I hadn't been to a funeral since my
grandmother's death, and the thought of having to go through that again
was terrifying. It had only been four days since Mikey had died, and
those four days were basically a blur. We spent lots of time with Toby,
and he and Ryan
spent a lot of time hugging. I was glad to see that,
especially after weeks of Ryan acting so distant from his brother. But
despite that outward display of affection, Ryan still wasn't talking
much -- only a few words here and there. And because he was still
really sick, Toby would have to
stay in the hospital and wouldn't be able to attend Mikey's funeral.
Two days before, I had received a call from Natalie, asking
me if I would sing at the funeral. Apparently, Mikey's mom had gone to
her and Tuwanda and asked if they would sing a song for Mikey at the
funeral. They had agreed, although they insisted that I sing with
and that I also perform something on my own for Mikey. I wasn't very
the idea, since I wasn't sure I could hold myself together enough to do
it, but Natalie eventually talked me into it ... or rather, guilted me
into it. I also didn't particularly like the idea of doing anything
that had been requested by his evil bitch of a mother. I handled that
though, by telling myself that it was for Mikey, and not for his parents.
I'd been racking my brain, trying to think of what I could
sing. I obviously couldn't play something that I would normally play at
any other performance, and I'd never performed at a funeral before. I
wasn't exactly sure what would be appropriate. By the night before, I
still hadn't decided. Of course, I'd considered singing Elton John's
"Candle In the Wind," but that would have been too cheesy. I had to
come up with something better than that.
As Maggie was helping me tie my tie the morning of the funeral, I saw a
pale, haggard, and scared little boy looking back at me in the mirror.
I couldn't decide if I was more depressed about Mikey's death, or angry
at his parents for having been the cause of it, at least in my mind.
Sure, they had shown remorse at the hospital. They had appeared just as
devastated as anyone else. But to me, it was too little, too late.
Maggie had taken Ryan and me to the mall the previous night to buy new
suits to wear. We got matching black suits, white dress
shirts, and ties, although while I'd picked out a subdued, dark purple
tie, Ryan had opted for red. That was one suit I was hoping that I
would never, ever have to put on again.
"You look very handsome, sweetie," Maggie said, as she finished tying
"I don't know if I can go through with this," I sighed.
"Sure you can, Connor," she said gently, as she adjusted the knot on my
tie and looked me over appraisingly.
Ryan was now able to walk on his own, so we all piled into Maggie's car
and made our way over to the Lutheran church where the services were
to be held. It was a very large and beautiful building, and even more
on the inside. Even though I wasn't a religious person, I was still
able to appreciate the beauty and sanctity of the place as I walked
inside. The entire church was decorated with flowers, which filled the
room with a sweet scent, and I noticed the Steinway baby grand piano
near the front that I would apparently be playing when it came time for
my brief performance. The microphone and amplifiers had already been
hooked up. I just hoped the piano was in tune.
There were already a lot of people there, all dressed in black, and
them weeping. I also noticed the closed casket at the front of the
church, with a large, smiling photograph of Mikey that appeared to have
been taken several years ago sitting on an easel to the right. He
looked so happy in that picture, which
was such a stark contrast to the way he had been over the past couple
of months. I hoped that he was happy again, wherever he was now.
As we began to make our way through the crowds of grieving people to
find a pew, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. When I turned to see
who it was, I saw Tatyana starting intently at me. I was a little
surprised that she was dressed in a very normal-looking black dress. I
guess she did have some sense of decorum when it came to certain
things. I didn't see Cody, though.
"Uhhh ... hi, Tatyana," I stammered. "Thanks for coming."
"You have an incredible inner strength, friend of Cody," she
said, in a commanding tone. "You have it inside of you, but you hide it
away and try to deny it. Now is the time to let it out!"
I cringed slightly as I felt her spittle land on my face. She was
really worked up.
"I don't know if I can. All of this ... it's just ... it's just too
stammered, on the verge of tears again.
Without warning, she slapped me across the face.
"Everything happens for a reason, Connor," she said sharply. "I told
you that before. We all
have a responsibility, a weight that we must carry for others
sometimes. This is
part of the weight that you must carry right now. Now do it!"
And with that, she disappeared back into the crowd, leaving me standing
After collecting myself and finding the rest of our group, we found
several empty seats and sat down, with Ryan seated
between Maggie and me. I was pleased when I noticed Cody sit down on my
right, although his mother had mysteriously vanished. It was comforting
when he held on to my right hand. I was holding Ryan's hand with
my left. The difference between the two was very noticeable. While
Cody's grip was
strong and reassuring, squeezing my hand gently every so often, Ryan's
grip felt lifeless, and I doubted if he'd even notice if I took my hand
I didn't pay
much attention to the funeral service and found myself daydreaming
of the rites and hymns, partly because I didn't understand them, and
also because I was so nervous about my performance. I was a little
surprised when the reverend gave his sermon, and it wasn't filled with
the kind of "fire and brimstone" I had been expecting. Of course, it
was very religious in nature, but in an appropriate way.
