too bad they'd reached that conclusion after the death of their oldest child.

Acacia sat in the back row, in a secluded corner. She dressed the way Sully would have; red plaid pants and a black shirt. Her arms were folded over her chest and she stared straight ahead, probably questioning her own reasons for being there. She didn't know Sully in the least, but I don't think she came to pay her respects to him. I think she came to pay her respects to me. I tried to stray from that thought, wondering if it meant I was becoming some kind of egomaniac. Acacia wasn't fake like the rest of the squealing girls. She wasn't on the arm of some hulky jock, nor was she burying her face in her hands and lying through her teeth about what a "wonderful human being" Sully was. The porcelain face I had been so afraid to break was concentrated and expressionless, pensive gaze unwavering. I turned away, in fear that I might go over and reconcile the past.

Which goes without saying; we hadn't spoken since that forbidden night. It was just as well - I wouldn't know what to say to a girl who knew my life story in a matter of days. How do you apologize for shamelessly abandoning someone after they go to great lengths to console you? I felt like trash compared to her, worse than I'm sure I was. She must've heard about Sully's death in the paper - Acacia always struck me as more of a reader than a couch potato - and known it would ultimately affect my life even more.

My pain ran far deeper than I could physically fathom, or verbally admit to. I effortlessly convinced my willing mind that Sully was where he wanted to be and did what he needed to to get there. I lied awake for three consecutive nights, fighting back old memories and baring my teeth, determined to make it on my own, without Sully's constant support and occasional side remarks. More than anything, I blamed myself for what had happened.

At first, there was a huge controversy: Sully had been found dead in my room. Of course there were rumors that I had, in a fit of rage, asphixiated my best friend in his sleep. I kept calm and waited for the autopsy results - luckily my dad stayed tranquil as well, not exactly backing me up but definately not accusing me either. Sully had taken over 9 hits of acid that night, along with cocaine and heroin. The doctor kindly informed us that a variety of tranquilizers and muscle relaxers were found in his system as well. Practically suicide, they shook their heads in disappointment. Sure, it was Sully's fault for being such a dumbass. Any fool knew that taking such a dangerous mixture in such large amounts was a death wish waiting to be granted. But I couldn't keep that voice in the back of my mind from nagging me about my own significant role in his downfall. I had known what he was geting himself into, and when the going got tough, I gave up.

I sat alone, along one of the back rows where the few true grievers preferred to be. I had my feet on the back of the chair in front of me, strings of my frayed black jeans whisking against the solid oak finish. One of my hands was balled up in a fist and I pressed it to the thin line of my lips, the pressure paling my knuckles to a ghastly white. It took everything I had not to cry, not to throw myself to the ground and sob for redemption. I was attending my best friend's funeral, and all I could think about was how stupid everyone else was for being there.

I closed my eyes and suddenly, I was seven years old again. A runt for my age most definately. I didn't like sports much, but I liked to paint. Course I'd never admit it to anyone - I had to put up this image that I was some tough kid so I wouldn't get picked on. That day I'd been walking barefoot on the asphalt, my jeans dragging the ground unceremoniously. My shirt was a little too big, but I liked it. I was working my way through a bag of chips, making a complete mess of myself in the process. There were grease stains on my clothes and crumbs in the corner of my mouth. Shaggy locks of dark, ungroomed hair flitted across my line of vision, but I managed to walk in a straight enough path. I stopped at a house with French vanilla trim and a blue four-door sedan in the driveway. There was a boy about my age, maybe a year older, hanging upside down from an old tire swing. He looked at me from his peculiar position and I stared right back, digging into my bag for more chips.

