Rabbit Hole

CHAPTER SIX: – Annika's Funeral

By Quentin Collins (hauptwerk88@gmail.com)

© BJB Conglomerated Media

 

This story is fictitious and takes place in a fantastic realm where inconvenient physical, biological, medical, legal, and moral strictures don't exist. It is intended only for the entertainment of those who are legally permitted to access and read it.

It is my first attempt at storytelling, so please be gentle in your criticism, lest you make me cry. This chapter has a different tone than the previous and subsequent ones, but it is necessary to propel the narrative. Stay tuned for more.

Another thing that can make me cry is the thought that Nifty might go away if we don't support it. Think of the hours of fun you've had on this site. Isn't it worth the price of a movie ticket every month or even every quarter to keep it going? Donate here.

 

After seeing off Dave and his father Mike, Channing and I returned to clean up both the kitchen and ourselves. I wasn't too worried about the kitchen because I had hired a cleaning service to come in the following week to prep the house to be put on the market.

We went to our bedroom and stripped the bed. I stopped several times to smell the sheets, and I got semi hard when I picked up Dave's scent and remembered our wonderful night together, as well as our wonderful morning with him and his dad Mike.

Channing took notice and came over to join me. Channing wrapped the bedding around both of us as he wrapped himself around me and kissed me. We broke our kiss several times to take a fresh whiff of Dave. I playfully chastised Chan for delaying our preparations. He started walking us slowly toward the laundry room as we kissed while swaddled in Dave. I'm sure we looked comical.

We finally made it to the laundry room and were both reluctant to shed our cocoon. I eventually got all the bedding into the washer and started it so that it would be ready to put in the dryer when we got back from Annika's memorial service and luncheon.

Then we concentrated on cleaning ourselves. We each took the water wand for three rinses of our rectums. I am literally anal in my insistence on anal hygiene. I always like to be prepared and like to make sure we are as clean as can be since we both eschew undergarments.

Our shower took longer than usual since we both washed our hair twice and then put in conditioner and waited for it to do its work.

We washed each other's bodies with love and tenderness, but not in a sexual way like we sometimes do. We were both quite sexually satisfied between the night at the tailor shop, the overnight with Dave at home and this morning's surprise orgy with Dave and his dad Mike. Although I was sure Channing could be ready to go in about thirty seconds. Even for a fifteen-year-old, he has a quick recovery of his libido.

We did, of course, share several brief tender kisses as we caressed each other clean. As Chan washed me, he noted some stubble under my arms. I had had a complete body waxing the previous week, but my underarm hair persistently grew back.

I shaved my underarms and then handed the razor to Chan so he could touch up his underarms and chest. I did not yet allow him to wax because each successive waxing damages some of the hair follicles, eventually rendering the hair removal permanent. I wanted to make sure he was old enough to decide if he would want to be permanently hairless.

He had shaved his legs a couple days ago but hadn't taken care of the light wispy hairs on his chest in a week or two. I had shaved his ass after he did his legs.

We both shaved our faces using the heated mirror in the shower to see what we were doing. Chan needs to shave only a couple times a week. Sometimes I let a few days' worth of scruff grow in, but today I wanted to be clean-shaven.

We made a final inspection of our bodies before drying off and going to our separate rooms to dress.

Even with Chan's slight delay in dressing (see chapter 1) we were ready in plenty of time, so we didn't feel rushed. We made our way to my car for the fifteen-minute drive to Schweitzer's Funeral Home.

Apparently sometime before Annika became unable to take care of herself, she had made a will and left funeral instructions. I suppose that, since her father is an attorney, he would probably insist on those things.

She, like I, was not affiliated with any organized religion, so her directions were that she wanted a brief memorial service at the funeral home with no clergy, and her cremains could be buried or scattered as her family saw fit.

By this time everyone knew that Channing was Annie's and my child. Our families had originally fabricated a story about Channing being adopted from one of our Polish cousins who was unable to take care of him. The story collapsed when Annie and I were arrested as I got caught up in one of her drug deals when I was a junior in high school. I filled out the forms listing Channing as my son and Annie as his mother. The jig was up.

My reputation was spotty, but most people respected that I tried to make something of myself after my teenage troubles. I had gotten a Juvenile Justice grant and a scholarship from Carnegie Mellon University to study computer science.

I loved school so much that I went on to get two master's degrees: one in business administration and one in computer science; and I completed my doctorate four years ago in database design for information warehousing and predictive modeling.

