The Last Act
His death was unexpected. So was my unusual eulogy.

By Amanda Long
Sunday, June 7, 2009

I killed at my best friend's funeral.

Everyone was still in shock over John's sudden death. At 38, he had just run a marathon and received a job promotion. His naughty, hilarious e-mails were still in our inboxes. Some who knew John were angry that they'd lost touch with him. Others grappled with fears that it was suicide. (It wasn't: Word of his heart condition came later.)

When we started working together three years earlier at the Washington Business Journal, I tried everything to convince John that I was more than just a perky, bike-riding Northern Virginian who needed a gay friend to make her cool. Whenever I went to the drugstore, I'd buy him Diet Cokes and his favorite Pria bars. I earned plenty of CVS points, but few with John.

Then one day, while clearing branches at a staff community project, I noticed I was wearing just one garden glove. I immediately broke into the dance from Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video. I didn't know John was standing right behind me, loving every minute of it. Dancing soon became a cornerstone of our friendship, a release from newsroom stress, mind-numbing meetings and stuffy awards banquets. He invited me to a concert at Wolf Trap with his boyfriend. Watching me move and cheer, John pronounced: "I love Nighttime Mandy."

But it was Daytime Amanda whose 15 calls went straight to John's voice mail the weekend he lay dead in his bed. I had banged on his door Sunday evening, noticing the two untouched newspapers in the hall, and told the publisher to call the police on Monday morning when John didn't come to work.

I spent the week after his death as weak-kneed as a melodramatic widow, pulling the car over when a Sarah McLachlan song blurred my vision. As the funeral neared, I negotiated venue and flower choices. I ricocheted between John's boyfriend, his ex, his family and his boss. I kept the sad songs off the funeral playlist to spare his mother and the gay-parade photos out of the memorial slide show to spare the minister. It was exhausting being the dead guy's spokeswoman. As I found myself trying to condense my closest friend to a quote for the obituary writer, I decided I'd had enough.

By Friday, I was ready to try out a new role. And the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, still under renovation, was ready for its first memorial service. Our publisher welcomed everyone and sat down before losing his signature cool and sobbing into his Thomas Pink tie. John's niece spoke about losing her idol, whose every visit home to New Jersey had been like Christmas morning wrapped up in a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Then it was my turn to take the podium. I warmed up by mocking my own all-black funeral attire, assuring the crowd that John would never have let me get away with something so gauzy and tragic unless I had been auditioning for a Lifetime Television movie. I recalled how he would snap his fingers and order a margarita whenever I wore a loudly striped peasant skirt to work. On cue, they laughed politely.

The words alone weren't enough. So I danced.

"And now I'm going to do a little Britney, because we know John loved her and, like her, always got our attention," I said, as I walk-strutted toward the front row and did a Spears-esque head snap.

I didn't want to see their reactions, so I just kept going. I channeled Madonna from her cowgirl phase and slithered down to the ground, noting that John, like Madge, refused to get old. From there, I moved into the Belinda Carlisle hop from the Go-Go's infamous water-skiing video, and, as a grand finale, I reenacted the "Maniac" scene from "Flashdance," stomping my feet and whipping around in a circle.

The crowd loved it.

At the after-party, the adrenaline kept me flitting from one group of wine-drinking friends to the next as they complimented my "bravery" (and flexibility). I didn't dare stop long enough to let the high wear off, just kept dropping one-liners, hoping they would keep my last night as John's sidekick going. When the time came for coat-gathering, I was still ready to tell that next funny story. Instead, I found abandoned hors d'oeuvre plates and John's blue eyes staring at me from the covers of crumpled programs.

And then I knew: The joke was over.


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