Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Solemn Oath

Not long ago, my friend, Marko, and I went to get some beers at a microbrewery called “The Solemn Oath.”  It is nothing more than a warehouse that has a taproom and a radio, where you can watch them do their thing. While we were there and having a good time, I realized how important was the role that Marko played in my life story.

I’m not exactly sure when I met Marko.  It might have been at a neighborhood party or  a picnic.  It might have been through our wives.  It might have been because our oldest children were the same age and were close friends at school.  It doesn’t matter.  All I know is that Marko is my friend, and that he once saved my life.

Marko and his wife, Suzie, originally lived a couple of blocks down from us and then they moved a bit further out to a bigger house. Marko and I rode the train into the city together and would often talk.  I was Marko’s middle son’s first soccer coach, and he was my middle son’s football coach, which he did quite well.  As families we became very close.

One night, Suzie called me, and said, “Tom, can you come and take the boys? Something horrible has happened.” I said “Yes,” jumped into the car and went right over.  When I got there I found Suzie crying.  I saw Marko on the phone, also crying.  I asked Suzie, “What is happening here?”

She said, “We just heard that Marko’s brother died in a car accident.  Can you please take the boys?”

I said, “Yes. Yes, I can.” I went into the kitchen and gave Marko a hug, and then I rounded up the boys and took them to our house.  That night they played video games and when they were exhausted we wrapped up all of them, Marko’s and mine, like pigs in blankets and laid them sideways on our four-poster bed.

I went to Marko’s brother’s funeral in the city.  It was very difficult because you could see how much pain his parents and he were in. Also, a good portion was in Ukrainian, so I didn’t know what was being said.  It doesn’t matter.  That is what you do for friends

One summer I bought myself a new gas grill.  We invited Marko, Suzie, and their kids to come over to christen it. Marko and I were having a beer, and just as I was putting tenderloin on the cage, Marko said “I hear a hissing sound.”

I said, “Yeah I do too. Maybe something is loose.”

I went down to look and just at that moment the plastic fixture that connected the line into the propane tank broke off.  After that gas came pouring out. It ignited into an inferno, and subsequently caught me on fire. Marko did what people are supposed to do in these situations. He tackled me and threw me in the grass.  He rolled me around until the flames were out.  Suzie and my wife ran into the house and grabbed everything they could out of the freezer to throw on me.  My oldest son, Ben, had the right mind to call 911.  He said “My father is burned.  What should I do?” When he told them our location, they told him that we were so close to the hospital it would be better for them to call them and then just get me there.

Marko loaded me into the car, took me to the emergency room and sat with me as they gooped me up with burn reliever and bandaged me.  He sat and listened as they murmured about whether I needed to go to the burn ward at Loyola in Maywood.  When they decided that I was going to be okay, he took me to the drugstore, for a boatload of Vicotin, then took me home and got me into bed.

Shortly after the fire, my neighbor, Julie, cut my hair, and trimmed my eyebrows to get out all the things that had been singed.  It smelled terrible. I still have scars on my chest from where the plastic buttons on my shirt melted; I still have no hair on my arms like I used too.  When I got the bandages off a few weeks later, a girl I knew from the train said to me, “Wow your hands and arms are like a baby’s butt.”  Nice sentiment.  It was true, but I was just glad to still be alive,and I have Marko to thank for that.   

Throughout the time I was recovering, Marko came by every now and then to check on me. Marko has always checked on me and I think that is why I like him so much. He cares about people.

When I revealed to people that I had Parkinsons, Marko came over to sit on my couch, talk for awhile, and make me feel good. He showed me the tattoo he had just got to honor his oldest son. C.J. had always been in the band, and was going off to study music in college, so Marko got a bass clef put on his arm.  I liked that a lot.

I think it is kind of ironic, and kind of cool, that the last time Marko and I went out together we went to “The Solemn Oath.” I think there is somewhat of a solemn oath between the two of us that has a lot to do with our long-term friendship and what we have been through together.  I’m thinking we both have taken a quiet solemn oath that we will both always take care of each other, our families, and the people around us.

And that, Charlie Brown, is what friendship, and neighbors, are all about.