Following the sermon, there were several brief and emotional eulogies
given by Mikey's parents and friends. Then Natalie, Tuwanda, and I were
ushered up to the front of the church, where we proceeded to sing an a
capella version of the traditional Christian hymn, "Abide With
Me." I wasn't much into religious or spiritual music, but as far as
hymns went, I thought it
was both beautiful and uplifting. And as we were singing, our
three very different voices blending together in perfect harmony,
I noticed how
incredible the acoustics in the large church were.
As soon as we finished, I quickly walked over to the piano and sat
down, adjusting the microphone. For the first time ever, there was no
applause as I got ready to play, but I didn't really expect any either.
I was absolutely terrified that I would break down and cry, or hit a
wrong note, during my
performance. But I realized that Mikey had been strong for me before,
when I needed him, so now I needed to be strong for him. I had no other
was right. And it wasn't just for Mikey. If I could take the burden of
all of those people's grief and carry it on my shoulders for just a few
minutes, then that was my responsibility, my
obligation to Mikey, and my tribute to him.
I hadn't decided on what to sing until we had been sitting in the pews,
and it suddenly came to me. I decided to play Elton John's "One More
Arrow," a beautiful and touching song about the death of Elton's
lyricist's, Bernie Taupin's, father. It was an exceptionally difficult
piece to perform, as it was sung almost entirely in falsetto. I was
literally praying, as I sat there preparing to play, that I could sing
that high and my voice wouldn't crack. But it was such a perfect song,
with incredibly moving lyrics. I couldn't think of anything more
sing for Mikey.
He said I want to grow
And look like
And I hope that
when I'm gone
There'll be some
say that I miss him
He must have been
He must have
And I feel the
steel of his strong will
In the frame
around his picture
And he's one more
arrow flying through the air
One more arrow
landing in a shady spot somewhere
Where the days
and nights blend into one
And he can always
feel the sun
Through the soft
brown earth that holds him
He could have been a
Each time my left hand struck the
bass line, I could feel it reverberate throughout the entire room,
sending chills up and down my spine. The acoustics really were amazing,
and the sound of the piano and my voice filled the entire room. The
song turned out to be perfect, and
my voice didn't crack once. I didn't break down while I was singing,
either, but as soon as I finished playing the last chords, the tears
came, and Cody had to rush over and help me back to my seat.
But the fight
game seemed so dirty
We argued once,
he knocked me down
And he cried when
he thought he'd hurt me
Strictly from the
He was quiet
about his pain
And if one in ten
could be that brave
I would never
hate again ...
totally out of it, and Toby still sick, I'd had a feeling I'd end up
needing to lean on Cody quite a bit. And it was incredible how strong
being, even after basically being dumped by Toby, who he had admitted
to being in love with. That boy never ceased to amaze me. He was the
most selfless person I knew. But after singing the most vocally
challenging song I had ever attempted, the first thing I could think
about was having a cigarette ... which was strange, since I didn't even
smoke. But I really needed one right about then.
After the show, many people -- most of whom I didn't know at all --
came up to me to tell me how beautifully I
sang and played the piano. I was
just glad that I hadn't screwed up, and I didn't feel like dealing with
that moment. I needed to get out of there and go home. I was so
emotionally drained, and I wanted to go to my room, by myself, and cry
until I had no more tears left to shed.
I saw Dominic on the way out of the church, and he looked just about as
miserable as I felt. He had really liked Mikey, but because of the
circumstances, he had never had the opportunity to pursue the kind of
relationship he had wanted with him. I felt that I needed to say
something to Dominic, but I couldn't find the words. So I just nodded
at him and attempted a weak smile as we passed each other.
Then I walked
out the door and quickly headed toward the parking lot so I could get
and have a good, long cry. I hoped that one day soon I would be able to
find the right words to say to Dominic, though. God only knew what he
feeling, and how he was reacting to all of this. It was all just too
fucking much, and life was just so fucking unfair.
As Ryan and I got into the car, I noticed a pack of Toby's cigarettes
on the floor of the passenger's side. Without even thinking, I grabbed
one and lit it up. After coughing and choking a few times, I eventually
got the hang off it, and inhaled several deep drags. Smoking was one of
the worst possible things for my singing voice, but I needed it so
badly right then. I had never smoked before in my life, and Ryan knew
that, but as I sat there puffing away, he didn't even flinch.
