“Where you all from?” Euan said to the three men sitting at the bar.
“Lexington,” one of them said. “Spitting distance.”
“Get you anything?”
“How’s the bourbon?”
Euan grinned. “Worth a shot.”
This was the first night I bartended at Bistro 301 downtown on Third and Market — or at any restaurant — and I was shadowing Euan Watson, the bar manager. Pretty soon the three men figured out that it was my first night, and the one who seemed the most buzzed kept saying, “How about let the new guy do something? Teach him how to make a shot!”
Euan’s chestnut beard was shaved close to his face, and his hair cascaded around his ears so that, with aviators on, he might resemble Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. Dressed in corduroys, a black tie and a red vest, Euan had rolled his sleeves up his arms, as if tending bar was not his job — it was his art. “You know how to mix a drink?” Euan asked me.
I shook my head. Take a shaker, measure out what you want, he said — raising bottles above his head that arced liquid into the shaker, without measuring — and slap a rocks glass over it. Holding it next to his ear, Euan shook it, then tilted the rocks glass askew by clinking it on the bar and tipped the shaker above three shot glasses lined up in front of the men. None of it spilled, and into the last shot glass dripped the last ounce of liquor. He switched his wrist so the ice in the shaker crashed into the sink. Then he flipped it in the air. “You try.”
Euan poured liquor into the shaker again, and I whacked the rocks glass onto it and cradled it in a seesawing motion near my ear. “C’mon! Shake it to wake it!” Euan said. “Don’t be shy — your mother wasn’t!”
So I swung the shaker back and forth as hard as I could and the rocks glass ejected like a piston, crashing through wineglasses that hung upside down in front of the mirror and exploding against the wall. The lounge went silent. Then a woman said, “Oh, my goodness.”
After we cleaned up most of the glass shards, Euan told me to wait on Table 18. “Actually,” I said, “I’d prefer if you did this because I don’t have the necessary experience yet.” He looked at me. Then he said, “You better cowboy up and take care of business.”
I wrote Table 18’s orders not in shorthand — S for “steak burger,” T for “tortellini” — but in cursive, as if I were submitting a calligraphic scroll to the kitchen. “You can wine me,” one of the women said. When I dropped to my knees in front of the cooler of white wine behind the bar, I heard thread ripping in a ghastly crunch. My eyes bugged. Then I looked down. The crotch of my pants had split open.
I had on a server’s apron that reached to my knees, and I tugged it down as far as I could. When I stood up, someone gripped my shoulder. It was Euan. I started to apologize for messing everything up. “No, man,” he said. “We got your back.” He nodded at Table 18. “They look like they’ve got more issues than a Grand Central Station kiosk.”
When we closed down at the end of the night, I was scurrying behind the bar — gathering up the sugar caddies, plunging a towel in a bucket of sudsy water and dousing the counters — when I slipped on the booze-slick tile. Airborne, I went parallel to the floor, looking straight ahead at my feet. I slammed down, hard. Two servers sitting at the bar craned forward, peering at me, as if I lay at the bottom of a canoe.
Fitting a cigarette into his mouth, Euan reached down. I gripped his arm and he pulled me to my feet. He looked at me. Then he said:
“Listen, man, I don’t know you. But you’re a jabroni.”
I was ready to quit Bistro 301 after my first night, but I decided to work through that week and then leave. A few people had just gotten fired, so I was already scheduled to work doubles — mornings with a server named Stuart on the floor and nights with Euan in the bar. Stuart was a little shorter than Euan and about 20 years older. His hair was gray, and a bald spot glared atop his head. Yet he sported that bald spot with a debonair confidence, as if he were Federico Fellini. “Most of these new people are as useful as tits on a bull,” Stuart told me. “So I don’t bother learning anyone’s name till they earn my respect.”
Stuart was a fan of the University of Florida and Tim Tebow, and if Stuart respected you, he added “bow” onto the end of your name. Euan was “Eubow.” He was “Stubow.” And Euan and Stuart taught me how to mix cocktail sauce on the fly, how to balance three glasses of ice water in one hand, how to pour coffee into a customer’s cup while the pot was still brewing, how to roll our nightly “50 silverware” so quickly that my hands seemed to hover in the air while the linen bundled around a fork and two knives as if by incantation. By the end of the week, after we all clocked out and Euan was serving us at the bar, Stuart grasped my shoulder and said, “You’re a worker, and you’ve got Stubow’s attention. You’re not Charlie. You’re Charlie- bow. The Sheriff wants you on his team.”