People also "respected" that I now have money. My mom and dad had put a lottery ticket inside my birthday card when I turned 21. I ended up winning $187 million. After taxes, fees, trusts for family and friends, gifts to charity, etc., I still had plenty left so I could live very comfortably for the rest of my life if I weren't a complete idiot. But I wanted to feel useful too. And I wanted to pay back mom and dad for the trouble I caused them, and make sure that Channing had everything he needed for his education and upbringing.

I paid for a new house for mom, dad, and Channing, who lived with them while he was in elementary school and I was in college. They didn't want anything huge or extravagant but accepted every amenity and modern convenience that we could cram into the house.

They definitely went from being above ground pool folk to in-ground pool folk. Solar-heated in-ground pool folk.

Channing's reputation was spotless aside from the shadow cast by his parents. He was by far the most handsome boy any place he went. He worked hard both physically and academically, so he was likely the strongest and smartest boy anywhere he went too. I owe much of his success to my parents. Chan was also preternaturally charming and could get almost anyone to go along with any of his schemes. He was never cruel, but, like all of us, he sometimes misbehaved.

We were both out to everyone by now. I was surprised at how few people were openly hostile to either of us considering the conservative area in which we lived. My having money probably contributed to that too.

Channing encountered remarkably little bullying, partially attributable to the fact that he was the biggest kid in his class. But he had also developed a close-knit group of friends at a young age. Only one of them distanced himself after Chan came out. The friend was gay too but wasn't ready to come out, and didn't want to be known as gay by association. We must all travel our own paths in life.

 ***

We drove to the funeral home pretty much in silence, holding hands most of the way. I rolled the Audi Q7 under the porte cochθre of the Schweitzer Funeral Home and left it in the hands of a well-dressed attendant.

As we made our way into the home, I turned to see quite a few cars approaching. There will probably be quite a crowd. Although Annie isolated herself from most of her friends and family, people still considered the Madsens one of the most influential families in town. People showed up out of respect for them if not for Annika herself.

Since she had been cremated this was a visitation, not a viewing. Both the Madsen and Tarnow families had sent the funeral home. tons of photos, both print and digital, as well as videos. They sent them out to be scanned, cropped, toned and touched up as needed and then assembled them into a movie which would run continuously.

There were several video screens around the room displaying the images and video snippets from the better parts of her life, as well as pictures of the family.

Channing stayed close to me as we moved to our designated spot in the receiving line immediately after the Madsens and their two surviving children, along with their families. They greeted us warmly and embraced Channing. We steeled ourselves for the emotionally taxing two hours ahead of us.

Soon enough I saw my mom and dad enter the room. We hugged for a long time, and they stayed close by to offer support and the occasional whispered name in my ear when I couldn't conjure one for distant relatives and former acquaintances.

My brother Dan came in with his wife, Patrice and their two rascals Alice, 11, and Andrew, 9. They had driven up yesterday from Durham, North Carolina, where Dan is on the coaching staff for men's soccer at Duke University.

We kissed each other hard and squeezed the air out of each other. Patrice and I greeted each other almost as enthusiastically. I really like her. She has the perfect temperament to put up with our shit. Dan met a lot of duds before stumbling upon this gem.

I greeted my niece and nephew, but sadly, we are not that close since they are six hours away by car. The one good thing about moving to South Carolina is that we will be half the distance. I hope we get to see each other more often.

Dan and his family moved towards the seating area.

I nudged Chan to direct his attention to the video screens when I saw the photo of Annie holding him after giving birth. She did love him as much as she was capable of doing.

I did not love Annika, but I eventually came to realize that she gave up custody of Channing out of love for him. She further knew that, when she gave up her child, she was also giving up on her happiness.

She had very few happy times after giving birth. I felt pity for her, and sorry for the way people in town, including myself at the time, looked at her as a drug-addled whore. She shielded her son from that by staying away from him. She also stayed away from me.

I know the pain I felt when I was separated from Channing when I got sent to "reform school" after my arrest. That was only for a few months. She felt that pain for the rest of her life.

I did my best to try to rescue her reputation when someone would speak ill of her. I couldn't deny her addiction problems. But if anyone called her a slut or a whore, I would truthfully tell them that I probably had several times the number of sexual partners that Annie did.

It's complete sexist bullshit that women cannot freely enjoy their sexuality while men are often lionized for their promiscuity.

