Another gang shooting and another high school kid is dead. He had just moved here two months ago. I’m climbing the stairs of the large apartment complex and a teenage boy dressed in gang colors shoves ahead of me, carrying two candles. When I reach the apartment, he is there. He’s the kid’s younger brother. He ignores me during the whole arrangement, as do the crowds of other teenagers that filter in and out over the next couple of hours.
I admire the powerfully built German Shepherd that roams through the small space he shares with two pit bulls. More teenagers came and went, along with more pit bulls. The kid’s father is making the arrangements, stoic now but not for long.
It was to be an overnight visitation in the family’s home, and I received the clothing from the father and brother at the arrangement. Gang colors. The kid was to be dressed paying homage to the life that killed him. I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t my decision.
For a few days, the absolute tastelessness of the family’s request bothered me. It was like burying someone with a bottle of liquor after he succumbed to an alcohol-related illness. Why did they want to remember their son as part of a lifestyle that killed him? A completely pointless lifestyle of crime and violence? They told me that he was working as a cook at a friend’s family restaurant. Why not celebrate his love of cooking instead of his loyalty to a pointless cause?
I mentioned this to another funeral director, and he said one day he got a suicide whose father requested that he be buried with the gun used to kill himself. He allowed it. That was helpful to me, because it made me see that crass requests are not unusual, and that there have been worse ones made than that which I was dealing with.
I looked up information about the homicide, expecting to find news of a gang fight or a drug deal gone wrong. It was worse. He was shot eight times by three people over graffiti. Spray paint on a wall. Someone died for that. The paint could have been removed, painted over, or ignored, but instead someone died.
At many services for young homicides, the funeral guests will wear a plain white T-shirt with the decedent’s picture, dates of birth and death, and a photo caption such as Sorely Missed or Gone Home. Only at this service, the shirts read Gangster. OG. Shot Caller. Everyone was determined to remember him as the kid who got shot because other kids didn’t like his drawing.
I brought the casket for the overnight home viewing, and it barely fit in the tiny living room that was scattered with folding chairs. Loud rap was blaring, dogs were roaming around, and the neighbor was screaming that she would call the cops if I didn’t get that damn hearse out of “her” neighborhood. I opened the casket, displayed the young teen draped in his colors, and finally his father broke down, in a room full of people wearing gang colors, people expressing ideals for which his son died.
I wonder if he wished everyone could have remembered his son differently. Maybe instead of remembering the Shot Caller, remember the high school kid who worked in a restaurant and was loved by his family.
After the service, his father wanted me to drive the hearse to the spot where his son was killed, behind the Wal-Mart. I parked the hearse and opened the back door, and his father and a few friends just kind of stood there for several minutes. I think that may be the first time I’ve gotten a request like that.