Euan laughed. “I love you, Stu.”
“What’s not to love, Doctor Watson?” Stuart said. “I’m so lovable I spoon myself.”
Almost as soon as Stuart and I became friends, Euan and I became friends, too. At the beginning of one shift, I remember him saying, “I’m going to love you and leave you tonight, Charlie.” He had to be somewhere in a few hours, so I closed the bar on my own for the first time. The rule between bartenders was that we split tips 50/50, and I left an envelope for Euan with half the money we’d made. But the next day he fit the cash into my breast pocket. “Keep it,” he said. “If money was everything, we’d all be bank robbers.”
One of the first things I noticed about Euan was his love for music. Bistro’s radio was set to ’70s Easy Listening — Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” “We Just Disagree” by Dave Mason, Stuart’s beloved “Margaritaville.” After work, we all used to go to karaoke nights at Bearno’s on Bardstown Road, and Euan sang the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” “Up on Cripple Creek” by the Band, John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” And I knew our friendship was cemented one day when we were setting up the bar and “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers came on, and Euan didn’t word the refrain, “Whoa-oh, China Grove” but “Whoa-oh, Charlie bow.”
At first, I couldn’t believe that I was working at a restaurant. The only reason I was here was because I had been accepted into a master’s program in London, so I needed money for tuition, and one of my aunts was friends with Bistro 301’s owner, who hired me as a favor. Somehow, after all that schooling, I had absorbed the notion that I didn’t wait — I was waited on. But Euan taught me to love the work we did, and to respect the dignity of work itself. And work was fun. With a bar of regulars and the tip jar wadded with cash, it was like a dormitory at night with the headmaster out. “What’s up, ninja?” “What’s up, killer?” we’d say. “My man!” “My man from Amsterdam!”
I remember those days when we opened at 10 a.m. and worked past midnight; when the cooks pushed through the crowds around the bar to fill up yet another cup of ice water before diving back into the kitchen; when Euan poured yet another beer into two pints at once and yelled, “Let’s make this movie happen!” at the height of the rush; when we flipped the chairs and smoked in the alley, where some of the cooks — guys with gauges built into their ears and beards that bristled like the fray of a broom — gathered in the drive-in lane of a bank next door, smoking weed out of a fingerling potato they’d fashioned into a bong. Overhead, the twin Waterfront Plaza lighthouses sent beams lancing through the starless sky.
Months after he called me a jabroni, Euan and I were working behind the bar and I said something that made his wrists bend and his arms collapse into his chest as he lunged forward in roaring laughter. Then we were both laughing, for five minutes of abysmal customer service, as orders spooled out of the bar printer like ticker tape — laughter that now echoes in my memory.
On Saturdays, when Bistro 301 was only open in the afternoon, I used to pick him up and we would drive to work and brew a pot of coffee and mop the floors and set up the bar. Sometimes Euan’s sister, a server named Mhairi, was there, too, and we sat in the alley and sipped coffee together. One time, Euan nodded at me, saying to Mhairi, “This is the hardest-working man in show business.”
“I know,” she said. She leaned against my shoulder. “I love me some Charliebow.”
I shook my head. “You give me too much press, man.”
“No, I don’t. We appreciate you,” Euan said. He slid a fridge magnet shaped like a cross with TCB (“Taking Care of Business”) stamped on it out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Here you go, brother.” He shoved down the part of his shirt that covered a tattoo on his neck: TCB. “You cowboyed up.”
Euan and Mhairi used to talk about growing up in Scotland. Mhairi was the oldest, and then Euan and their brother, Andrew. The first time I saw Mhairi’s name on one of her tickets, I thought the printer was broken. I had never heard of such a name, and at first I called her “Ma- har-ee” rather than “ Var-ee,” just like most people called Euan “Evan.”