I brought myself back into the moment as I was watching Chan look at his mother.

His eyes glistened as he smiled sadly.

His sadness turned into surprise when he noticed virtually his entire rowing crew turn up to help him say goodbye to his mom as well as to say goodbye to him, all aware that he was moving out of state.

The initial offerings of condolences and farewells soon turned into the recounting of stories of their time together this summer. I was glad Chan's school friends could bring a little mirth into the day.

Not far behind were many kids from the Cool Springs track team, including Nick and Pete. I could tell many of them felt awkward and out of place, so I made sure they all knew how much I appreciated their making an effort to be here. I hugged Nick and Pete. Chan hugged all of them and made sure they knew how much he appreciated their friendship.

I looked for Dave among the track team members, but couldn't find him. A couple of minutes later I spotted him and his dad and a woman I assumed to be his mom coming in the door. They were all dressed exquisitely, their physiques highlighted by perfectly-tailored clothes.

As the trio approached the receiving line, I couldn't help but smile. I noticed Chan put his hand in his pants "pocket." He was adjusting a growing erection, apparently at the memory of the things we did together last night and this morning.

I didn't care who was watching. I first took Dr. Peacock into my embrace and kissed him full on the mouth. He looked surprised but made no attempt to abort the kiss. Eventually, we broke apart, and I clapped him on the shoulder, thanking him for the kindness of his attendance.

Channing was patiently waiting his turn to kiss the good doctor and his good son.

I said, "Thank you so much for everything. You have no idea how happy I am to have met you and Dave. And thank you so much for being here now. You are special people."

Dr. Peacock smiled broadly. I wanted to kiss those lips again. He pulled his wife to his side. She could be the more beautiful older sister of Lupita Nyong'o.

"Thank you, Drew," Mike said. "We feel exactly the same. Andrew, and Channing Tarnow, I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Elizabeth White."

Liz stepped forward, and I kissed her full on the mouth too. I know we were attracting stares and some glares. (Loving v. Virginia, people. Look it up!)

"Good God! Is everyone in your family drop dead gorgeous?" I exclaimed.

She smiled at me. Her complexion was exquisitely black, and she wore scant makeup. But her lips were covered in bright red lip gloss. "You're too kind, Drew, but thank you nonetheless."

She leaned in and spoke in a softer tone, "Does everyone in your family have delicious cum? I wish I could get some straight from the sources. We had a great time cleaning up Dave this morning. I'll be watching the videos that Dave and Mike sent me for a long time to come."

I felt a blush rise through me.

"I wasn't sure Mike was serious when he said you two were going to do that."

She answered, "Well, it was Dave's first joint tongue bath, but I'd bet my medical license that it won't be his last. We barely got him licked clean when he treated his dad and me to another helping. The boy is hooked."

"He's a wonderful young man. Try not to drain him dry," I said half-jokingly.

Liz just smiled slyly, kissed my cheek, and moved on to where Chan was kissing her husband. I noticed Chan also kissed her on the mouth as I had.

I didn't watch long because I suddenly had Dave's tongue in my mouth. I tried to maintain a tiny bit of decorum and made sure the kiss did not last long. We embraced each other, and each felt the other's erection.

We professed our love. I felt my eyes welling up again. We stepped apart, and Dave's eyes were doing the same.

"Please, please stay for the luncheon if you can so we can talk more. I can't let this be goodbye," I begged my seventeen-year-old lover.

"Definitely. I already talked to mom and dad about it. We are all going to stay if that's all right," Dave said.

"Yes, it's perfect. Thank you. Thank you. I love you." I embraced him briefly once more and stole of a whiff of Dave's afro and a quick nibble of his earlobe.

I watched Dave and Chan kiss with as much passion as I had ever seen between two people. I noted that Nick and Pete, along with several other members of the track team were watching. Most were amused. One or two were definitely not amused. I hoped Dave would not have problems with homophobes after we were gone.

A couple dozen members of the Madsen family moved through the line. I did not know most of them, so formally introduced Channing and me to them and they were quickly dispatched.

Several minutes later members of Chan's rugby club showed up in line. Channing was the youngest player and most of the guys, who were college age or in their early twenties, took him under their wing as a younger brother. That did not mean they took it easy on him in the scrum, nor did he go lightly on them.

I made sure to impress upon all of them how much I wanted them to stay for the luncheon afterward so they could spend more time with Chan. I also tried to subtly indicate that we had to keep the line moving, although I truly appreciated and valued their friendship with my son.

