I must have been on some kind of list of people to notify when she died. I didn’t know the person who delivered the sad news.
A few days later, on a Wednesday morning, I took a bus up to that funeral home on Glenway Avenue where she would be laid out. I wanted to show my last respects.
I’ve written about her here before — this friend who liked to go to the Frisch’s also on Glenway Avenue. Sometimes I got a kick out of watching tartar sauce squirt out of her Big Boy sandwich as she ate it too quickly.
Andrea believed President Obama is a Communist not born in this country. She loved Sarah Palin. She got all of her news from FOX and was worried about BP during the worst of that oil spill. She thought they might go out of business.
BP is still around but my friend is gone. Andrea died a couple weeks ago at the age of 78.
The last time we met — at Frisch’s, of course — she had to know she had cancer, had to know she was dying, but didn’t say a word about it. She salted those onion rings just like everything was normal.
We worked together at a machine tool company back in the 1970s. I’ve mentioned that here before. No one from that company was at her funeral. Over 30 years is a long time to remember back, and people forget old coworkers and friendships. Maybe that’s why they didn’t show up.
No one talked to me at the funeral but I did get some stares from people who were probably trying to figure out who I was — this older guy with hair too long for his age who walks with a cane. Not talking to me was fine. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to them either.
Perhaps these people also couldn’t figure out why I didn’t view the body in the casket. I decided some years ago I was going to stop doing this expected but unpleasant duty. To my way of thinking, that’s not my departed friend laying there. Friends who have died, like Andrea, are already someplace else.
Despite this belief, I wore a jacket and tie to Andrea’s funeral.
She would have liked that. Andrea said I always looked “a little better” when dressed up.
As the preacher started to preach, I tuned him out. I started thinking about a conversation Andrea and I had after my twin brother died in 1994.
He also died in the month of September. He died from AIDS. Some days after this service, over lunch at Frisch’s, I told Andrea his cause of death. She stared at me for a long time.
“I’ll tell people he had cancer,” she finally said.
“He didn’t have cancer, he had...”
“We can’t say he had what he had,” Andrea said, almost whispering.
“Why not?” I asked.
“It’s not a respectable thing to die from,” she said. “People might think you have it too.”
We finished our lunch in silence. Andrea and I didn’t talk for almost a year.
I knew she was an uptight conservative, but wanting to lie about my brother and how he died left me feeling cold toward her. I couldn’t be friends with someone who didn’t respect his life and how it ended.
The following September after his death, Andrea called me.
“It doesn’t feel right us not talking or being friends,” she said, sounding like she was in tears. “Whatever I said about your brother I take back. I sometimes say the wrong things. I’m sorry.”
After that phone call, it was back to business as usual, eating at Frisch’s and getting into arguments. We never talked about my brother again.
When the preacher stopped preaching, he went into a prayer and I started thinking about how Andrea had died. She had breast cancer. Maybe I smiled a little. Her cause of death, I guess, was more respectable than dying from AIDS.
At the end of the funeral service, organ music started to play. I’m a sucker for organ music at funerals. As the organ played, thoughts of knowing Andrea through the years filled my head and tears started to fill my eyes.
If you were to ask me why Andrea and I stayed friends for over 30 years, I would be hard pressed to come up with the exact words to explain it. We were opposites on almost everything. We never agreed on politics, religion or the state of our nation or the world.
We fought and disagreed constantly, yet we had a lot of affection for each other in debating our disagreements, even if none of those debates were very smart or effective. Somehow, someway — and not all but a lot of the time — we got a kick out of them. Cutting through all the muck, I think we enjoyed each other’s company.
A bus stop is almost right in front of that funeral home on Glenway Avenue. After the service was over, I got on a bus to head back home.
With the bus heading down Glenway Avenue toward Boudinot Avenue, it passed that Frisch’s Andrea and I would always go to. As it did, a lump formed in my throat.
Farewell old friend. Sometimes you would speak of your “heavenly father” and how much you looked forward to seeing him. You believed in heaven, and while we didn’t agree on this, Andrea, I hope your belief was there for you. I hope it welcomed you with open arms.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org