My cousin Theodore—Theo for short—died last Tuesday. It was poorly timed because he’d have to spend nearly a year in purgatory waiting for All Saints’ Day. He died trying to do a double backflip on a Yamaha TT125. He misjudged and came up short. His spine folded in on itself like a retracted accordion and his neck broke. He died instantly, like snap!
I knew Theo wasn’t bummed about dying though. He wasn’t scared of anything—even death. I’m sure he would have loved to live longer but I knew he was at the least stoked on how he croaked. He’d always said growing up that he wanted to die BASE jumping into the Grand Canyon or some shit like that. We fixated on death for several weekends when we were younger.
I received the news about Theo’s death from his mom, my Aunt Cherry—Cher for short. Pronounced like chair, not like the do-you-believe-in-life-after-love Cher. She called me on the phone and said, ‘Hey sweetie, your cousin Theodore died and I’d like you to come over.’ I replied, ‘OK, I’ll be right over,’ and hung up.
When I walked into Aunt Cher’s apartment, she was sitting on the couch alone, crying. Her crocodile tears had formed a puddle in the carpet. I sat beside her and snaked my arm around her. She slowly stopped crying and told me how it happened. I responded,
‘Wow, OK. That’s honestly kind of badass.’
‘Yeah, it was a very Theo-way to die.’
‘He didn’t have much but he did leave something for you, Maxie.’
‘Oh, really? What is it?’
‘Let me go grab it from his room.’
She returned to the living room holding a stick of dynamite and extended her arm towards me. I examined the red explosive in her hand before grabbing it. There was a BAKER sticker on it with silver-sharpied writing that read, ‘4 MAXWELL—MAX 4 SHORT.’ I thought, why did he write all of that when he could have just written 4 MAX?
Aunt Cher made me Velveeta mac-and-cheese with hotdog slices mixed in before I left. That was our favorite meal when we were cruel little kids.
Theo was not only my cousin when we were younger, he was my best friend. We spent every other weekend together from 1997 to 2002. I’d see him when I was visiting my dad and staying the weekend at Gramma’s. We’d get into so much trouble in the woods behind her apartment—the same complex Aunt Cher now lived in. Gramma would make us pick our own switches and she’d strike our legs with them. We never told her, but we secretly liked it and would even compare our red-marks later that day.
Again, no one knew but we killed so many lizards and frogs in those woods behind the apartment. Our little secret. Theo had this badass slingshot he’d gotten from the Stuckey’s off exit 108. It’d rest on your forearm as you lined up your victim. We’d fish the smallest BB-like pebbles out of the creek and use them as ammunition. After we’d won a dead lizard or frog, we’d stuff a skinny red firecracker in its mouth. Theo would get it perfectly positioned while I lit the fuse with my dad’s cigar lighter. We took cover but never covered our ears. We’d gape as the herpetofaunas—herps for short—exploded. Theo did this thing where he’d laugh maniacally and it was so contagious, I’d start doing it too. We often peed our pants right there in the woods. That’s what always got us into trouble. Gramma would say, ‘You boys are too old to be peeing in your brand-new shorts I just bought for you, now go get me a switch.’ She never yelled.
After I left Aunt Cher’s, I kept thinking about what the hell I was going to do with this big stick of dynamite. Why had Theo left this for me? I figured it had something to do with our youthful degeneracy but of course I wasn’t going to tell Aunt Cher about that. That was still our little secret.
I was driving down the freeway listening to Third Eye Blind way too loud, especially considering my driver-door speaker was blown. Theo blew it years ago ironically blasting Limp Bizkit and I never bothered to fix it. I noticed an abandoned car a few hundred yards ahead on the inside shoulder and quickly pushed in my car’s cigarette lighter. It popped out just in time for me to light the dynamite’s fuse a hundred feet from the abandoned car. I timed it just right and tossed the lit stick out of my window. It slid perfectly underneath the car and exploded.
I stared in my rearview mirror as I watched the car go up in flames. Surely the explosion was loud but I didn’t hear it over the doo doo doo, do doodoo do.
A red car covered in black soot sped up beside me and I could feel the car’s driver rubbernecking. I shot a quick glance and they were looking at me as if to say, did you just see that car explode back there?
I stared forward and began to laugh uncontrollably.
I could hear my cousin laughing in purgatory.