Growing up in Jackson Heights, Queens. The nearest swimming pool was in what seemed like a far off world. Without the money, or knowledge of the transit system. We were often left to our own devices and local fire hydrants when cooling off in the hot Summer sun. The joy of jumping in and out of the hydrants canon. Applying a hollowed out plastic bottle to better direct the waters flow. Or better yet, giving the passing cars a thorough soaking. Hoping that one unprepared driver would drive past with his guard and windows down. The childlike excitement of soaking the interior and occupants of an automobile felt as if it would last forever.
When we’re young, we can’t wait to grow up. Then as we grow up, and inevitably grow older. We often reflect on our youth, wishing we could go back, or get some sort of redo. When recently watching a classic movie from my teens “The Breakfast Club.” Alley Sheedy’s character Allison laments “When you grow up. Your heart dies.” As an older person, I can’t help but feel the disconnection between generations and how we often discount, or completely write off the impact that each have, and continue to contribute on a daily basis. When we learn to become better listeners, I’m sure we can reconnect, share, and learn from one another. I captured the images below years ago while in downtown New York City. I refer to them when I feel an absence of balance and understanding. Reminding myself that, no matter how old I get in numbers. I should always remain open minded and young at heart.
The other night I had a dream involving a very close childhood friend who was both a victim of child abuse throughout his youth and murdered before becoming an adult, regardless of the dream involving us partaking in a crime. Considering the thirty plus nightmares that had me revisiting his blood-soaked body or the blackened eyes or bruised back, this was the brightest and overtly positive dream I’ve had regarding my best friend. A gift of sorts, rewarding me for finding closure after more than thirty years.
Even as a kid, I often felt helpless and afraid to say or do anything to improve the situation.
Being aware of and even witnessing some of the beatings or the following results were terrifying to me. I can only imagine what it might have been for my friend. Choosing between who was more abusive, the oversized nonfunctional alcoholic father, and his quick fisted bartender mom is hard enough. The two of them inflicted enough physical and emotional damage to last two lifetimes. While everyone on the block and my parents were aware of the abuse. Perhaps due to the times or their fears of what might happen if they got involved. Not one of us picked up the phone or visited the local precinct to file a report. The thought of being a rat or pushing into a foster home both played a part. However, in the end, the fear of possibly making things worse formed the most significant cloud over our wanting to protect him.
Considering it took me close to twenty-five years to put his murder and the mental scars of his abuse to appreciate what a special and unique friendship we shared. To get over the nightmares and thoughts that focused solely on the darkness. It feels rewarding to look back at all the good times we shared and the many adventures we embarked on.
Glen loved baseball and, more specifically, the Yankees, for which he knew the history of just about every player wearing pinstripes. As pre-teens, we shared a love for comic books, baseball, the original star wars saga, and slasher films. There were countless sleepovers where we’d avoid sleeping to get a jump start on the next day’s adventure. We did everything in our power to see every horror flick that was released during that time, whether it meant finding a way to break into the theatres’ back door or convincing an adult to pose as our parents or guardian. It seems as if at least ninety minutes of each Saturday dedicated itself to catching a flick. These days I can’t help but think those slasher films were an escape from his own nightmarish life.
I’m not sure, and I don’t remember when or how we met. Though living just a few houses apart most likely initiated our first meeting, my first memories involve being curious about why some neighborhood kids attended pre-school. To think we were already exploring an environment outside of our front yards and parents’ protective eyes is somewhat of a head-scratcher. For sanity’s sake, I’ll say the times were very different.
Glen’s thirst for adventure and nose for trouble led us on countless adventures. Some of which, I find it hard to believe we managed to survive or, at the very least, evade the police and a possible stay in juvenile detention. Whether it be trespassing, shoplifting, vandalism, arson, or worse, Glen had a particular taste for trouble that only seemed to grow over time. Perhaps being the smarter or at least, more analytical of the two. I often served as the moral compass that kept us from getting in too much trouble or, to an extent, getting killed. Funny how in looking back. I never looked too far into the future. Whether a life of crime, prison, or following his parents as both alcoholics and abusers. And though we spoke about juvenile hall as sort of a badge of honor. I’m grateful to add; it never came to that.
Regardless of our differences and perhaps due to our similarities, we were inseparable. There were a few fistfights over the years, but no bloodied nose or black eyes kept us apart for more than a few days. From the age of four to thirteen and beyond that, we were brothers, even taking a blood oath when we were eleven.
For better or worse, his father’s attempt at sobriety took them to Las Vegas when we were thirteen. His father, a long time nonfunctional alcoholic, was finally looking to turn his and Glen’s life around. Returning to his gift for cooking, he took a job as a line cook in Vegas. During the two years apart, we kept in touch through letters and occasional phone calls, conversations about girls, music, and, most importantly, girls. A couple of months before my sixteen birthday, he wrote a letter announcing his plan to take a bus back east. A lengthy bus trip from Las Vegas to New York Cities port authority was undoubtedly a better idea than hitchhiking. Sure, what could go wrong?
Upon his arrival, it was easy to see that the sense of brotherhood we shared was still intact. Though we had grown in different directions, our bond seemed more vital than ever. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, there was talk about my mother adopting him. However, Glen never lived by a set of rules or curfews. His not coming home for days and even weeks proved to be too much for us to handle. While I often wished he would adapt and accept the boundaries of a new life. Part of me fully understood why he couldn’t.
