I've been out of this for a while now, as on early Tuesday morning, my good friend Phil Sallese died suddenly of a seizure. He was epileptic and he hadn't been taking his medication as properly as he should have been. He died within 5 minutes of the seizure, and felt nothing, but his head was bruised purple almost to the point of blackness from the contortions when his girlfriend found him in the morning. Wakes occured all through the weekend, and the funeral was on Monday morning. The entire experience was completely overwhelming.
I'd known Phil since the last year of high school, where I started to get to know tons of new people and obtained my first girlfriend. It doesn't often happen this way, but we were more or less good friends instantaneously. I can't remember any kind of transition, we just started hanging out together and that was that. It's pretty ludicrous how much Phil stands out in a crowd. He's filled with energy, even picturing him laughing makes you smile yourself, always has a retort, makes for a great angry tirade; and yet often so abashed, so shy, so gentle, so easily hurt. Gentle giant doesn't quite fit him, as he had an aggressive physical side to him, but that was as fun as anything else about him.
He didn't go very far by society's standards, really. Attending the local community college, not doing great, wasn't very active except in local gaming tournaments and the like. When I Googled his name, the only hit is one of my old entries (and soon this one). My webpage is the only place on the Internet that his name appears. But over 300 people came to his wake, and to me that seems like a lot. An oft-reiterated quote from the funeral is that everyone who liked Phil loved Phil, and there weren't many who knew Phil who wouldn't take some time out of their lives to remember someone who stood out so starkly against the pale background of "most people".
The wake was the beginning. Going up to the front and kneeling at the closed casket, touching it, is not something I was really prepared for. At the time I considered it the thing that really "brought it home", but it wasn't long before I discovered that's the first step in a series of events to work on the very difficult job of real acceptance. Often I felt out of place. Everyone was content to sit around and soak everything in with everyone else, which isn't my style. When I'd walk from room to room, or outside, I could feel that the little bit of purpose I had in my stride of just knowing where I wanted to go was on an order of magnitude greater than the energy or motivation of those in the room put together. When I would start to lose control (several times), I'd walk outside and take a stroll around the parking lot of the rest home, collect myself, and go back in. Most things there would set me off, his pictures, his crushed friends. I felt it as much as anyone did, and I spoke with others and helped them as much as anyone, but I still felt like a loner in how I dealt with everything compared to everyone else. I don't regret it, either.
The next morning I came at 7:30am to see the casket while it was open and before it was taken to the church. They'd reduced the discoloration a great deal, though it was clearly not normal. The only thing unnatural about his expression was that his lips were slightly stuck together, in the same way that the living's lips do when pressed and about to open. I kept expecting them to separate as anyone else's would. Surprisingly, seeing him didn't really set me off, but was incredibly solemn and powerful. It was positively shocking and gladdening to see him buried with Paper Mario 2, as a better symbol of all that is right with video games and why they inspire such devoted love in so many, I'm not sure I can think of.
The funeral service in the church was banal and simple for the first half, and served mostly to illustrate what I will and won't do at a religious funeral to observe the religion present (mostly won't). Whether I seemed respectful to God or not is negligible, the funeral was between me and Phil, and if he knows I respect his death, than that's all that matters. He never struck me as particularly religious, so I'm not worried. To be completely genuine, hearing "When You Wish Upon A Star" and "The Circle Of Life" put to gentle organ background music was wonderful.
Those who spoke at the funeral were the most heartbreaking, and were what made me lose control repeatedly. In case it's not clear, I'm having a very difficult time writing all this. Seeing his best friends and closest family unable to speak, or delivering some of the most emotionally charged speeches I've ever heard, is the most direct way to feel the dead's effect on the living, and it's not a small one. Not with Phil. Since about 5 minutes after I'd first heard of his death, I knew I wanted to speak at the funeral, and I managed to prepare something I hoped was worthwhile, and from people's reactions later it seemed like it definitely was. At the end of the day, I was humbled.
The priest delivering the sermon took the effort to address how people often are tempted to react at senseless deaths such as these, feeling questioning, perhaps even angry, and how we need to be able to move past that. Well fuck that. If the relationship between each one of us and the powers that be is to be anything real, it's going to have its ups and downs. We have every right to be pissed off that the universe saw fit to do something cruel and stupid. Every one of us is completely justified in going through periods where we are not on speaking terms with God. I'm not going to take him very seriously if I don't treat him like a person. In a while we'll work out our differences and be all right again, if there's a God he's always been good to me, but he and I need to take a time out, and I encourage everyone who feels like maybe God is capable of making a mistake now and then, to take advantage of that time. Don't repress your feelings and convince yourself that this is "all for the best" or whatever else of that cruelest brand of philosophy you're being preached to to feel. Get pissed and tell God he's wrong, cause believe me, he does have the balls to tell it to you right back.
For me, to be with Phil was to be subjected to constant eloquence. All of my friends are the most intelligent people I know, and Phil was a close friend. Few people understand, though, that eloquence doesn't come from intelligence but from honesty. Phil was truly honest, a character whose dialogue was perfectly written. You know Phil so quickly, so surely it was like falling in love, yet he was never out of surprises. He was completely real, almost surreal. Eloquence doesn't have to come in a profound turn of phrase, though Phil had plenty of them, but it can be in a look of the eyes or a twist of the mouth.
Especially when Phil was angry. He was so great at it, a wonderful, innocent anger. Phil had the most charming rage I have ever seen. Generally he'd be so absorbed in his tirades that he wouldn't notice me smiling. And if he heard me say this, it would of course make him even angrier, and it would be adorable. He couldn't help it.
Because Phil wore his heart outside of his jacket, ready for display to any who were interested. He was willing to lend it out on a moment's notice. And it made him so vulnerable. He gave his whole heart to every friend he had. Very few have the courage to live so honestly, and to expose themselves in such a manner. I am in awe of him for that, and hope that in my day to day life I can live a little more like Phil did. In the end I'm not surprised he gave away his heart so freely, because I can't imagine what else I could do with a heart so big.