The morning became of blur of faces and memories, most of them good. Some of them cherished. Some others would be best left in the past. Chan was meeting some of his relatives for the first time in his memory. I decided that, even though we were moving away, I would endeavor to make sure he stayed connected to his cousins and extended family.

Chan and I spotted Dr. Ketema at the same time. He was accompanied by his wife, Magda. Both Chan and I were smitten by him and indebted to him in so many ways.

He was Mr. Katema when I met him as my gym teacher. He was the first adult I came out to my freshman year at Cool Springs Regional High School, and I developed a deep and persistent crush on him.

He is now a highly-regarded sports psychologist and trainer who works with top-tier college and professional athletes. He also consults with the U.S. Olympic team and lives part-time at their Boulder, Colorado training facilities. Although no longer employed by the school, he stops by often to work with students. His wife Magda is an art historian and is as warm and welcoming as he.

We try to get together at least once per month.

Elias greeted me first, grabbing me in a tight embrace and kissing both cheeks. I kissed him in return noticing he still has the tightest pores and smoothest skin I've ever seen on anyone, giving his black skin a polished luster. His golden-brown eyes were wells of kindness. I fall in love with him every time I look into his eyes and hear the traces of his Ethiopian accent.

"Andy Andrew, I am so pleased I could be here with you today to share the burden of your sadness, pain, and offer you hope of comfort to come. You know you can call me anytime. And I mean anytime. But I'm not going to wait for your call. I'll be calling you first. I love you, Andy Andrew, my dear friend."

I had to laugh that he still calls me by the name I stuttered out to him when I first introduced myself in the high school weight room. I do love him as a great and loyal friend and counselor.

"I love you too, Elias, I will never be able to thank you enough for the friendship and guidance you've given to Channing and me. I think I am handling this well, but you will be the first person I call if I find otherwise."

Dr. Katema held my head in his hands and drew me into his eyes.

"I'm counting on it, my friend. Trust your strength. Acknowledge your weakness. Lean on your friends. Most importantly, follow your heart. You have a good heart, Andy Andrew." He patted my chest, and I welled up with love for him all over again.

He kissed me once more on both cheeks and turned to Channing, wrapping his lanky thirty-eight-year-old frame around the muscular fifteen-year-old.

"And you, my most precious friend and gentlest boy, how are you handling all of this? You are saying a great many goodbyes today, my sweet."

Channing held on to our beloved friend. Suddenly his body shook as he gasped in sobs and buried his face in Dr. Katema's chest. The dam had broken for my sweet baby. It broke my heart to witness it.

I moved closer and joined their embrace as I, too, broke down. Dr. Katema looked at me with moist eyes and nodded slightly in acknowledgment of Channing's pain in mourning what he has lost and what he never had.

Several people took notice of the outpouring of emotion and looked with sympathy at my weeping angel.

Just then I noticed a photo of a ten-year-old Channing as it appeared on the video screens. It must have come up in the rotation before, but I had not seen it. His face was beaming as he held a soccer trophy, his sweaty blond hair hanging in curly draggles around his angelic face.

I wasn't sure where that picture had come from, but as I looked at it, I noticed that in the background, next to my mom and dad, was Elias Katema with his hands thrown up in joy for my son. It suddenly struck me how important this beautiful man is to my son and how much I asked of Chan by taking him away from his emotional supports.

Tears cascaded down my face. Magda came over to join in. Soon we were going to have a proper huddle.

I leaned over and kissed her.

"Thank you so much for everything, Magda. Your husband is worth more than gold; you know that. And getting to know you has been an unexpected joy and undeserved blessing."

Magda wormed her hand through our tangle and caressed Chan's tear-streaked cheek.

"You know," she said looking alternately at Channing and me, verifying she had our attention while tilting her head toward her husband, "he farts in bed. He farts in bed a lot. A lot, a lot."

She always knows the perfect thing to say. Her Hungarian accent made it all the more comical. We all started to compose ourselves after Magda jolted us out of our funk with a silly laugh.

I grabbed Elias one last time. "You're the most perfect man I've ever met. I am determined not to let our friendship fade."

He patted my shoulder. "Likewise, Andy Andrew."

Then he leaned in and kissed me softly and warmly directly on my lips. We had never kissed like that before. I'm pretty sure three-quarters of the people in the room were watching us and wondering why I am kissing all these beautiful black men. I didn't care. It was three seconds of the purest, gentlest love.

