I don’t know what started it. Maybe it was my fault, mentioning that some dude at The Law Firm just returned to work after serving his third tour of Duty in Iraq. But it made Alisha start talking about war. All the wars. Even wars that may or may not be happening on Uranus right now.
She was asking questions out loud, to no one really in particular, while “Bewitched” droned on in the background. Then she started answering her own questions. And then she second-guessed her answers. At one point, this brought her to the question of “How old is America? Didn’t we just have a bicentennial? Wait…how many years is in a bicentennial?”
I was sitting on the chaise.
“Are you looking this up?” she asked me.
“Huh, me? No. I’m texting.”
She sank back down on the couch, defeated.
And then, “I love Shirley MacLane. She’s such a great actress.”
I agreed and followed with, “Every time I think of her, I think of her biography that my grandma kept on the coffee table for like, ten years.”
Alisha glared at me. My participation in the conversation wasn’t as film-snobby as she’d have liked. But then she distracted herself by talking about “Steel Magnolias” and the scene in the graveyard, and then I started remembering that scene too and the next thing I knew, I was crying.
“Laughter through tears is like, the greatest thing,” Alisha said with a far-off, half-deranged glint to her eyes.
I sighed. “It really is.”
It was the only thing that got me through the exhausting, painful visitations at the funeral home after my pappap died. All the hand-shaking with strangers, all the pouting lips of distant relatives as they clasped my hands and tilted their head in that knowing fashion that read, “I know exactly how you feel.” My best friend Christy was there through it all with me, and we sat in two chairs tucked away in a corner, making fun of relatives I didn’t like, and asshole employees of my pappap’s drywall company who were chomping at the bit to take advantage of life at Expert Drywall without John Stonick.
We cringed as my cousin Zita flounced over to point out that she and I had chosen similar shoes to wear that night.
We cracked up as my step-dad’s friend Daryl arrived with his son Clayboy the Playboy, nee Clayton. “It’s the Claymation family,” I whispered, and we lost it some more.
I think that was the only time Christy and I ever really hugged, right there next to my pappap’s open coffin. I wasn’t a very affectionate person back then. I guess I’m still not. Hugging is one of the many things I turn into an awkward display of misplaced hands and directionless chin-resting. She and I cried so hard standing there, reality sinking in that he was really gone. He was her family, too.
That night, we sat at the kitchen counter at my grandparent’s house, rummaging through the many fruit baskets sent out of sympathy from people we didn’t know.
“This is your boyfriend,” Christy said, turning over a small red disk of cheese with a Dutch boy emblazoned onto the wax.
I grabbed a can of sardines. “This is your boyfriend,” I laughed, waving the cartoon depiction of a sardine in her face.
We sat there at the counter, laughing in that high-pitched way that sixteen-year-old girls are prone to, falling into each other as giggle fits overcame us.
My grandma finally kicked us out.