The first time I went to my girlfriend’s house, it was for her dog’s funeral. She had died the night before and her parents were so distraught, they had their daughters come home for the service and burial.
When Sophia told me this was what we were doing with our Saturday afternoon, I immediately didn’t want to go, as you can understand, but I saw no way out of it.
“My parents loved that dog, probably more than me. We have to do this,” was what she said. If I said no, I’d be a terrible boyfriend.
On the way there, Sophia told me stories of the family dog, Mandy. She was loyal, happy and perfect in every way. Then she told me that her parents turned her old bedroom into Mandy’s room after she moved away for college. I thought that was kind of weird. Then she told me Mandy also had her own canopy bed with monogrammed sheets. The more she told me, the less I wanted to attend this funeral.
When we arrived at her house, her parents we waiting outside fully dressed in black. They welcomed us warmly, but with sadness in their words. I was beginning to feel the weight of losing a loved one and started to get into the seriousness of the situation. I lost a dog once. I was only seven, but I remember it was the first time anything had died in my life.
“I’m really sorry about Mandy,” I said with sincerity.
“Thank you. We are so happy to finally meet you and are sorry it is under such sad circumstances,” Sophia’s mother said to me. When we walked inside her home, I did what I always have to do after I meet someone:
“What are your parent’s names again?” I whispered in Sophia’s ear.
“Frank and Paula,” Sophia replied without any hint of irritation. She led me to the backyard where I assumed we were going to burry Mandy. Instead, we came to what looked like a small coffin. And it was. Frank and Paula had a coffin made for Mandy. This is where the seriousness started to slightly fade, because I just couldn’t accept this as a dog’s funeral, but it was. And it only got worse.
We all gathered around Mandy’s coffin, including Sophia’s younger sister, Katherine. As we all looked down at the small black box, Paula reached over to her outdoor stereo which was purposely positioned next to the coffin, and played Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into The Night”, which happens to be the song I lost my virginity to. Then Frank pulled out a Bible and began reading verses while everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes, but I couldn’t stop thinking of me at seventeen with Betty Sherman in the backseat of her parent’s Suburban. That was a weird night…but also another story.
“Would anyone like to say something?” Frank asked after he read from his Bible.
“We loved you Mandy, rest in peace,” Sophia said. Simple and sweet.
“You were our best friend, and you always will be,” Paula said.
“You were there for me in all the rough times. Like when I lost my job, when I got the flu, when I got stung by that hornet,” Frank started. I couldn’t believe what details he was giving. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you. Maybe I’ll redecorate your room, I don’t know…” He trailed off and that’s when Katherine started giggling. I couldn’t believe it. Her dad was pouring his heart out, in a weird way, I admit, and Katherine was laughing at him. We all tried to ignore her and Sophia elbowed her in her stomach.
After an awkward silence, we walked into the house where refreshments were being served. There was wine and beer, cheeses and cookies. I dove in, mainly to the beer.
“So, how’s the market treating you?” Frank asked me casually as if we were in an entirely different setting. We talked about work and about a few other things I can’t remember, but all I could think about was how Paula got herself a cocktail: we all had beer and wine, but she was sipping on whiskey.
Sophia, Katherine and I moved our way over to the living room where we drank our drinks and waited for the evening to be over, which it was long from.
“This is so weird,” Katherine bluntly stated.
“I know, but just let them do what they need to do. And stop laughing at Dad,” Sophia said. I sat in silence, looked up at the ceiling every now and then, mostly to avoid being caught looking at my watch. I knew I was obvious, though.
“It’s here,” Frank blurted from the kitchen. We all looked over to him and he pointed at the front window. We looked over and there it was: a hearse.
“I…wow,” I think I said.
“Oh my god. Shut up,” Katherine said with a look of shock on her face. Frank and Paula walked out the front door to go talk to the drivers. They pointed to the back of the house where they would go pick up the casket and carry Mandy into the hearse.
“He’s not getting buried in the backyard?” I asked.
“I guess not,” Sophia replied. I really wanted Paula’s whiskey at this point. We stood up and walked to the front of the house where we waited for the two drivers and Sophia’s parents to walk out front with Mandy in a box.
