Funerals are for the living. The man lying in the coffin about to be lowered into the ground, the woman reduced to ashes in an urn about to be sealed in a crematorium, the sailor dragged to the bottom of the ocean by the weight of a stone—they don’t care. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust in the literal sense. Bodies reduced to base organic compounds, returned to the earth from whence they came. But these bodies, these masses of chemistry and biology, were people. People who loved, who hated, who laughed and cried and got hurt and healed and lived and died. Funerals are for the friends and enemies and family and strangers to throw the dirt on the closed lid, shut the stone on the vault, salute the departed to twenty-one guns. Funerals are for closure. Funerals are final, absolute, forcing the visceral knowledge on the loved ones that the deceased really isn’t coming back. I just never thought I’d have to throw one for myself.
I sat at the table at Corner Brewery for probably the last time, thinking I should feel sadder than I did. Only five days later I would find myself sitting in a new apartment in Chicago and few possessions, stressed and tired and exhausted and deliriously happy despite the fractured wrist. What was left to say? I didn’t even want the thing. My friends asked, in that passive-aggressive, non-confrontational way, if I would be having any kind of going-away party. I didn’t want one. I just wanted to quietly say my goodbyes, two or three people at a time, and leave town without so much as a scrap of ticker tape tossed in my name. But they guilted me into it, and even though I knew once I left that would be it. If they couldn’t find the time or the inclination to visit me when I lived in Michigan, the chance of any trip out to see me in another city, state, and time zone, even if it was only four and a half hours down I-94, would be so close to zero as to be absolute. So I sat propped up at the table like a goddamn corpse, watching the same old bullshit play out in front of me, letting beer and alcohol take the place of formaldehyde.
If there was any time of year to have a funeral, fall might be the prettiest. Spring offers maybe the greatest chance for rain, and blessed are the dead who the rain falls on, and all that. The full bloom of summer clashes with the somberness and soberness of the requisite proceeding. Winter is just too damn cold, though there’s something to be said for saying goodbye to a loved one against a landscape that’s awfully close to black and white. At the table, while my friends riffed and laughed and bullshitted, I thought about the seasons. The stark difference between summer and autumn, much greater than spring gently giving way to summer or fall sliding gracefully and predictably into winter. Dramatic changes in the landscape, the sky, the people. Lush green to fiery red and yellow and orange and earthy brown. Cloudless July and sullen October. Summer dresses and t-shirts to sweaters and scarves.
People said they were sad to see me go, that they would miss me. Each of them, in their own way, were going through the process of mourning, of having to come to terms with the reality of someone else leaving them. I empathized, but I was further along in the process. I did my grieving. I moved through each of the first four stages—denial, etc.—without having noticed until I looked back as I made my way into the fifth and final stage of getting over it and moving on. Two years it took me. Two years, the time from when I was twenty-six and twenty-eight, after nearly a decade of unacknowledged, unmanaged, unmedicated mental illness, and after five years of the kinds of friendships you wonder how you ever let yourself get tangled up in. Eighteen months of therapy, four times a month, with a qualified psychologist so I could learn how to think. Sure, I was thrilled to work for the University of Michigan at the beginning, but the job quickly lost its luster. So too did the friendships and the relationships I valued as I saw firsthand the motives I’d only heard about, in passing, under the influence of alcohol. The reasons for my discontent were as vague and full of platitudes as a couple in the middle of divorce: I’m not happy. I haven’t been happy for a long time. Things change. People grow apart. All of this set to the treachery of the seasons, the change in daylight and precipitation, the cycling of my brain chemistry and my moods and the feelings attached to the coming of October depression and February hypomania. Fall was always worse. Fall always killed me.
The only sorrow I felt was for the lost time, time not wasted but time nonetheless gone. I’ll never get back the nights sitting drunk and miserable in someone’s apartment a hundred miles from home at two in the morning because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I won’t recover the nights I spent in a woman’s bed, in love with her and alone because, despite her arm curled around my chest and her breasts against my back and her breath on my neck, I knew this meant little to nothing to her while it meant a hell of a lot to me. None of us came out of the mess blameless. I’m as guilty as they are. Probably more. Friendships ended not by gasoline and a match but from neglect and shoddy construction and false assurances that the surface was strong and stable and could withstand anything time or the weather could throw at it with minimal maintenance. I sometimes regret that things ended the way they did, but one way or another those relationships, relationships that could only have existed in a certain time, in a certain place, had to end. I’m incomparably happier now that those people, people whose memories, whose faces and names trigger nothing but loathing and longing and heartbreak, are out of my life for good. That in and of itself made me a little sad as I drank another beer someone bought for me, in a place we all shared once upon a time.
I’d had enough. All I wanted was to see Ypsilanti, see the university and state of Michigan, see the last five years of my life and everything I’ve known disappear in the rearview mirror. But I know better. For better or worse, the last half decade, the people and the experiences and the pain and the joy, are as much a part of what makes me who I am now as the molecules in my genes code for blue eyes, blond hair, and A-positive blood type. I wanted it to be over already—the funeral and the fear and the self-doubt and the never-ending cycle of thoughts racing through my ridiculous brain. I don’t want to do this. I have to do this. I need to do this. I want to do this. Oh god, what the fuck am I doing? Anticipation, the wishing, the coming of the big moment, the want of that thing sitting just over the edge of the horizon. And then comes, without fanfare or climax or epiphany. For as long as the moment took to arrive it’s already in the past tense, done and over with. I’m not moving to Chicago soon. I moved.
I will miss the people who pushed me into one last low-key thing that, in the end, I’m glad happened so I could say goodbye. I will miss the friendships that have survived distance and years, those rare bonds that sometimes exist to make it possible for two people to pick up right where they left off, time and travel be damned. And even if the possibility of a weekend road trip is slim, I’d welcome anybody who wanted to come to town for a visit with open arms and a couch to crash on. I will miss the feel of college football season in a college town. I will miss the clockwork regularity of my University of Michigan-issued paychecks every other Friday morning. I will miss summer nights when I drove to the middle of nowhere with my car windows down, music cranked loud, hurtling down a narrow country highway, taking corners at dangerous and inappropriate speeds. As pretty as those things are, token moments in seasons are not enough to sustain a life. Already in the ten days I’ve lived in Chicago I’ve had my moments, lying awake at night in a new bedroom, in a new bed, wondering if I made the right decision. But the season provides is own comfort, this fall and last fall and all the other falls before, like an old lover coming around again. For as much as autumn has killed me I’m always happy to see the season when it arrives, announcing itself in the colors of the leaves on the trees.