I noted in this space just about this time last week that the 31st of May marked the 30th anniversary of the death of my father. Too many kids in this country and - I would surmise - in a lot of other countries grow up sans at least one parent. Sadly, it is nothing close to extraordinary. Except when it happens to you and you are a fourteen-year-old kid whose world has been rocked to its foundation. Then - in that context and at that moment - it seemed quite extraordinary.
The week that kicked off with Dad's death (he died on a Sunday) was among the longest weeks of my life. Its length was tied directly to its solemnity. No one laughed. Hardly any one smiled. We all tried not to drown. We tried to keep clear of the quicksand that threatened to envelop all of us.
The length of the days that week was extraordinary. It seemed as if a lifetime passed between the day Dad died and the day of his funeral. Perhaps it did. I know not. I know that there was more than one day during that week when I doubted my ability to make it from that particular day to the next.
While it has been thirty-plus years now, I remember vividly just how much I leaned on a very good friend of mine for help. Jill was a classmate of mine at W-H. We became friends almost immediately upon her arrival at school when we were 7th graders. Her older brother Joel was a classmate of my sister Jill and those two were close friends throughout high school too. One of my most fond and most treasured memories of Hell Week was my friend Jill's presence at our home, keeping me sane. Talk about a life preserver. I recall having no idea where to turn or what to do. I do remember finding a particularly deep reservoir of solace sitting in the seats that we had on our front porch from Yankee Stadium, which we ended up with (how I know not) when the Stadium was renovated in the 1970's. In hindsight, our front porch was "white trash" before it was cool I reckon. Not a lot of folks have three blue stadium seats (bolted together of course) on their front porch in lieu of chairs or a glider. We did.
During the week that was, I spent a lot of time sitting out there on that porch, expressing anger, sorrow, confusion and whatever the hell else it is that one expresses when he is fourteen and scared sh*tless. And through it all, Jill sat out there right along with me. We were 8th graders. Our year-end class trip was to Great Adventure. The trip was scheduled for the same day as Dad's funeral. Jill blew off the trip to attend the funeral and then spent the rest of the day at our house as we all crawled from the wreckage of the week and made our way through the repast. I hate Great Adventure but on that particular day I would have given my eye teeth to have able to be there. She could have gone and opted out.
I remember those moments as if they happened yesterday. If I live to be 100 I do not think my memory of them shall ever fade.....but then again I did not think my eyes would ever need help to see things on a printed page either so who can speak with certainty although I would wager that my memory of those events will remain imprinted on my mind's eye until I close it for the final time.
Jill and I have been friends for more than thirty years, although it has been more than twenty years since I last saw her. I had a chance to swap e-mails with her the other day - in connection with an event that the Alumni Board of our high school has planned for October 15th. The event is an "All 1980's Reunion". Jill, her husband and their children live out of state now and geography is among the reasons why she does not anticipate making this particular reunion. I understand her position completely although I would love to see her, to meet her husband and to introduce them both to Margaret. Life is a forward-looking exercise after all. We spent a bit of time talking about the passage of time including Dad's death and the week that followed it. When I reminded her how amazed I was then - and remain now - regarding her decision to go to a funeral instead of a class trip, she reminded me how easy a decision it was for her. I remembered then what I suppose I had known since we were kids. She was a remarkable woman - even when she was but a girl of fourteen. I hope the world is treating the forty-four year-old version of her well. She has earned it.
One cannot get ahead without being mindful of the place from whence he came. Me? I would not ever have seen this point in the program had I not gotten by with more than a little help from my friend during those brutally dark days. A friend who reminded me that what follows the dark of night is the light of day. And no matter how dark is dark, the light of day is just around the corner.