When the side gate opened, out came Paula, leading the team with her whiskey legs. Yes, whiskey legs. I hadn’t even noticed until now, but it was so obvious this woman was drunk at this point. She wobbled side to side, trying desperately not to drop Mandy.
“Lift with both hands, Paula,” Frank shouted.
“We can carry it if you want, sir,” one of the drivers said.
“No! We can do this,” Frank said. Then, to my horror, the handle on the casket snapped right off in Frank’s hand. Mandy dropped to the concrete.
“Oh my god!” Katherine shouted.
“What the?! Who bought this cheap piece of shit?” Frank shouted at Paula.
“I got it from that catalogue you gave to me!” she shouted back, dropping her side of the casket. The two drivers then took it upon themselves to place Mandy into the car and wait in the front seats.
“This is your fault,” Frank said to Paula. She said something back, but she slurred her words so hard I couldn’t understand her.
“This is the best,” Katherine muttered.
“Shut up,” said Sophia as she ran over to her parents and convinced them to let her drive them to the burial site, wherever that was.
Katherine and I followed them over to their van where we would travel together to put Mandy into the ground.
“Wait, I need to grab the flowers,” Frank said. He ran into the house with Katherine while Paula and I got into the van and waited.
The two of them then came out of the house with a massive arrangement meant for the Queen of England. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Those flowers must have cost as much as the custom carved casket. I kept my mouth shut, but caught Sophia’s look of embarrassment through the rear view mirror.
Frank opened the trunk to the van and the two of them placed the arrangement inside. They were much too big and all the taller flowers were being snapped in half from hitting the roof of the car, but there was nothing else to do but let it happen.
We were all facing forward, staring at the hearse in front of us, waiting for Katherine and Frank to get in the van. I peeked through the rear view mirror just in time to see Katherine slam the door to the trunk right on Frank’s head. It made a loud CLUNK followed by a burst of mad cackling from the devilish child herself. I turned around to see Frank laying on the street and Katherine hovering over herself laughing too hard to be able to stand straight.
“Is he okay?!” I shouted. He wasn’t getting up.
“Call 911!” Paula shouted. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed an ambulance.
“Hi, yes, I have an unconscious man here that needs some medical help,” I told the operator. It’s amazing how professional one can sound in the time of an emergency. Sophia was already out of the car helping her dad come back to consciousness.
“What’s wrong with you?” she yelled at Katherine, but she kept on laughing. I didn’t know what to do. I sat in my car seat and witnessed the fiasco, too uncomfortable to get out of the car.
Finally, the ambulance showed up. Frank was awake, but still sitting on the ground. They rushed over to see if he actually needed to be taken into the hospital, which he didn’t. Paula, on the other hand, might have. She was sprawled out on the front lawn, drunk and out cold, while Sophia was yelling at Katherine. I was still in the backseat of the family van. Mandy was still in the back of the hearse.
“Are we going to burry this animal today or what?” The drivers were still waiting for us. I looked at them, then back at Sophia’s family, then back at the hearse. I got out of the van and into the hearse.
“To the pet cemetery,” I told them.
“Okay, here we go,” one of the drivers said. I turned around and waved at Paula, Frank, Sophia and Katherine, but nobody even looked. I rode to the burial ground, which was a quaint, sunny little plot where other families paid lots of money to have their precious pets put into the ground.
The drivers pulled Mandy out of the back and lowered her into her grave. I stood there and watched her go deeper and deeper into the Earth. I lowered my head and dropped a handful of dirt in the hole. I felt…sad. This was a real trooper, this Mandy. She lived her whole life with Sophia’s family. What a brave, brave dog. Loyalty at its best.
When I arrived back at Sophia’s house, Frank and Paula had gone to bed and Katherine and Sophia were on the couch eating Top Ramen and watching American Idol. I walked to the kitchen, grabbed a beer, and took a seat next to Sophia. She looked up at me with a look of desperation and hopelessness, as if I was going to leave her for this. Yeah right, this was one of the most interesting days of my life.
I kissed her forehead, sipped my beer, and watched this week’s episode with the rest of America and their dogs.