"My name's Sully." he told me after a few undeterred moments. I shot him my patented 'who gives?' look and advanced upon the immaculate lawn.
"What're you doin' hangin' upside down like that?" I asked instead of offering my name in return. Sully shrugged, an odd enough gesture considering he was, in fact, hanging upside down.
"The world looks different from this angle." he replied, as though it made all the sense in the world. "I'm smart." he added.
"So?" He sure thought the world of himself for being only an elementary school kid. He flipped off the swing and dusted his pants off.
"I dunno. I thought I'd let you in on that." he beamed proudly. "I got to skip the second grade even, and I'm only eight!"
"Big deal." I scoffed, secretly envious that I was only of average intelligence. I didn't have anything special going for me. We sat down in the grass and I handed him my half-empty bag of chips.
"I don't like sour cream and onion," his little nose wrinkled. "Got any salt and vinegar?"
It was my turn to cringe. "You want me to magically pull a new bag outta my pocket or somethin'? You don't want em then give em back."
"Nah, it's alright, thanks." He put the bag up to his face and dumped the remains into his mouth. I watched him crumple the bag and throw it further into the yard, his cherub cheeks puffed up like a chipmunk. How weird, I thought. Didn't he just say he hated them?
"So you didn't tell me your name. Am I s'posed to guess?" he questioned, spitting a few crumbs out as he spoke with his mouth full.
"I'm Laine."
"What's it mean?"
A pause for puzzlement. "What does what mean?"
"Your name. Mine means 'to stain'."
"Oh. My name doesn't mean anything."
He cocked his head at me. "Then why did you parents choose that name if it doesn't have a meaning?"
"Same reason your 'rents named you after a stain." I responded scornfully. Instead of getting pissed off and pitching a fit, like most eight year old boys were prone to do, Sully just laughed.
"Fair enough."
I just shrugged indifferently and looked up at the darkening sky.
"I'm going home now. I'll see you around Sully."

Ultimately, that 'see you around' became rather ironic in the consequent years. Sully and I had spent the next nine years as if joined at the hip, one a constant shadow for the other. I'd never really told Sully how much his friendship and loyalty had meant to me. Because of his unyielding support, I was never afraid to do anything, or to be who I wanted to be. Sully was a wayward spirit, always a little offbeat and eclectic. Mean as hell after hanging out with my ill-tempered self for such a long time, which was why I didn't expect so many people to care that he was dead. He was a nice guy deep down, but he had no tolerance for the dumb and flakey. Couldn't blame him for being so forward about it either - I'm sure he'd picked up his venomous remarks from the likes of me. But above all else, Sully was smart as anything and had one hell of a future mapped out for him. Once we hit high school though, he quit applying himself. I was mostly at fault for his sudden disinterest in his studies. I'd drag him to shows and parties with me. I'd keep him out past curfew and encourage him to cut class, got him addicted to nicotine and turned him into a bit of a lush. See him around? I practically mirrored him.

Perhaps even more ironic was our conversation about names and their meanings. Sully's name meant 'to stain', which was, in essence, completely applicable. His image had been marred, his goals and dreams shredded by the hinderance of an oppressive society. We had felt the need to rebel against the set of rules that had been bestowed upon us. I was being sucked into the undertow and I dragged Sully down with me, soiling his determination. I had found out, years later, that my name did in fact have a meaning. It was a variation of the name 'Lane', which meant 'to move on'. Now that was a knee-slapper. Laine Aderberry, move on with his life? It wasn't going to happen anytime soon. More than anything, I didn't want to move on. Moving on meant letting go of the past and concentrating on the future. I didn't have a future. All that was left of me was my empty shell, and memories of what once was.

The ceremony carried on in a predictable fashion. During the prayer, both Acacia and I remained seated, I because I didn't believe in God and she because she knew Sully didn't either. It was ridiculous - Sully wasn't Christian, why should they honor him as if he believed in Christ? The preacher gave an inaccurate account of Sully's life, hailing him as an idol for decency and compassion. Songs were dedicated to him - songs that would've made him roll his eyes in disgust. It came time for those who wished to impart words or memories of Sully to stand at the podium and give their eulogy. Not surprisingly, no one stood up. Caught them dead in their tracks - none of those imposters knew a thing about Sully Howerdel that could do justice to his sleeping soul. I stole a glance at his mother in the front row, trying to regulate her mournful sobs and clinging to my own maternal figure for comfort. I stood up.

It seemed like the stand was miles away from where I was, and I could feel everyone's appraising eyes on me as I sauntered purposefully down the aisle. Whispers circulated around the room; people were probably wondering what the hell Laine Aderberry had to say. Public speaking was never my strong point, and during school presentations I'd play on my insecurities to make my speeches inappropriate. Laughs were always good but after awhile, no one takes you seriously.

I cleared my throat and laced my fingers though the fishnet sleeves draping my arms. It was now or never, I had made the stand and was expected to make it worthwhile. Suddenly apprehensive, I caught Acacia's encouraging gaze from the back row, urging me to go through with my spur-of-the-moment speech. Mrs. Howerdel watched me through her tears, undoubtedly seeing her son in me, and appeared interested. She knew I could tell more about Sully than I could about myself. Staring at his coffin, I began.