They had been born near Fauldhouse, a village between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Mhairi told me that Euan almost didn’t survive the C-section birth. When he was very young, he loved professional wrestling. He never believed in Santa. When he was about three, he used to say, “Reindeer not fly.” When he was about two, their mother took him to a party for another little boy, and when she tried taking off Euan’s coat, he put his arm back in the right sleeve as she took off his left sleeve, and in the left sleeve as she worked on the right. He kept saying, “Me home. Me home” — the only party he ever refused to go to. “He was kind of shy when he was little,” Mhairi said. “Obviously, he came out of his shell pretty soon.
“You know how Euan sometimes stares off? He was always like that,” she told me. “There’s this one picture where he’s just staring off into space. You could tell he was deep-thinking.” His fourth-grade teacher told their mother that Euan had cheated on a math problem because he had written down the right answer but not his calculations. But Euan refused to admit wrongdoing. “I did not cheat,” he said. “I worked it out in my head.”
Their parents, Maureen and Hugh (or “Shug,” as Hughs are known in Scotland), divorced when the kids were young. Shug, a jack-of-all-trades — mechanic, steel erector, painter — got them on Wednesdays and Sundays, and he used to pick them up in a van with no backseats in it. “You had to be careful where you stepped,” Mhairi said, “so we’d just sit on the wheel-mounts in the back and Dad would regularly stop off at the drug dealer’s house. Pretty sure we were left outside a pub once — just wherever Dad wanted to go. We’d take a few puffs of the smoke, drink a wee bit of lager, listen to a bit of Dr. Hook, and we’d be like, ‘Hell yeah — party time.’
“We had no seatbelts, nothing. All that van needed was a disco ball in the back coming down from the ceiling. The party time never stopped. Mom should’ve never let him take us, but, honestly, it was some of the best memories of my life.”
In 1989, when Euan was nine years old, their mother got a job through a recruiter and moved the kids to Whitesburg, Kentucky. Shug stayed in Scotland. He saw them off at the airport, and he gathered Mhairi and Euan and Andrew around him and said, “I’m going to tell you one thing — you three stick together.”
They moved from Whitesburg to Louisville in 1996. One morning, Mhairi and Andrew woke up to their mom asking them, “Where the hell’s my keys? Where the hell’s your brother? Where the hell’s my car?”
Euan and a buddy had stolen her keys and taken off. Two days later, they were picked up just north of the Florida state line. “We had to go get him from Georgia,” Mhairi said. “When he got home, the court gave Mom a choice — you can put him in juvie or you can send him to Oneida Baptist.”
So Euan went to Oneida Baptist Institute, a Southern Baptist boarding school in Eastern Kentucky. Unlike public school, Oneida challenged him, and soon he had a 4.0, joined the philosophy club, played soccer. Once he graduated, Euan moved back to Louisville. His first job was at BC’s Car Wash on Shelbyville Road. Then, at Bistro, he bused tables, started serving and became a bartender and the bar manager. Euan enrolled at Jefferson Community and Technical College to be a respiratory therapist, but Mhairi remembers going to a concert with him one night and Euan saying, “I have a test in the morning — probably not going to make it.”
He gave it one semester before he dedicated himself to bartending. “He did what he did because he liked what he did,” his mother told me later. “He liked his job. Some people work 40 hours a week at a job they hate. He didn’t have to do that.” Before the first shift we ever worked together, I watched Euan uncap a bottle of oil and turn it over a towel and polish the rail at the end of the bar, sawing the fabric back and forth with a craftsman’s care, the brass shine emerging from under his hands. His eyes, I remember, were piercing.
The Watsons went back to Scotland regularly, and Euan traveled to Europe on his own — Holland, France, Sweden, Greece, Italy. He and I used to talk about the green canals in Venice, the way the heather bowed on the slopes in Edinburgh all at once, like supplicants at an abbey. But he belonged to Louisville. He loved the Highlands. “Louisville’s just got substance,” his mother told me. “He liked his roots. But this was home.”
Over the seven months that Euan and I worked together, I learned to love him — and Mhairi and Stuart — like my own family. The week before I left for London, my girlfriend at the time threw a going-away party for me at Bearno’s. Mhairi and Stuart and Euan’s girlfriend all came out, and Euan did Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs.” When it came on, everyone roared — hands went up, people ordered rounds, and Euan was onstage strutting and wielding the microphone and pointing at himself as he sang, “Gonna need a shot of vitamin E by the time you’re finished with me.”
