The flowers for the event were fresh, bright colors contrasting the dark attire that filled the room. They weren’t flowers for romance, but for sympathy. When he had made his purchase, the florist jabbered into his ear about colors: yellow for friendship, lavender for respect, and blue for strength. He numbly chose an arrangement from a catalogue; red, the florist told him, for courage and love. But he wasn’t listening.
He had been trying to figure out what to say. He knew that in order to speak at her funeral, he would have to speak in front of a large crowd – she was really popular alive and seemed to have gained even more friends in her death. The death of a young person always has that effect.
The church in town was too small for her funeral, so the funeral was moved to the local high school’s fieldhouse. She would have loved that if she’d known. She wanted to be noticed more than anything. When it came time to speak at the funeral, he almost backed down. Scoffing at his nerves, he bravely stood up and made the lonely walk to the podium they had placed in the center of their makeshift stage.
He was wringing his hands together by the time he got to the stage, a nervous habit that he had seemingly developed that morning.
“Good morning,” he stammered out to the crowd, speaking into the microphone.
Good mourning, he thought to himself dryly.
“I know that a lot you don’t know
me,” he started, attempting to steady his hands by gripping the sides of the podium. “I was friends with …” Unable to say her name, he moved on hastily. “We had classes together. Actually, she tutored me in geometry and that’s how we became friends.”
He looked around the room and decided not to do it again. The faces that met his gaze weren’t encouraging. He saw her family in the front, momentarily distracted by their grief and looking confused at his presence; they hadn’t known him. He saw her friends and classmates and some of the faculty at school. Everybody had shown up. She was so popular.
“We used to tell each other jokes every time that we met. She said that it broke the ice, but I think that she just liked to laugh… She had a really nice laugh,” he said, looking up to nods of agreement. The audience had finally broken out of their solemn trance and was truly paying attention. “The first day that she tutored me, she made me start with a joke. I don’t even remember what I told her, you know. It was a silly joke, something stupid that I must have read on the back of a Laffy Taffy or something. But I remember her reaction.
“She looked at me, processing my joke. Then, out of nowhere, she exploded. Loud, hurt-your-stomach laughter that resolves itself in tears. She literally laughed until she cried. And I was so proud to make her laugh that I started to laugh, too, and we sat in the library and laughed until we were almost kicked out.”
People were smiling now, and he knew that they were imagining the sound of her laughter. If he listened carefully, he was almost sure that he would hear the echo of it in the room.
“But, you know, the next day, I heard her telling somebody about my joke. She repeated the joke and started laughing again, and the person didn’t understand. She smiled, too, and said, ‘I didn’t really get it, either,’ but just continued to laugh. I was confused, and I was kind of angry, too. She had embarrassed me, after all. After a couple of days of shameful avoidance, it dawned on me. That’s just the type of girl that she was. Her laughter was genuine, and honest, and true, and she just loved to laugh.”
More nods of agreement. He was feeling more comfortable standing before the crowd now. It was time, he knew, to end the speech before he lost their attention and respect.
“I want to tell you all a joke today,” he ventured on strongly, afraid that if he stopped to think about it, he might lose his nerve. Who tells a joke at a funeral? “It was her favorite joke, she told it all the time and I thought it was stupid and never once laughed. She said that she would keep telling me it every day until I laughed. The joke has almost juvenile humor, which I thought that I was above.
“What did the traffic light say to the car?”
People stared at him expectantly. How does one react to a joke at such an event?
“Don’t look,” a tear escaped from his eye, “I’m changing.”
He didn’t notice the reaction from the audience, because he was only focused on himself. He started to laugh, a startling laugh that would have scared others had they not understood his feelings. As he walked off stage, he laughed and laughed and laughed, until he was crying, too.