"Sully didn't die because he deserved to. Sully wasn't asking for death, he never embraced the idea of it nor did he try to provoke it. Sully died because he was human. Humans are mortals, and mortals make mistakes. Mistakes are forgiven, but not without a price. Being human, Sully made some mistakes that cost him his life, and that's the way the pieces fit." I paused, collecting the words that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. "I should know. I watched them fall apart."

I saw my father turn his attention to me, and suddenly, I felt as though I had so much more to say. The hate welled up in my blood, flashbacks recurring in my mind as visions of violence and malevolence obscured my vision. This was no longer for Sully, but for myself as well.

"Sully was the most realistic thinker I'd ever known. He was no teen icon for any of your upstanding virtues. He wasn't the poster boy for good morals and values. He didn't even believe there was a God, much less a Christ. But his thoughts were his own and he didn't step back and let everyone else make his decisions for him. I've realized, in his absence, that none of you can see that this is a real person who's died here. You think it's a shame, you think it's sad, and then you move on with your lives. You use Sully's death as an excuse to feel depressed about humanity, and then you chastise his entire existence with statistics and falsehoods." My tone lowered to a mocking rasp. "Sully wouldn't have wanted all this commotion made over him. He didn't like any of you, and none of you ever liked him. Wherever he is now, I'm sure he's a lot happier there than he ever was here in Devonshire."

I stared long and hard at the casket splayed out before me. No tears were there for me to cry, so I didn't bother hiding what wasn't there. No one made a sound, save for the slight hum of the air conditioner. Were they shocked and amazed that I was able to form coherent sentences without the use of profanities? Or were they just dumbfounded by the realization that all I said was true? Couldn't have been the latter of the two; sure, it would make them reconsider a few facets of their fledgling personalities, but they'd dismiss such misgivings as fiction and turn the tables back on me. They'd think I was the one with the problem. Maybe I was. But I had lost my best friend and was powerless to change the past; for once, they couldn't blame me for being a cynic.

I stepped down with a distinctive clunk, keeping my head up and my shoulders back. Tentative fingers slid down my side pocket and pulled out a braid. A dirty blonde, greasy braid, tied at the end with a blue rubber band. One of Sully's nonetheless, one I had found on my floor, yanked out by the roots. I left the smidgeon of blood on them - there was no point in cleaning it up to look fancy. I set the braid on top of his coffin and bowed my head for a moment.

There I was, thirteen years old again and figuratively waving my middle finger at the rest of the world. I'd already gauged my own ears - I was at a 4 by then, which was like being able to stick a Bic pen through your ear - and stopped matching my clothing articles. Did I ever get hell from my dad about it - he wasn't as violent back then, but he sure roughed me up a lot. I envied kids whose parents gave them 'time-out' sessions for misbehaving; for me, 'time-out' was the period between when Dad hit me and I woke up. I'd been staying at Sully's house one night when my father was particularly railed - though she wouldn't admit to it, Mom was afraid for my safety and offered to drive me the short two blocks there. The two of us - Sully and I - were lounging around at 2 in the morning, ravaging the kitchen for something decidedly snackworthy and mindlessly channel surfing through infomercials and cooking specials.

That was the same night I convinced Sully to let me give him braids. I opted for dreads, but he adamantly refused. It took about an hour to section them off and pull them into tiny braids, and when I was done, it was an all-out whine-fest about how tight they were and how he was getting a migraine. In spite of his immediate dismay, he left them in all those years, never once washing them or taking them out. By the time he was seventeen, they were coarse and frizzy, tamed only by the globs of gel he slathered on and never rinsed out. Such was the one previously in my hand, seemingly not even real hair due to the unnatural texture.

I raised my eyes to scan the crowd - an eerie calm settling over them after my dark admission - and saw nothing but melancholy. Their sadness didn't compare to mine, the infinite aching hollow where I was once believed to have a heart. I couldn't be there any longer, and stepped down, traipsing down the aisle as nonchalantly as I'd come. I waited for their infectious mutterings to chase the silence, but no one spoke a word. It was just as well if they had - their rumors and biting gossip didn't affect me. I pushed the door open and stepped outside.

