The house is just how I remember it — only different.
I’m curled up in the corner of the soft brown leather couch in the kitchen, only I think it’s a new couch. That dishwasher isn’t the same dishwasher we once filled with liquid dish detergent and flooded the kitchen. This rug doesn’t have the faint brown stain from the coke I kicked over or the red speckles from the plate of spaghetti Mac knocked out of Sarah’s hand. I think the walls are a different color too.
The same people surround me, my closest friends are tucked into couches or perched on counter tops around the room while we wait for Sarah to finish getting dressed. If I try hard enough, I can still see us all crowded around the dinner table together laughing with the Burns’ family, or I can see us dancing around Sarah’s dad as he cooked while we belted out an out-of-tune rendition of Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It was Poppa Burns’ favorite song.
We looked different then, in my memories. Younger, sillier, wilder. Not all dressed in black like we are today.
Sarah comes down the stairs in a pressed black dress, her wavy blonde hair pulled into a crisp ponytail at the back of her head. We all turn to look at her and smile, but none of us move. The normal warmth and happiness that usually fills this house is gone. It feels too quiet. Too still. Too empty.
Because one of us is missing.
At the Burns’ house, everyone is family. You could stay for an afternoon or for a week. On a few occasions, I was known to move in for several. Everyone was always invited to dinner, even if their daughters — our friends — weren’t there. They came to all of our games, even for the sports Sarah didn’t play. They wrote us letters when we left for college. They told us we were always welcome there. And we were.
We always came back. For dinners, for holidays, for Joe Cocker songs in the kitchen. And now, for a funeral.
“We all ready?” Sarah asks and we all get up, sliding on our shoes and smoothing out our black dresses. “Mom’s in the car. She says we shouldn’t keep Dad waiting.”
There are no words to tell your friend when her father dies. So well all just stand there side by side next to Sarah as she looks at Pat.
“A million things that could be running through my mind right now,” Sarah whispers, “but all that is there is that stupid Joe Cocker song. I can’t get it out of my head.” We all chuckle. Because we were singing it too. It was his favorite.
At the Burns’ house, everyone is family. You could stay for an afternoon or for a week. Everyone was always invited to dinner. We didn’t pray before we ate. Instead, before each meal, Pat Burns would raise his glass and toast: “Here’s to all the places we’ve gone, and all the places we’ll go.”
So this is for you, Pat — one more song because it was your favorite. Here’s to all the places you went, the people you touched, and the places we’ll all go.