Kev and I grew up together, but weren’t friends. We despised each other, but in that sort of boyish rivalry, he being the bully and I being his fodder, that wanes into harmless shenanigans as you get older. I also say it because he’s dead. Calling him what he was might imply that I’m pleased he no longer exists, which I’m not. Better to cast him as likable than as a prick, at least for his sake.
Kev never outgrew that phase which envelops all us young men: burgeoning masculinity — it’s what killed him. One night he tried felling a tree, only he did so with a Honda Civic, and he was drunk. Story goes that it was the first night Kev had tried alcohol, but I know this to be untrue. At thirteen he was caught pocketing a fifth of bottom shelf vodka from the Walgreens on West Theodore. Twice.
Kev’s accident happened two days before the start of our Senior year. I didn’t hear of his death until a week later, in the hallways, where I saw classmates wearing tee-shirts brandishing his last yearbook photo with his name, birthday, and that final Saturday of summer break air-brushed in bright, bubbly lettering, like those shirts you get made at carnivals.
I walked up to one of the girls wearing this tee-shirt. She looked familiar, but her name escaped me. I asked if there’d be a funeral, or if it already happened. That’s where she may have gotten the tee-shirt, I wondered. “There’s gonna be, like, a memorial(?), or something, soon,” she said, and darted off before I could say anymore. I’m sure she knew who I was. White Urkel, as Kev called me. Perhaps reviling me was her special way to honor the boy to whom she gave his first blow job. Alexa! That’s her name.
The memorial service was held a month later. His family had him cremated. From the gossip I’d heard about the scene of the crash, an open casket was not an option to consider. It was at St. John’s, a neighborhood church within walking distance for most who lived in town. The service was just short of standing room only, and the doors leading into the church were left open, allowing the stifling heat of crowded mourners mingle with the late August air.
I attended out of curiosity, because I wanted to hear what would be said about Kev. They would paint an angel out of him to be sure. Kev’s little brother followed each of his stories with, “and then Kev would say, ‘don’t tell mom.’” It drew restrained laughter from the congregation, listening to a young man confess to a multitude of crimes against their neighbors: rosebushes crushed under the tires of bikes and birdhouses shattered with baseball bats. Yet the congregation laughed. His brother’s dead; they let him speak with impunity. Me and Kev’s Freshman Biology teacher, Mr. Lauder, spoke briefly, noting Kev’s fondness for the phrase, “survival of the fittest,” which was inappropriate given the circumstances, but was the most honest thing said. I do recall Kev murmuring that as he lapped me during our annual running of the mile in P.E. Kev thought he was the fittest, but failed to actually grasp the context. Expressions of strength belonged solely to him. Mr. Lauder didn’t mention Kev’s consistent D average. Again, in respect to the dead, we seek to polish a rough stone. I thought of saying something, but there was nothing I could say that was free of his animus towards me. That time he chucked a softball at my groin, how he’d ride up to my house and throw pop-snaps at my dog, or flinging green beans at me during lunch. Shit, he’d even stuff them in his pocket and ambush me in Social Studies. And that Honda Civic he plowed into a tree belonged to his ex-girlfriend’s brother. He beat the kid up and stole his keys; the stitches were still fresh in his cheek while a town grieved the sudden loss of one of their boys. The way they’re handling this is less about reminiscing and more about casting him into sainthood. They’re giving him accolades for traits that he boasted of, but never possessed. Screw it, he was a prick.
But his mother approached the altar and I realized how necessary it all was. She took to the podium (something no one seemed to have expected) and a remarkable coincidence was witnessed. Before she said a word, a white butterfly had strayed into the church, presumably through the open doors, but let’s just call it fate, and it began to cascade towards the altar, coasting above us all like a flower bud in an eternal breeze. People gasped at the sight, a toddler pointed to the butterfly and said, wah-wah, causing all the women to swoon. Kev’s mother’s knees went limp, buckled. She grabbed hold of the podium to keep herself from fainting outright. The butterfly fluttered near her, danced around her head, teased her and everyone with it’s presence. As soon as Kev’s mother and several other mourners cupped their hands and tried to capture the small butterfly, it escaped from whence it came. A wave of tissue as white as the butterfly rose to dry wet faces in every pew. From the look of it, they were all dabbing their noses and eyes with their own Kev, the butterfly. What a miracle. Even I was duped.
Having heard enough, I followed the butterfly out of the church, enticed to ask it a question, half-expecting, half-hoping a flutter over my head for an answer. “Prove that you’re Kev,” I said. It’s angelic wings flickered onto a twig above a stream of rainwater in a ditch, where in an instant the hallow butterfly sufficed the appetite of a hungry toad, which blinked as it swallowed him whole. He was just being young and didn’t know any better.