The door closed behind me, as did that chapter of my life. The hinges protested meekly against the weight, just as the defenseless, childlike voice in my mind begged for control yet again. I sat down on the steps, too dogged by the miserable heat to drag myself any further. Half-heartedly, I wondered if anyone would follow me out and try to comfort me with insincerities and cliched consolations. I couldn't help but visualize how the sermon must be carrying on without me. Me, the only person who really knew Sully.

The realization hit me with a vengence as I sat and watched the cars pass at a leisurely and lawful speed. I missed Sully. I missed his annoying habits of picking out all the rainbow marshmallows in a box of Lucky Charms and clicking his jaw when he grew apprehensive. I missed his eerie obsession with Cherry Coke and butterscotch pudding. I missed witnessing his unwavering adoration of Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone, his lifelong punk idols. I missed taking his dad's video camera and recording our Tom Green-esque antics and old school skate tricks.

"One day," he told me months before. "I'm gonna prove that Sid was innocent."
"Vicious?" I asked, already knowing. "You mean for killing Nancy?"
"Yup." he replied, attempting cat's cradle with a string of Marti Gras beads we'd found.
"That makes no sense." I shook my head. "He's been dead for over twenty years."
"So what? I can still clear his name."
"Not really." I was growing annoyed. "He admitted to killing her. I think that's proof enough he's guilty."
"Sure, he did the stabbing part. But he loved Nancy. He didn't want her to die and that's why he took his own life."
"You sure about that?" I humored him with my skepticism. "No one really knows if his overdose was an accident or not."
"I do. I know he wanted to die to be with her."
"Sucks for them they had to die so young."
"Think so?" his fingers were tangled up in the beads and he shook them off, starting anew. "Only the good die young."
"So you hear." I took a drag from the freshly lit cigarette we were sharing. He sat down next to me on the curb, still fiddling with the shimmering, plastic contradicitons in his hands.
"Maybe you have a point. I won't live to be very old."
"Huh? You got a secret suicide plan you're not lettin' me in on?"
He shrugged and I handed him the half-finished cigarette. "Not particularly. I don't know, it's some sort of premonition that's got me thinking I won't be around as long as most people."
"Well how can you judge how long most people live anyhow? Never know when you might get struck down and left in the dust."
"I guess." he let out a puff of smoke and stared at the intersection. I paid no mind to his spaciness and went along with my business, as always. I'd always been selfish like that...

I shook my head. Sully was definately an ill-fated child, his name and crazy philosophies tying in with his destiny perfectly. If I'd taken his strange forewarnings seriously, I might've been prepared to deal with the loss. Who was I kidding? I couldn't fool myself into thinking that things were gonna be alright without that goofy bastard. And my shirt was too tight! Was there no solace in the world for Laine Aderberry?

"God dammit!" I yelled, attempting to rip the shirt right off my back. The fishnet sleeves made it difficult for me, and I fought mercilessly with my clothing for a healthy two minutes, probably making the biggest ass of myself yet. Breathing heavily, I sat back down, the offended article dangling limply from my shaking fingers. I tossed it aside and it lay there on the concrete, acting like it was completely innocent. I knew better. I knew what it was trying to do.

Was I going completely mental?

For the first time since I'd become a self-proclaimed straightedge, I craved a bottle of Mickey's and some meth right then. What had Sully done to me? Left his curse to sit on my shoulders? He was dead. Died young and stupid and on drugs, just like his idol had. Gone, gone overnight and left nothing but one braid and countless memories. And all I said, the last thing I ever uttered to him was 'get some sleep'. Not 'thank you for being my best friend all these years', not 'I'm sorry for everything that's happened', and sure as hell not 'I love you man'. None of that. Just one impatient command and a string of swear words. Would it have made a difference if I'd said what was really on my mind?

I stood up and stared back at my shirt, debating on whether or not to go back to it. I preferred my sweatshirt, the one that had provided me with warmth and comfort throughout the years. I'd never outgrown it, and it went with me wherever I'd travel. My eyes stung with hot tears, tears that I successfully sniffled back. I recognized the tangent that turned my sweatshirt into a metaphor for Sully's friendship. One tear escaped, quickly and quietly, with no sign of more to come.

Sometimes it was okay to hold on to the past. For some people, it's all that's left.