I was so young that I thought I was going to stay in London forever, and when Euan and I hugged goodbye, I wanted to tell him that I wished we visited each other, even though we’d be on different continents. So I said, “Euan, I hope we stay friends-”
He yelled, “Till the day I die!”
I went to London for my first year of graduate school and returned to Bistro the next summer to make money. People were saying something was wrong with Euan. He showed up late. He got in fights with the owner. The rumor was, he was on heroin. One day I got to work and found all the bar tools gone and a sticky note posted to the bar that read im sorry in Euan’s handwriting. He had quit.
Another morning, after Stuart and I set up the bar, he told me to step into the Sheriff’s Office (the alley). He lit a cigarette. “Did I ever tell you about rehab?” he said. While I was in London, Stuart had checked into a rehab facility downtown. He was now living in a halfway house in Old Louisville. Stuart called the food at rehab “prison grub.” “And you get strapped down the first couple days,” he said.
“What’s that like?” I said.
“Sweating bullets,” he said. “That’s why I’m so worried about our boy.”
Euan had gotten a job bartending at Bistro 1860 on Mellwood Avenue. “Since he left, I been checking the obituaries ever’ morning,” Stuart said. “Heroin’s huge in the ‘Ville. Take one bad batch, and your card’s punched.” He rubbed his hand over his stubble, which had grown out like crystalline shards. “He’s out there in the wind.”
Fear clawed at my chest. “What can we do?”
“Nothing to do.” Stuart smoked. “Say a prayer.”
Euan’s mom would later tell me about how, in September 2015, Euan decided to detox from heroin at her house. “It was horrible,” she said. “He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. He would vomit. He would have diarrhea. His muscles were like iron. It was really a very bad three days, at least, that he got no peace at all, but he went through all of it.”
“He told me everything in his body hurt, even his toes,” Mhairi said. “But he wanted to kick it.”
Despite how close Euan was to his family, even they didn’t know much about that part of his life. His brother Andrew believes that Euan may have started using heroin because he had been on pills and his supply dried up. Andrew pieced together that, by the time he detoxed, Euan had been using heroin daily for a year solid. “He just had that personality,” Andrew said. “Whenever you saw Euan, he was on top of the world. He just liked getting high.”
Euan stayed with his mother off and on until Christmas. “I thought: Euan is going to have to change his lifestyle. Because his friends have grown up, taken on responsibilities,” his mom said. “I was so proud of him that he had kicked heroin, because I had no idea.”
I worked through that summer at Bistro 301 and left for London again in the fall. Once more, we had a going-away party at Bearno’s. Euan was there. He liked 1860, he said, and he looked good. The night ended at an apartment, and at some point we were seated around a table. We had been drinking, and things were hazy, but friends visiting me from out of town later told me they remembered someone lifting syringes out of a Kroger bag and arranging them side by side on the table. So my friends and I called a cab, and we went home.
I finished up my last year in England and flew back to Louisville and moved in with my parents. For her birthday, my mom wanted to go out to eat, and I suggested Bistro 1860.
Euan was working that night. We hadn’t seen each other for more than a year, but when I walked in, it was like we had closed down a shift the night before. I had been overseas so much since I met him that, even though we were friends, we hadn’t lived in the same city long enough to become truly close, and I was looking forward to settling into that. We got each other’s numbers, and a few weeks later, when I moved into an apartment off Bardstown Road, he texted me one Sunday — Wassup my brother? He said that he was off the next day and asked if I wanted to get drinks at 7: Hit me up beforehand, might like a ride.
At 6:30 the next evening, I texted: Still need that ride?
He gave me his address in Germantown, and in 15 minutes I texted again: 7:15 okay? Running late. I didn’t hear back from him. The next text I sent was when I was parked outside his house: Here. Twenty minutes had passed between my last two texts, so I figured he’d be waiting outside. But he wasn’t there. I got out and walked to the door.
Euan’s roommate, John, let me inside. He said he hadn’t seen Euan but told me to check upstairs. I went up a staircase that twisted at a landing with three doors. John hadn’t given me directions, but, somehow, I knew the door to the left was Euan’s. It was ajar. My fingers pressed against it, and the door creaked open. Inside, the space was long and narrow, like a tunnel, divided into two rooms. The front was a kind of parlor, with a trunk like a pirate’s chest shoved next to a table with chairs surrounding it. Books and records cluttered the shelves built into the wall that faced a nook of windows. This room was connected to another one, farther back. The only furniture was a bed. There was a body in the bed. Euan’s body.
