Monday, May 5, 2014

Mrs. Healy's Funeral (Drifting)

Mrs. Healy was a great Mom. She was one of many in our neighborhood when we were growing up.  Mrs. Fort, the crossing guard, was another, and so was Mrs. Dooley, the librarian…Mrs. Lindell, Mrs. Briggs, Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Roth, Mrs. Mellander, and so many others.  My mom was one too.  Every kid knew that if you got hurt or you got in trouble, and couldn’t get home; these were the people you went to. The same was true of their families.  A lot of our families had younger kids but the older brothers and sisters were always there for us.

When we first moved to our neighborhood, I didn’t have any friends. Most of the kids on our block were girls. I was a small kid so I frequently was a target for older kids at school who would push my books out of my hands, or me to the ground.  I remember one day I got knocked into a parkway and started to cry. Mrs. Fort saw it happen and she said to her son, Ed, who had come by, “Go get him, Ed. Make sure he is alright.” Ed brushed the dirt off of me and said, “Buddy, you need to learn to travel in numbers. You need to make some friends.” Ed walked me home, talked to me, and was very nice. I’ll always be thankful for that.  The next day I went about trying to make friends.

There were three sisters that lived next door to us. They kept saying to me, “You need to meet Kevin. He is smart and likes science and stuff.” I didn’t know who Kevin was or where he lived, so I just ignored them. I went and read encyclopedias under the willow tree in our backyard. One day when I was walking home with an armful of books from class and the library some older kids knocked me down again. This time a kid came running and helped me pick them all up. He was holding my math book. He said, “I think we are in the same grade. My name is Kevin.” And thus it began.

Kevin and I became best friends and stayed that way all through grade school and high school.  He taught me how to smoke, drink beer and sing.  Kevin was extremely intelligent. He was a fan of Hemingway and Popular Mechanics.   My mother loved him.  We used to have to walk around on tip-toes because Kevin was asleep on the family room couch.  After high school he went to work as a “wrench monkey” as he called it, and I went to college. He used to come to visit me for the weekend to see concerts, like Dan Fogelberg, which is the one where he fell asleep on my shoulder because he worked so hard. During the year I took off, he was often my traveling companion out on the road.  He and I always had a lot of fun together.

After I graduated from Illinois and was getting ready to be wed I asked him to be my best man. He said, “No, that has to be your brother. I will stand up though. Fraser will too.” Mike Fraser was my other best friend in high school. On the night of my wedding, after all of the people had left, it occurred to my new wife and I we had no transportation to the hotel where we were staying the night before we left on our honeymoon.  Kevin pulled up in his boat-like Pontiac. His backseat was full of all kinds of electrical stuff and tools. I put Karen on my lap and we drove the mile down to the Westin, laughing the whole way.  

After we got settled, starting a family, Kevin and I started drifting almost completely. We stopped going out for beers together, there were no more Thanksgiving Eves, and our calls and visits became less frequent as we got more and more absorbed in our own lives. 

I don’t remember exactly when Mrs. Healy died. Because she was a great Mom to a lot of kids, even beyond her children, there were many people at her visitation.  My whole family went.   Kevin came in. It was one of the very few times I ever saw him in a suit and tie, and a trench coat. Karen said to me, “After this, I am going to go back to your parents’ house with your sisters. You need to go with Kevin.” I squeezed her hand. I walked up to him. We shook hands and I whispered in his ear, “After this, the Black Pearl?” He nodded and smiled. “I’ll meet you there.”

My bedroom at my parents’ house was on the ground level. It was what we all called the basement, although it was not one. It had a big window and a door that led out to the lower patio. My desk sat in front of that window. On certain warm nights Kevin would come, knock on the glass. We would sneak out to drink coffee at JoJos and talk entirely too long for high school students. When we got older he would come to the door and we would go to the Black Pearl to run up a tab for beer. The Black Pearl was a Chinese restaurant that also had a sort of tacky tiki bar. We liked it because it had a great jukebox, the beer was cheap, and Albert, the bartender, would let us run a tab that we could pay off monthly.  We had a lot of other good friends that went there too so it was a great way to run in numbers.

On the night of Mrs. Healy’s funeral there were not many people in the Pearl. Kevin and I sat at the bar.  We talked a lot, laughed and shared some good memories. We drank a toast to Mrs. Healy. We loosened our ties and rolled up our sleeves. At one point in the conversation, Kevin said, “You know we are drifting apart.” I said, “What do you mean?” He stared into the mirror behind the bar and said, “We’re in different worlds now. You’re living in Chicago; you have a house, you have a wife, and a good corporate job. I’m still alone and turning wrenches and living with my brother.” I said, “I don’t think that matters.” He smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not done with you yet, T.S. It’s just going to be different now, but I’ll always be here to pick up your books.”

My wife is wonderful in many ways. She is a Mom in the style of my mother and all of the other mothers I grew up with. She is also someone who gets me. She recognizes how important Kevin was in my life and has always tried to make sure that he stayed that way. She once called me on the train, it was my birthday, and she said, “I can’t pick you up tonight, but I have arranged for a ride.” I was upset, but when I got off the train there was a big Pontiac waiting for me. Nice birthday gift.

When Kevin got married I was his best man because he didn’t want his two brothers to fight over the position. The marriage did not work out and Kevin moved to Wisconsin to be closer to his parents who had retired there. Every month for awhile we talked on the phone. When we did it was like I just saw him yesterday. We would talk about family, music, books, and politics, which we never agreed on.  

Eventually our calls became limited to when something bad happened.  Some accident, someone was sick, or someone had died, like my father, and then those drifted off too. He grew increasingly reluctant to talk about his life and I guess I did too.  Maybe there is something inside us that we wanted to keep; a memory of ourselves as young men and friends forever.

The drifting has ended now.  Kevin and I haven’t talked in three years now. Don’t know how that happened.

I think there is something inside me in which I can’t bear telling him that I have Parkinson’s Disease.  Even though he is one of the people I most want to talk to, I just haven’t been able to. I don’t want to call him with more bad news.  Maybe there is something inside me that wants to also preserve something special and good.  I don’t know.  

On the other hand, it is a nice day. The sun is shining and I feel well.

Imagination. “Hello, Tim Dooley. Me. I need to get in touch with your brother, Kevin. Can you give me his current phone number?”… A pause and then a happy voice…“Yes, T.S., I can. He’ll be glad to hear from you.”