Weeks later, his bloated, beaten, and bloodied body found blocks from where the bus dropped him off to start a new life. There amongst the trash on the side alley of a midtown late-night food joint. Though I never really followed the case, investigated what he got into or why he ended up. Both I and those who knew him all have their theories.
However, with years behind me and somewhat of a sense of closure, I wanted to look back on the best friend I ever had and let him know how much his friendship still means to me. Through closure and a sense of acceptance, I’ve finally opened the doors to remembering all the good times we shared, the adventures we embarked on, and the many discoveries we made along the way.
Heroes of Another Kind.
Having positive role models and heroes are very important when growing up and forming your moral compass. As one who didn’t have very many adult male role models to look up to. I often found leadership and guidance in older friends. Looking back to my childhood, I was fortunate in that I had many older friends to look up to and depend on for the guidance and reassuring that a stoop session or kick in the ass that a not much older, but somehow wiser head could offer.
This morning I was informed that my old friend Jimmy had passed due to a heart attack.
Though I had only reconnected about ten years ago at his fortieth birthday celebration and shortly after at his brother Frank’s funeral, I felt that getting to see both of them and thank both of them for the guidance and support they often provided. While neither Jimmy or Frank understood or remembered the times they went the extra mile to keep me out of the line of fire. I remembered every instance and episode with detail.
I initially met Jimmy and Frank on the corner of ninety-third street and thirty-fifth avenue on the steps that led to Blessed Sacrament Church.
It was where we’d meet to catch the school bus that would deliver us to day camp in nearby Whitestone. Though it would be a few months before the start of the third grade and my inevitable transfer to Blessed Sacrament School. Though at the time, a typical classroom of school was often a Kickstarter when it came to friendship. I credit Marvel Comics and Stan Lee as the common interest that ignited our first, second, and third conversations. Those comic book trading sessions led to a long-lasting friendship that would follow through elementary, high school, and beyond.
No matter the situation. Whether it be a fistfight with a family member of the C.C. Boys or a random street fight, Frank or Jimmy would always be there for crowd control or to make sure it remained a fair fight. A few years later, after being hospitalized with a brain tumor, Frank traveled from Queens to New York City, where I was hospitalized to see if I needed anything. I never shared that with anyone, but it meant a lot to me.
So, with a considerable amount of respect, I say goodbye to another childhood friend and urge anyone who has or had someone that, in one way or another, had a positive influence on you. Find them and thank them though they might not remember. It will more likely have a positive effect on both parties. Thanks again, Frank. Thanks, Jimmy. You both left a positive footprint in my life.
By the time I was seven, I was finally enjoying some of the freedom I so craved. With my parents about to divorce, I bounced from my mother to my father and on to my grandmother. Being that my parents had worked different shifts,’ my mom was a 9-5 secretary and my dad working as 3-11 since I was born. I spent most of my early years with my baby sitter and her family of two boys and an older sister. By the age of seven, I became schooled in many of the pockets and corners of my neighborhood. While there were several parks and ball fields within reach, you might think I’d be found climbing monkey bars or holding onto a swing as I launched into the air.
Two things I did enjoy from time to time. However, the sudden need for housing and the new and bursting real estate market provided all the excitement a kid could want or even handle. The first one just happened to be on the way home from school. With there would be a bunch of kids, many I called friends or knew from the neighborhood already hanging out inside just outside of the wood panels and fences marked “No Trespassing.” There would always be an irresistible draw to join in and maybe journey farther within than the older kids.
On one particularly memorable day, some of the older kids started to throw a football around. Perhaps since they were older or I never quite got into throwing the pigskin around, I started heading home. Matthew went long on a pass and fell about two floors to the rubble below. I still remember the moment, the complete shock that left everyone’s expression in a frozen state. I had seen people die on TV and the movies before, but this was very, very different. I still remember the blood, the concrete pieces in his hair, and around his face and that frozen look that said: “I won’t be coming back in the squeal.” The next day, the news of Matthew’s accident reported over the school’s loudspeaker. Though he had not died immediately, he remained vegetated until his heart gave out a few days later. Strangely enough, I always felt his mom. The secretary at the school we attended and the two I later went to, knew I was there when that horrible accident happened. And while I didn’t understand why she was always so hard on me then. These days, I wish there was something I could have said or done something to comfort her during that time.
The Little Things
As kids there was absolutely nothing that could keep us inside. Rain called for puddle jumping, Snow gave us fuel for a snow ball fight or better yet, skitching. Tornado, awesome. Maybe I could jump in one of those crazy funnels and spin until I fell unconscious. Earthquake? Just a walk on the moon baby. It was pure freedom and innocence. These days we’re not so free. Jobs, bills, family and knowledge keep us from running naked into traffic. It’s life, the more you grow up, the more you mature. As you mature you more you think things through before taking action. That’s life. I miss those days when I was free to do things without fear of consequence. Thus is life. But if you could see the utter joy that came over me when I noticed this little girl having the time of her life splashing around in her galoshes. You’d think I was as five years old. I just love being reminded that life is about those little moments. Those pockets of happiness. Stay Gold people.