The musk of tobacco and weed hung in the air, but it was the first week of April, and through some open window soughed in a scent of mud and blossoms. As I moved through the dimness, I heard him snoring, face-down. He lay atop the rumpled sheets, still in jeans, and a shirt with a hole under the armpit. On the bedside table was a jug of bourbon about four-fifths full, and on the floor sat a record player. The record that crackled atop it played “Angel from Montgomery.”
I stood above him. I pushed his shoulder. “Euan,” I said, shaking him. “Euan.” I looked into his face. Here was the man who had taught me so much, and who, now, was destroying himself. Suddenly, I felt like unscrewing that jug and pouring out his bourbon all over him. He had that same responsibility we all have, to ourselves, and to the ones we love and who love us, to catch himself from diving downward. To cowboy up.
When he texted later that night — My bad dude Hahahaha! Sorry about myself — I was too sad and cowardly, and even stung with a strange sense that he had betrayed both of us, to text back till the next morning: Hahaha Dude, no worries. The nap is king! And over the next few weeks, I went to Bistro 1860 and sat at the bar and we laughed, like always, till people glanced at us and the owner told us to keep it down. But I never confronted him, and now I still wish for a repeal of time so that I could break his jaw or lock him in a shed, rather than condescend to his addiction with simpering niceness.
One day in early May, Euan texted me. He and Stuart had gone to church in Smoketown but were ready to start drinking. Want to hang out with us sinners today?
Where are you all? I wrote.
They kept moving, going from bar to bar along that corridor from Smoketown into Germantown and the Highlands, and at one point, Stuart sent me a picture of Euan. He was standing on the sidewalk against what looked like an old garage. Even though it was afternoon, the picture had the knockabout rawness of dawn to it — he was wearing aviators, and the sun fired the red in his beard. His arms were lifted, cradling his head, and his hair was perfect. Easy Rider. Euan used to talk about leaving bartending and riding out to California to be a wine rep, and suddenly I saw him driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, writing me postcards and telling me to come visit.
When I got to the bar, I wandered out to the side porch and saw Stuart. “Charliebow,” he said, holding out his arms. “Come here, brother.”
Euan appeared with another round, and Stuart told me he’d made a clear and conscientious decision to start drinking again. I cut him off. “Listen, man. I think that’s a terrible idea. But I’m not the judge or the jury, and I just want you to be well. So if you need anything, all you got to do is ask.”
Something happened to Stuart’s eyes, and he blinked. “Well,” he said. “I still hate myself. But I love my friends.”
Stuart said he had an appetite coming on, and we went to the Valu-Market in Mid-City Mall and bought asparagus and rib-eye steaks and fingerling potatoes. We waited for a taxi on a bench next to Ramsi’s and Carmichael’s across from a homeless couple sitting with two pit bulls at their feet. Euan and I watched Stuart offer them cigarettes and pet the dogs. After a moment, Euan said, “I need another job, man.”
“Yeah?” I said. “You don’t like 1860?”
“No, it’s not that. I need to stop bartending,” he said. “Most bartenders are dead by 44.”
I looked at him. He was 36. “Forty-four?” I said.
“Yeah, man. You don’t see a lot of old bartenders, you know what I’m saying?” He looked toward the gathering traffic of Bardstown Road. “If I don’t get a new job, I’m going to die,” he said, “I’m going to die soon.”
I was too dumb to hear the plea inside what he was really saying, and, as the cab pulled up, I tossed back some flippant answer like, “No, man, you’ll get another job.”
Stuart was now the sous chef at Bistro 301, and at Euan’s place he doused a pan in butter and switched the stovetop flames on high. “Let me tell you how to make asparagus,” Stuart said. “You go to the store, you pick up a steak and asparagus. You go home, then you throw your asparagus in the trash and you eat your steak like a man.” The steaks sizzled as Stuart dropped them in the pan, shooting up curlicues of smoke. The air was rich with frying grease and fat.
