Big Dave offed himself.

I’ve only ever known two other people who died; first, my great-grandmother, a sweet and frail woman with a subtle, lilting German accent who lived to be 103, presumably dying of being old as fuck, preceded in death a decade earlier by her Norwegian husband Odin, who went by Odi and who burnt to death in a traffic accident.

I remember her funeral, nearly half my life ago; my brother Henry was just an indifferent toddler; her body lay in a much-too-large varnished walnut coffin where she was dwarfed by silk padding and drapery, her skin waxy and diaphanous, her eye sockets sunken and vacant-looking like her cheeks, as if whatever fills a body had been sucked out with a hose.

At one point during the viewing, my uncle burst out laughing, joined almost immediately by all the other adults. The reason? The funeral home had been piping Muzak into the room and one of the songs was a cover of an old pop hit not really suited for the gloomy pomp of a funeral. I didn’t recognize it and cannot recall the name.

Other than small children who still had yet to learn how much and how volubly their grief should be expressed, the affair seemed natural and somber, very bearable, not as anguishing or saccharine as I’d feared, something I thought I could manage as my life dragged on and other people dropped out of it due to plague and ill fortune.

That changed after Chris’ funeral.

I hadn’t seen him in a couple years, after moving from Neenah to Menasha, and would probably have never given him a second thought had the circumstances of his death not been the topic of a week’s ceaseless local media coverage.

He’d been visiting a friend’s house where they discovered a full-on Dirty Harry .44 Magnum on top of the refrigerator. (I am not kidding.) They took it down, fucked around with it for a bit, and eventually it was fired directly into the center of Chris’ small, round, freckled face, aerosolizing his head and reattaching its new, deconstructed form to every exposed surface within about 20 feet.

The other child ran screaming from the house, every exhalation a shriek, interposed only by his occasional need to draw more breath to release in chilling screams as he ran in and out of traffic, unable to speak, unable even to acknowledge the presence of other people, not knowing to where he was running or what he was supposed to do. A few passing motorists stopped, rescued him from the rivers of honking, congealing traffic, and held him as he flailed and squealed for more than an hour while the police went door to door trying to find the boy’s parents before one patrolman eventually found the headless corpse of Chris splayed out on a linoleum kitchen floor, a housecat nibbling and slurping at the chunks and fluids trickling from what remained of his neck. The officer noticed that shards of Chris’ teeth were embedded in walls and cabinets and the refrigerator like shrapnel, sometimes with wire tangles of braces still attached to them.

The funeral had an attendance comparable to a Triple-A game. At its fringes was a gaggle of news vans, keeping a “respectful” distance. One of the teleprompter readers had to be cautioned by police after her repeated, loud, and shrill shrieks of laughter during a conversation unrelated to the funeral carried and echoed through the cemetery. She then tried to interview the cop. She also offered to buy any photographs from me or anyone else she saw passing through the cemetery.

I didn’t see anyone there I knew, other than Chris’ younger brother and parents. They were all strangers to me, and strangers to each other, it appeared, as they said nothing, moving and shifting slowly and furtively, eyeing each other occasionally with what seemed like suspicion. There were almost no other children there.

Chris’ little brother stood at the coffin with his parents, his teeth chattering; he could not stop pacing in place, fidgeting and squirming from left foot to right trying to outrun something inside of him, his head bowed so you could see only the crown of it, his little cowlick sticking up like always, snot and tears falling to the ground in sporadic glops as he moaned softly and constantly.

His parents looked like they were dead.

I felt like an infiltrator, no different from the hundreds of other grief tourists who’d shown up for a taste of their agony.

It was the second time in my life I’d worn a tie, the first being for the other funeral. It was the same tie, actually, a clip-on, very wide, looked like it had been made of upholstery.

So, Big Dave offed himself. I didn’t know the guy well, but he was a frequent presence at Valley parties and shows, usually shuttling around others in his big, beat-up white work van. Almost always wearing the same tank top, even in winter, beneath his olive drab army surplus parka; it had the image from a well-known album cover, the tank top did, the palms of two hands, one up, one down, one had a human face on it, white lettering in black boxes above and below the hands. I remember that show on the tour for that album and him being at it, and his glee at buying the shirt, dude gotta stash this, he said, something he said about anything that seemed cool or desirable, once even saying it about a box of uncooked spaghetti we shared at a party when we couldn’t find anything else to eat and were too stoned to boil it. Big Dave was, of course, big in terms of mass, but also in his emotions, gregarious and pleasant and nothing about his behavior or personality suggested he would ever annihilate himself while still a teenager.

Big Dave apparently drove his van deep into a cornfield, probably to mask it from view, then duct-taped a rubber tube to the exhaust and ran it in through the passenger window. He sat in the driver’s seat, drinking a can of pop and listening to a mixtape made for him by a girl I didn’t know who moved to California for college while he gassed himself. His van and the corpse inside of it were found about a day later after an ultralight pilot spotted the vehicle from above and reported it to the state patrol. The battery-powered boombox on the floor was still going:

I would’ve died for you

if you had ever asked

Arrangements are made and large numbers of his peers are expected to attend, and I’m supposed to be outside to be picked up at 5AM the morning of, but—despite being awake, bathed, and dressed already, again with the gaudy clip-on tie fashioned out of a decades-old sofa—I decide I can’t move from my seated position at the edge of my mattress, sitting in the dark. A few of us were meant to ride with this guy Scott, and I hear his large, baritone Buick rumble up outside, linger for about five minutes, then rumble away again, its engine noise somehow just as condescending and snotty as Scott is. A few remarks about my indifference are whispered lightly among a few catty gossips, but that shit-talk and all other rumors quickly evaporate and are soon forgotten along with virtually any memory of even Big Dave himself, let alone the event.

I have yet to even visit his grave.