He turned to my son and kissed him similarly. I could see Channing melting.

Then Elias turned back to me.

"I didn't tell you this before, but I'm going to Columbia at the end of August for three days to work with the university coaching staffs. You had better have your guest room ready for me."

I was elated.

"Absolutely! Guaranteed. You are both welcome anytime."

Magda turned and said, "I'm not sure that I will be able to accompany him. I am teaching an adjunct stint at Pitt so I might not be able to get away so early in the semester."

I told her sincerely that I hoped she could. Magda and I kissed, and they moved on.

I felt as if Chan and I had a catharsis. We recomposed ourselves and made it through a few dozen more visitors without further breakdowns. This day was so much more difficult and much more rewarding than I thought it could be.

It was time for the memorial service, and we were ushered to our seats.

 ***

I looked around to see that about a hundred people decided to stay for the service. I wondered how many of them were there out of morbid curiosity and how many out of genuine caring for any one of us. I supposed at this point their reasons for coming were immaterial.

Rachel Schweitzer West, the current owner of the funeral home and granddaughter of its founder, thanked all those who took the time to join the family and friends of Annika to remember her life.

She noted that Annika was not religious and asked explicitly that her memorial be short and nonreligious in nature, a request her family wished to honor. She asked further that, should anyone wish to memorialize Annie through a charitable donation, it be directed to Shatterproof, The Herren Project, The Trevor Project, or another reputable charity that deals with teen substance abuse and mental health issues. She noted information and envelopes were available in the vestibule.

As we all settled in, we listened as Coldplay's "Fix You" came through the sound system. I know Annie liked the band, but the more I listened to the song, the more agitated I became.

When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

When the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

High up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
If you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from all my mistakes
Tears stream down your face

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

 

The song, somehow, felt like an accusation against Annika. It was judgmental at least. That was the way I interpreted it anyway. That's not why we were here. We sat in silence for a few minutes and then Ms. Schweitzer West indicated to me to rise to read my assigned poem.

I stood at the lectern next to Annie's portrait and a handmade copper urn with her cremated remains. It seemed suddenly surreal. I surveyed the room and gathered my wits.

"This poem is titled `Leavetaking.' It was written by Mary Lee Hill,"

"If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others, sore undone, who keep
Long vigil by the silent dust and weep.

I turned and looked briefly at the urn containing Annie's `silent dust.' I cleared my throat and continued.

 

"For my sake turn to life and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you."

 

I stood for a moment, then walked toward my seat. I changed my mind and returned to the lectern.

"I have not been asked to speak, but I would like to offer a thought or two for us to consider, if I may?"

I looked at Mrs. Madsen, and she kindly nodded, not knowing what I was going to say. I wasn't sure what I was going to say either but felt compelled to send off Annie with kindness and compassion.

I stood silently for a minute, gripping the edges of the lectern. I scanned the assembled crowd, noticing townspeople, relatives, strangers, and Channing's friends from crew, track, and rugby. Most of the teens were probably too young to understand the message I decided needed to be delivered, but I hoped they would absorb some of it.

"I don't pretend to have any deeper insight than anyone here, but I have been thinking how much I have wronged Annie throughout her life. I think many of us – myself at the very top of the list – failed her.

"First, I would like to apologize in front of everyone here for my part in Annie's long and great suffering. The philosopher Ramana Maharshi was asked the question, `How are we to treat others?'

"He answered, `There are no others.'"

I continued.

"Thinking that there are `others' is the greatest sin we all commit. When we look at people as `one of them' instead of `one of us,' we belittle ourselves by denying the concord of our shared human spirit.

"We use this imagined otherness as an excuse to think less of `them,' to discriminate against `them,' to deny rights, jobs, even simple kindness to `them.' We even exclude these imagined others from our families and hearts without realizing we're cutting out part of our own hearts by doing so.

"The more we try to distance ourselves from `others,' the more we diminish ourselves. What kind of people are we to be willing to treat ourselves so despicably?

"Too many times I looked at Annika as `one of them.' I should have known better because I too have been called `one of them' to my face because of my homosexuality. I failed her. I failed myself. I failed the Tarnow family and the Madsen family. I am truly sorry.

"I have no excuse, but, in your mercy, consider that I acted – or failed to act – out of ignorance, not malice."

I paused again, wondering if I should continue. In for a penny, in for a pound.