Euan poured neat whiskey for me and we sat at the bar as his roommate crossed through the kitchen. “Have you all met?” Euan said. “John, this is one of my good friends — Charliebow.” John and I said hello, for the second time; I remembered that night when I found Euan upstairs. Once more, dread spiked my chest. But Euan aimed his warm, edgewise smile at me, and I smiled, too. “You know we’re going to be hanging out a lot this summer, right?” he said.
“I know.” I lifted my glass. “My man.”
I was at a new job a couple of months later, on Tuesday, July 12, 2016, when an old colleague from Bistro 301 texted me. Very awful news to tell you but Euan Watson passed away last night.
I drove straight to the restaurant. Inside, people were eating, clinking wineglasses. I sat at the bar. I think I asked for a beer. I wasn’t breathing right. Along the ceiling molding hung a picture of Euan taken 10 years earlier, washing dishes in the sinks under the bar. Turned to the camera, he was smiling. Stuart stepped down into the lounge with his arms outstretched, and we gripped each other. “C’mon,” he said, and we left through the side door. The sun pounded Third Street. Heat slicked the asphalt. Everything shimmered with pain. We stared at each other. I asked what happened.
Stuart told me that Euan’s roommate had found him last night. He had died from an overdose.
“He’s dead, Charlie.” Stuart’s voice cracked. “Our friend is dead.”
The Saturday before Euan died, his roommate and a friend visiting Euan from Detroit dropped him off at work after going to lunch. That was the last time either of them saw him alive.
They were supposed to hang out after Euan was off that night, but they couldn’t get a hold of him. By Sunday morning, Euan still wasn’t answering his phone. By Sunday night, his door was locked. They knocked a few times. No answer. “What was weird is that he never locked the door,” John told me. “Most of the time he left it open, even when he was sleeping in there.”
On Monday morning, the door was still locked and Euan still wasn’t answering his phone. “We figured that he had stopped by the house, changed clothes, and he was hanging out shacked up with a girl for the weekend and accidentally locked the door behind him when he left,” John said. But by that afternoon they went upstairs and jimmied the door open with a knife.
Euan had fallen out of one of the chairs in the front of the room onto the floor. His face was blue. There was a puddle of blood around his head, and black liquid around his mouth.
Mhairi and her mom drove to Euan’s apartment. “I didn’t go upstairs, where he was at,” Mhairi said. “It really didn’t hit me until they brought in the stretcher, and that’s when I lost it.
“They were taking him downstairs, but carelessly, because they put his blanket and pillow on the stretcher, but the pillow fell on the floor, and then I ran over to it, grabbed it, kissed it — because I knew that was where his head should be lying.”
Euan’s death certificate stated that he died on July 11, but his mother believes that he died the night before, because when the coroner examined him, his body was already cold, even though it was summertime and the air conditioning was not turned on. The toxicology report determined that fentanyl — an opioid much more powerful than heroin, the one that has cursed the city recently — killed Euan.
The medics asked Mhairi and her mom to wait outside. They were sitting on the sidewalk when the stretcher came out. Euan lay atop it, zipped up in a body bag. “He was just there by himself, and by the lamp of the street I could still make out his silhouette,” Mhairi said.
Whether Euan knew that he was using fentanyl is unclear. After the ambulance took his body away, his mom went through his phone. The last messages Euan sent were around 1 a.m. Sunday morning to his dealer, a person Euan’s family knows. The phone is now in police custody, but Mhairi said that Euan asked this person what drugs he could buy. The dealer texted back a list; fentanyl was not one of them. Euan wrote something like, “Just give me the good stuff.” Then, after the dealer arrived, Euan sent the last text of his life: Coming down. Give me five minutes.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my son,” Euan’s mom told me. “But the autopsy showed that his ventricles were dilated. There was scarring on his liver. So at the grand old age of thirty-six, his body was already set up for a stroke, a heart attack, urine problems, not being able to walk, not being able to work. So the one consolation I have is that at least he did not have to grow older and become disabled.”
Within a day and a half of Euan’s death, a GoFundMe page had raised $8,000 for the funeral, and the Watsons chose to bury him in the Highlands, the neighborhood he loved. When the funeral director told the family that the casket would be closed for the service, Mhairi and Andrew looked at each other, and Andrew said, “I’m going to have to see my brother before he goes.”
