by Anaella Kampaña
There’s something amiss when your friend is dead. It starts small and begins when you leave home for your first semester at college. The moment you get off the bus and set your feet in unknown terrority, you’ll feel it in your bones as the calcium wears away.
You’ll return home for five seconds. The school calls them breaks, but they are momentary relapses. You take the drug, but it doesn’t feel the same. Walking down your old block, you see how things have changed. The corner store is no longer your regular bodega—where you’d buy barrel juice and nacho cheese chips for less than a dollar—got torn down and turned into a Walgreens. The corner down the block where the hood boys used to roll dice is a walkway for pet owners and their purebred puggles needing to defecate before their fifteen-minute commute to work.
The worst feeling is sitting on that bus to visit your boy. The one you have been close to for so long that you swear to God he might as well be your blood. I bet y’all probably cut each other’s hands and got into scraps for each other. The one homeboy that didn’t call you “Einstein” or white for speaking correctly even after you went and came back from college.
Nothing compares to the moments shared. Two bastard boys with no hope but aspirations. He was the first to notice how you changed since the last smoke session and appreciate every bit of your soul’s growth. He always kept you from leaving the poker games on your own. Funny enough, he was the hardest one in the crew. The one that got locked up first.
Neno didn’t hang out with you for no reason. He enjoyed hearing you sing every single word about your adventures being drunk. Neno laughed with you because while he wasn’t there, he saw how content it made you talk about the white girl who was all over you in front of her drunk hockey superstar boyfriend. Every second with him, a gentle kiss from honeybees with sweetness on their fuzz.
You will remember attending his funeral. During the whole bus ride, his laugh replays in your head as a distant cry as to why you didn’t stay home. You’ll listen to it on repeat till you confuse it for your chucks and giggles. Neno had his unique way of laughing—chill but wide, with his whole smile taking up every centimeter of his face. He giggled at you with the laugh of a boy who found his father’s playboy magazine. By the time you arrive at your bus stop, you’ll step into an unknown territory.
Neno’s laugh fades out of your ears, and the sound of his parents weeping fills the walls of the funeral home. You’ll be too high to process any of the emotions in the room. While watching his parents sob into “Gracias” to the guests who have come to pay their respects. While you’re avoiding awkward eye contact, you’ll find him. His big lips, almond-shaped eyes with the shavings of the yuca’s skin to fill the brown, his jawline, and caterpillar eyebrows plastered all over his sister’s face—Luisa, who he constantly spoke of but never brought around.
Briefly, you’re sober enough to listen to her speak. She wraps her tongue around box cutters as each word glides across the blades, cutting her tongue piece by piece. “Thank you to all those who have been able to attend all the services for Madrin ‘Neno’ Luna.” Suddenly, the room tilts on the Earth’s axis and begins to spin faster than the twirls in the tipico music you and Neno used to dance to at Howard Beach.
“I wish you all many blessings. From Luna family to yours.” Luisa will say to make the tipico stop.
You spend minutes in front of his casket thinking about all the moments you enjoyed the warmness of his voice. You’ve known it since the beginning of time. He would never stay yours forever, but in the time you were with him, he was yours—re-runs of his smile and gentle touches. Knees touched on the train as he slid his arm around to keep you close. You were his; his admiration was the only thing that’s kept you alive for this long.
His neck tattoos, covered by the funeral home makeup, make his face look fuller in the casket. “Mirable” tattooed on his hand in black ink for his ‘buela. You could almost feel the softness of his palms with their steal cut calluses. This time his hands are not his own. It’s thick with a cold plaster, a frozen beef patty that no longer holds your face close for gentle kisses in the shadows of his sexuality. Dark closed eyes staring back at you.
There’s no warmth welcoming you home from another six-week hiatus of classes and drinking; this is your last chance to tell him the truth. That it was never just friends for you.
It was long walks through the botanical garden in Flushing and Brooklyn. Dinner dates at “the ramen spot.” Late-night drives on the L.I.E. to Sunrise Highway for 2 am beach visits. Unforgiveable kisses in moonlight-lit water. Centuries into the future, holding bodies tighter as the tides pulled you away from him. The smell of Irish spring, weed, and his sweat in the sand. Times slipping from your hand. The last thing you wonder is if he felt the same way.
Perhaps it was true love for him too. Neno never told you much. Only enough to stir your mind with the thoughts from your heart. This could have been all that you wanted all along. Instead, you’re staring at his body. Tattoos crawling out from the collar of Neno’s shirt. Only if he was alive to wear this tuxedo, this could have been your wedding. The last thing you think of is how you’re leaving him without a proper farewell.
Back in this funeral, you walk back to your spot. The time left over is for you to pay your respects to the family. Usually, you’re a killer at small talk except when the pit of an avocado sits in your small intestine and the skin of a memay chokes you up. It won’t be your salty tears to drown the guests.
Neno’s girlfriend sits across the room, next to his parents and sister. She looks like she could use a shoulder to cry on. Had your eyes not been so red and the smell of skunk so profuse, it would be your black double-breasted suit that her cheap makeup and heartbreak stains. You know all the perfect tricks and words to make a woman feel better. Just not when you’re in love with the same man.
Anaella Kampaña is a Dominican-Colombian writer from Queens, New York. Anaella focuses on writing stories that are authentic to the Latinx experience. Their work highlights emotionally daunting challenges the Latinx community encounters in today's society.