As if having to perform at Mikey's
funeral wasn't difficult enough, playing at the school's memorial
service for Mikey, on the
second to last day before summer vacation, was going to be just as hard
... or worse. I wouldn't even have agreed to do it if it hadn't been
for Cody offering to perform a song with me. When the band director,
Mr. Johnson, came and asked me what kind of stage arrangements I
was too out of it to know how to reply. Fortunately, Cody jumped
in and told him to have the Kurzweil digital piano set up in the center
of the stage, with a single, soft white spotlight shining on me and the
piano. Simple and tasteful. Once again, Cody was there to save the day.
Natalie had taken care of my outfit, taking one of my black suits that
I usually wore for my performances and stitching a beautiful, intricate
pattern on the right sleeve. Underneath that, I wore a plain black
shirt, along with a black Nehru hat and plain black sunglasses. I was
almost positive that I was going to start crying again, and I didn't
want anyone to see my tears.
The one thing that I could be happy about that day was that Toby had
been released from the hospital, and Maggie was allowing him to attend
the school's memorial service since he couldn't be at Mikey's funeral.
As I peered out from the side of the stage, I saw Toby and all of our
friends sitting in the front row. Ryan was there, too, and Toby was
holding his hand tightly. He still looked completely lost.
After speeches from the principal, some of Mikey's teachers, and a few
of his classmates and friends, the principal announced that I would be
performing a couple of songs in remembrance of Mikey.
As the lights in the auditorium dimmed, the slow, melancholy
synthesized orchestral introduction that Cody had helped me to
pre-program began to play, the wistful, sad melody playing over the
speakers. When the introduction began to fade, I made my way onto the
stage and walked over to the piano, barely noticing the polite applause
from the audience.
I sat down at the piano and adjusted the microphone, as usual, although
I didn't need it yet, since I started in immediately on a beautiful yet
sad instrumental piece by Elton John, "Song For Guy," with the
synthesized orchestral effects from the MIDI player, combined with the
slow, haunting melody, creating an ethereal effect. I kept my eyes
closed as I played, my fingers gliding smoothly across the keys, and
letting the haunting music take me to another place, the place that I
to whenever things got to be too much for me to handle.
When the song ended and I was brought back to reality, Cody came onto
the stage, carrying his acoustic
guitar, and sat on a stool by the piano. I didn't want to perform the
same song I had done at the funeral. In fact, considering how emotional
of an experience that was for me, I didn't think I would ever be able
to play that song again. Instead, we had chosen an incredibly moving
song by Beth Nielsen Chapman, "Sand and Water." As Cody and I began to
play the opening chords, we were in perfect harmony, and I began to
sing the touching, heart-felt lyrics with as much passion and emotion
as I could, without driving myself to the point of tears.
All alone, I
didn't like the feeling
All alone, I sat and cried
All alone, I had to find some meaning
In the center of the pain I felt
All alone, I came into this world
All alone, I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water,
Sand and water, and a million years
I will see you in the light of a
I will hear you in the sound of the
I will know you when I come, as we
all will come,
Through the doors, beyond the grave
All alone, I heal this heart of sorrow
All alone, I live each day
Flesh and bone, I'm just
Bursting towards tomorrow
And the love you sent my heart still
finds its way
All alone, I came into this world
All alone, I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water,
Sand and water, and a million years
gone by ...
The song was incredibly poignant, and
expressed perfectly how I was feeling at that moment, both about the
loss of Mikey, as well as the lesson on the transience of life I had
learned from Toby's illness. As we finished, we received a large round
of applause, which made me feel uncomfortable. I didn't think applause
was appropriate at a time like this. There was absolutely nothing to
Cody then left the stage and rejoined our friends in the front row. I
managed to find the strength to say a few words into the
"Thank you so much for coming, everyone. This has been a hard time on
all of us, especially those who were closest to Mikey. This next one is
from me to all of you. Please don't ever take your friends, or the
people you love, for granted."
I then started in on an extremely slow, melancholic, and soulful
rendition of Dionne Warwick's famous "That's What Friends Are For,"
filled mostly with synthesized strings from the MIDI player, while I
just played some simple chords and melody, and sang -- although by that
point, from straining my voice so hard singing falsetto at Mikey's
funeral, and from performing the previous song, my voice sounded a
raspy. But the raw sound of my vocals, accompanied with the stirring
effects of the synthesized strings and stripped-down melody, seemed to
add even more passion and angst to the song. When I finally finished,
the audience gave another loud
round of applause, rising to their feet. Again, I thought it was
undeserved and unnecessary. I quickly bowed in acknowledgment and made
my way off the stage, breaking down into tears once again as soon as I
was out of view.
After that, I vowed never to perform on stage again.