We found your car in a ditch at 5 AM. Kevin’s truck illuminated your Saturn sedan covered in band stickers. Smoke leaked into the summer haze. The lights were off. Tire marks carved into the soggy earth. Auto liquids saturated the plush grass in burgundy. Kevin jolted out and bounded the hill, going No, no, no. Your door was stuck and dented inward. Your lifeless body slumped into the passenger seat. Your head smacked into the glass. Blood on the tan dash like mold on bread. Brown beer bottles all over the back seat. CD jewel cases busted and snapped on the floorboard. Lukewarm KFC chicken half-eaten in the cupholder. You know how laconic Kevin is, how much he can handle. When I heard his deep-throated scream, I fell to my knees. We knew that night it was on us, fuck. We didn’t hold you back. You always were an Aries.
Your funeral was a week later. Kevin was the lead pallbearer, towering over your brothers and father. He was in the back, tears streaming down his oversized jacket. His limp didn’t stop him from putting you to rest. I stood to the side, wiping my eyes, and smearing my thrift store mascara. After the burial ceremony, and the roses were placed on your casket, Kevin and I played a mixtape. Bands that we all saw together: The Devil Wears Prada, Korn, Alter Bridge, Queens of the Stone Age, and anything with Chris Cornell. We couldn’t forget your love for that man. You always joked about how Audioslave first got you into rock music. How you’d tell Chris straight to his face if you ever meet him. Damnit and that framed photo was right there at your wake. The one with you shaking Chris’s hand backstage after blowing your entire check on a meet and greet. That smile on your face was as intense as his green eyes. Always had a beer in your hand, even at the best moment of your life, Jake. They say never meet your heroes, but you smashed that adage into the ground. We lost a part of you when he committed suicide.
The gathering dispersed at sunset and your father and brothers thanked us for everything we did. You’re like family, you two he said, giving us both a lengthy embrace. Your brothers, too, growing tall and clean-cut right through puberty, mimicked your father. They hoped we’d return to hang out sometime and not just disappear now that you’re dead. But we promised them we would, and Kevin immediately drove to the crash site. The township worked fast, making sure your car was gone by lunchtime on that day. They already cut and staged the new piece of guardrail, waiting to be welded. Plastic and wooden crosses littered the curb. Some had your name on them, some had photos taped on. A shower was due that night, to wash all the remnants away. Blemish the photos, saturate the crosses. God forbid if a hurricane was on the way, you’d be forgotten forever. To all but our fucked-up minds and soul-shattered hearts.
We stood in the dusk, staring into the ravine’s blackness. Only until the purple clouds chased the sun away did we reanimate. I saw a light come out from Kevin’s jacket. It was your iPod you had plugged into your car. The screen was cracked, and the back casing was bent, yet it still worked. A small miracle. Kevin plugged in earbuds and handed me one. This was the last song he was listening to he said as the tiny hum transformed into sonic brilliance once it grazed my ear canal. Oh my god, it’s Temple of the Dog. One of his favorite songs, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” I said. I felt my lips quiver as the final chorus strummed along. Cornell belting out the most serene lyrics as per usual. And then we replayed it. And we replayed it a third. After that, it started to rain. We couldn’t tell if it was you crying on us. Our gooseflesh necks felt every drop. And it felt good, Jake. So good. Just know that she’s got no tears in her eyes, and she knows that love heals all wounds with time.
Josh Dale is a graduate student, publisher, and subservient vassal to his Siamese cat. His work has been published in Drunk Monkeys, Breadcrumbs Mag, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, The Daily Drunk, and a book, Duality Lies Beneath (Thirty West Publishing, 2016). He blogs occasionally at joshdale.co and posts average-ish content on IG & Twitter @jdalewrites. He lives in Pennsylvania.