“It was the coldest, chilliest room we’d ever been in. He was just laying out on that table,” Mhairi said. “And I walked over to him and grabbed him and started kissing his face. Andrew was standing there with tears pooling in his eyes. Once I got my wits about me, me and Andrew grabbed each other’s hands and put them over his chest and said the Lord’s Prayer. I kept rubbing my hands through his hair, his beautiful Watson hair. And that was my last goodbye.”
In the days after Euan died, I felt as if my body were passing an illness. Grief thudded against my sternum. I woke as people talked to me, wondering how long I’d been listening to them. Then I would be in the shower as the pain welled up again, and I lowered to my knees and pressed my face against the spigot, and my moans poured out like water.
On Friday evening, we went to Euan’s visitation. Some of his songs — Van Morrison’s “Domino,” “Angel from Montgomery,” “Dead Flowers” by the Stones — played overhead. Pictures of Euan were scattered on the table. I sifted through them, ordering them chronologically, reordering them again, as if trying to fit together the shattered tesserae of a mosaic. Mhairi hugged me. “Hey, Charliebow,” she said. “I miss the shit out of your face.” Banked with flowers, the casket was decorated with salutations from Euan’s friends. I read them all, but only remember one: I’ll see you up on Cripple Creek.
The funeral was on Saturday, July 16, and that morning, I stood in my kitchen, in front of the TCB magnet on my fridge. I looked at it for a long time. Then I folded a eulogy I had written into my coat pocket and drove to pick up Stuart in Old Louisville, where he was living in the halfway house. When I pulled up, he got up from a chair on the porch and walked down the path. We hugged in the middle of the street.
“How you doing?” I said.
He shook his head. “Hanging on like a hair in a biscuit.”
Inside the funeral home, two banks of foldout chairs filled the hall. A silence fell over the room — the hush of finality, of consequences tallied up, and for a moment I thought it was more than I could pay. I was about to leave, but someone in the front was speaking, a minister. I thought he asked if anyone would like to say a few words. I didn’t want to go up — there were too many people. But I heard Euan, his voice, uttering that phrase that summed up everything he had taught me: You better cowboy up.
So I went to the podium and faced the room. Downtown, on Fourth and Muhammad Ali, I said, a placard marked where Thomas Merton had his great realization that everyone walking around him was “shining like the sun.” That always sounded crazy to me — until now. Now I realized that there were invisible bonds webbing between everyone in the room, and that we felt them only in the shock of their absence. Nobody teaches life anything, and the ones we love most exit and enter our lives mysteriously, as if they’re lent to us, like anything that’s infinitely rare. I didn’t understand this when he was alive, but Euan was filled with light, and only now do I see him, as he really was, during the few years that he was lent to us — an almost unbearably beautiful soul.
When I finished, a grisly unreality permeated the room, as if we all realized now that the last task left to us was to put him in the ground. The casket was behind me, and to this day I regret that I did not spread my hand upon it, tuck the pages that I had written for him in amid the flowers, as if gliding my fingers over his eyelids. But I didn’t. I moved in the silence back toward my seat. A woman stood up. It was Euan’s mother. “Thank you, Charles,” she said, in the accent of their homeland. “That was lovely.” I lunged toward her, clasped her light shoulders, because I felt like I was falling down for miles.
After the service ended, Stuart and I wandered into a kitchen area, and he poured coffee for us. We stood there, sipping. Stuart shook his head. “I’m so mad at him,” he said. “It should’ve been me.”
Following the line of cars out of the funeral home, past Tyler Park, we wound through the gates of Calvary Cemetery and up a hill and walked with the other congregants to a tent where the pallbearers stood with the minister around the casket. The man opened a Bible; his voice faded into the wind. As one, the pallbearers picked up the casket and proceeded down the hillside, to where a chasm had been gouged out of the ground.
We moved to the edge of the road and looked down the slope. My man. My man from Amsterdam. The pallbearers stooped, fitting the casket into a frame above the grave. A woman in a dress and heels was sobbing into a man’s chest. Euan, I hope we stay friends. Then one of the cemetery workers knelt, turning a lever, and we listened to the clanking of iron wheels, lowering him into the crypt of the earth. Till the day I die. Till the day I die.