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I was so amped about getting home last Thursday night that I floored my Kia rental car for the 2 hour drive south from St. Louis, having to pee for at least 70 miles but unwilling to pull off the road.  I didn’t even stop for my customary, just-arrived-back-home, Lion’s Choice roast beef-extra-rare-double-cheese.  I had to get home.

Before dinner, I met 3 friends at the St. Augustine cemetery — with a bottle of champagne and real glasses — to toast our friend, Chris.  It is beyond surreal to sink into the still-soft mud over the coffin of a friend your own age.  Of someone you adore.  Adored.  His name, birth date, and death date stamped on an index card and stuck in the earth like a placeholder.

Six weeks ago, 7 old friends started planning a fundraiser to help pay for the college expenses of Chris’s children.  We spent all of Friday setting up the hall while we gave each other shit going all the way back to the 6th grade and monkey bars.  We talked about Chris and avoided talking about Chris.  We laughed.  A lot.  Hugs were had.  Cold beers went down.  And because once we’re together we can’t not-be-together, we migrated from the hall straight to Shawn’s basement bar for pizza and and cocktails.  Vodka and soda with fresh limes and, unfortunately, hard-to-stab olives.  Chris’s abandoned license plate (low left) on the wall behind the mess we left.

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On the night of the fundraiser, 250 of us came together.  Chris’s adorable, 80 yr old mother was the first to arrive and the last to leave, and she danced with her son’s beer-swilling, sometimes-in-tears, often-too-loud, crazy friends until after midnight while we sang AC/DC and Pat Benetar songs and watched the photo montage of Chris’s life splay light across one dark wall.

A few of us said our last goodbyes on Sunday morning.  Coffee at Starbucks.  Time to leave you all.  Time get on the road.  I drove in what felt like slow motion for the 2 hours back to the airport, and realized it was the first time I’d been alone for 4 days.  I stopped at Lion’s Choice for my roast-beef-extra-rare-double-cheese, thinking that might help, but I’d stopped out of my usual order of things and it didn’t feel right.  I wasn’t ready to be on my way away again.  Like, as my friend Penny says, I didn’t get my visit out.  Like the lights came on way too soon for Last Call.

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