"I read an article recently about a study that concluded that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is social connection.

"People who are addicts tend to feel the pain of social disconnection more acutely than others. Annie felt that pain deeply and for a long time. I helped inflict that pain on her.

"Every time any one of us looked at her as `one of them,' she felt pain. The pain of social isolation is fertile ground for the self-destructiveness of an addictive personality.

"To be sure, she was a person whose first instinct was to push other people away. It was easy for all of us to let her indulge that instinct."

I paused and considered whether I should talk about Channing. I felt I had to.

"Coincidentally, it was fifteen years ago on this very day that Annika Madsen gave birth to our son Channing. She was to see him only one other time in her life.

"She did not push him away because of lack of caring or thinking of him as `other.' I understand now that she pushed him away to, from her point of view, get him out of harm's way. It's the same way she would have pushed him from the path of an oncoming truck. She attempted to shield him from the contagion of her addiction. It was an act of pure, unselfish love for our son. I was too young and self-involved to understand it back then. It's painfully clear to me now.

"I am convinced that she cared so deeply for Channing that she was willing to sacrifice her own maternal happiness in order for him to have a better life, removed from her.

"What is love? It is the abandonment of self-interest. It is the suppression of the urge to control another person. Love is the fullness of freedom for both the lover and the beloved. That's what Annika had for Channing: complete, unselfish love.

"How did we reward her for that selflessness? We called her an unfit mother, a failure, and an embarrassment."

I stopped speaking and had to regain my composure when I saw Chan leaning on my mom, wiping his eyes. My sweet bunny.

"She was not unfit, or a failure; she was never an embarrassment. She was a complicated, beautiful, athletic woman with almost immeasurable intelligence. She was aggravating and flawed. She was generous and self-effacing.

"She was, above everything else, and despite how she was derided, a life giver. This is not an accusation, but an acknowledgment that she was let down and disappointed by everyone in her life with a single exception: her beloved son Channing never once disappointed her.

"The poem I read asks us to `Do something to comfort weaker hearts than thine, Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine.'

"Let us all resolve to complete the unfinished task of eradicating the idea of `others' from our lives. There are many people like Annika still among us, suffering daily in isolation. Please honor her memory by holding them close. Remind them how much we need each other because we are all part of each other. Reinforce in them our unbreakable connection with each other.

"Whenever you set about to do something to comfort a `weaker heart,' think of Annie and how much it might have meant to her if any of us ever had bothered to comfort her.

"Thank you for indulging my rambling. I apologize if I wasted your time."

* * *

I didn't look up as I made my way back to my seat, but I was stopped in my tracks by Mrs. Madsen who pulled me in tight and sobbed on my shoulder, ruining my suit with her running mascara. I ruined hers too with my own tears, and maybe a bit of snot.

"Thank you, Drew," was all she could utter before dissolving. I held her firmly and supported her physically and emotionally. After a few moments, Mr. Madsen stood and helped his wife back to her seat, but first, he embraced me.

"You will always be one of us," he said to me with moist eyes as he patted my back.

I sat down. Channing let go of my mom and squeezed me as if his life depended on it. We clung to each other for the rest of the service. I felt an ameliorating power flow between us.

I don't remember much of the remaining parts of the short service. A Madsen cousin read "Dear Lovely Death" by Langston Hughes.

Annie's older brother Lawrence said a few jumbled words. I tried to be respectfully attentive, but I was wrecked. I held Chan's hand. We continued to restore each other through our physical connection.

I was suddenly unnerved because it felt as if a third person were embracing the two of us. I felt someone kissing Chan's cheek and calling him "my sweet bunny." I could tell by Chan's grip on my hand that he felt it too. Was it Annie? I didn't think so because it felt like a masculine presence.

The sensation subsided but did not completely dissipate.

Eventually, the program ended, and Ms. Schweitzer West invited us all to move to Mirabella's banquet hall across the street for a buffet lunch. Ms. West reminded us of the poem I read that instructs us to "turn to life and smile." She noted that Annie specifically left instructions that this is supposed to be a raucous good time and wrote in her instructions, "Tell them I will haunt anyone who dares to cry."

We all tried to get our crying done before going across the street.

In startling contrast to the Coldplay song at the beginning of the service, we were all treated to Pink's "Get the Party Started" as we made our way out.

I had to laugh. Annie wanted us to laugh.

Thank you, Annika Madsen. If there is an eternity, may you spend it in happiness.

Goodbye.