Tag Archives: rest in peace

John Kelley’s Wake

Back in the main room of the pub they were playing “Auld Triangle” on the speakers — The Pogues version, as if there were any other. It was sundown, and in the distance you could just make out a halo around the crown of the Prudential Center. Spires of frosted orange sunlight shone through the bay windows at the far end of the bar, the silhouettes of panes framing all the faces that turned out to say farewell. I wasn’t in much of a mood for talking — Irish funerals also make for massive social events — but looking out at the crowd that had gathered at the bar, it was nice to see the diversity of lives that John had touched over his however-many years.

Before the sun had set, it had been one of those beautifully grey New England days that bugged my knee, so I’d been using my da’s old shillelagh as a crutch to help me walk. A few folks tried to offer me their stools to get me off my feet but I ignored them, not wanting to deal with all the small-talk conversation that would surely come along with it. The more funerals you find yourself at, the less inclined you are to go through that same dance every time:

“What’s good, brotha?”

“Ah, ya know, hangin’ in there. How ya been?”

“Good, good, yeah. Besides, you know.”


“Fuckin’ shame, y’know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I think he woulda liked this though. It’s a nice way to honor him.”

And so on ’til you puke. “No, he wouldn’t fuckin’ like it,” I always wanted to say, “‘Cause he’d still be fuckin’ dead, and having the corpse of the recently deceased prance around the funeral would really do a number on his loved ones, don’t you think?”

But instead the conversation shifts to some nostalgia, as if you and who you’re talking to have any kind of bond worth catching up on, besides being spat out on the Earth by your mams in or around the same zip code. Of course, it’d be rude to say, “I don’t care where you’re living now, I haven’t seen old-so-and-so, and I don’t care that she’s fat but since you asked I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rude of you to say so won’t you kindly piss off so I can grab another drink and drown the pain.”

It would take me at least another dozen pints until I got that honest.

Scotty, or, That Time I Wasn’t 21

My favorite memory of Scotty was in 2005, the summer after my freshman year of college. I was 19 years old then, and there was a band I wanted to see that was playing at Rudy’s that night (I think it was the Plus Ones, but I’m not entirely sure). I was walking around downtown New Haven with a friend, and we decided to see if we could get into the bar to watch the show, even though neither one of us was of legal drinking age. We over-rationalized a complicated scheme, as you tend to do when you’re not yet 21 and trying to get into a bar: “I heard Rudy’s doesn’t really card anyway” “Plus it’s a week day, they definitely won’t be carding” “I bet they card at the bar, so let’s not buy any drinks and just watch the band instead” etc.

As we approach the patio in front of the bar, who else but Scotty Lucca bursts through the door, drunk as drunk can be and fumbling with a cigarette and lighter in his hand. Of course he sees me immediately. “Thom Dunn! Holy shit!” he shouts as he runs over to give me one of those great big Scotty bearhugs. I introduce him to my friend, whom he embraces with just as much enthusiasm. In turn, he introduces us to the doorman at the bar — because it’s New Haven, and Scotty may as well be the mayor of this town with all the people that he knows. The doorman lets us follow us follow Scotty back onto the patio, no questions asked.

We stand there chatting for a bit, catching up while Scotty has a smoke. He finishes the cigarette, stomps it out, then turns to me and says (at a delightfully drunken volume), “So what are you up to tonight, man? You’re not 21!”
…at which point my friend and I look at one another and try mumble an excuse about, oh, well, we’re just hangin’ out, just kinda walking around…
And almost immediately, Scotty realizes what he’d done. “Oh. Fuck. I just totally blew your cover didn’t I?” My other friend and I (I don’t even remember who I was with) look back to the bouncer, with that awkward-nervous smile and wave that never covers anything up, and abruptly leave the bar.

Thanks for that, man.

A year and a half later, it’s my first night home in New Haven since turning 21, and I end up hanging out at Rudy’s with some friends. I start to tell them this very same story, when sure enough, Scotty shows up. He brings me a beer and apologizes profusely for that night, but we just laugh it off and catch up on each others’ lives. I think pretty much every time I saw him after that, he’d apologize for that night as well. We never saw each other all the often, but it become our kind of running joke whenever we did.

Rest In Peace, Scott Lucca
11/10/78 – 10/18/12

Being Tense

That which she was
she can no longer be,
despite all that she had been,
and the perfect future
that she once would have had
has gone now that she is after past.
Regardless of this imperfect present,
she will continue to be
in our hearts for who she was
and always could have been
but tragically is no more.

Old Maid on the Bar Stool (part 2)

Read Part 1 here

“Wow. That long, huh?”

“That long.”

Once again, his eyes traced the curves of my fat old body. “You haven’t changed a bit,” he said with that crooked smile I fell in love with all those years ago.

“That’s a lie,” I said. “But thanks for saying it.”

“Either way…I’m glad you made it. I know time’s weird around here but I…I’ve missed you,” he replied, gently placing his left hand on my knee. I placed my right hand on top of his, and we sat there for a moment, just the two of us, surrounded by Eternity.

Then I asked him: “So who’s this new girl you’re seeing?” This took him by surprise; back when we were together, I was hardly ever the jealous type.

“Wow, okay. I was gonna ask, you know, what you’ve been up to and that, but okay, we can go there. She, um, I met her in my Softball league. We’ve just gone out a few times. Nothing serious. It’s just nice to have some company when you’re waiting around eternity for the love of your life to join you. It gets kind of lonely, even here.” He looked at my hand, still holding his that rested on my knee. He stared at the ring for a moment before looking back up at me. “How about you? Who’d you marry?”

I was flustered, but tried to respond. “He…it wasn’t til later…after you’d died, it was…I needed someone, and…”

“Relax,” he said. “I’m not mad. In fact, I’m happy that you found someone to take care of you, since, well, since I couldn’t.”

“We had kids,” I told him. “They have kids.”

“Well that’s a little weird but…”

Then I showed him my other hand, where the engagement ring he’d given me still rested on my finger. “I never took it off. As hard as it was, I never could. I loved Michael, don’t get me wrong. He treated me well. He understood. We loved our children, our grandchildren. But I…you were the One, Kevin. I watched you die, right in front of me, and…and you were the One. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

I didn’t mean to breakdown like that in the middle of the bar, but everything just came flooding back all at once. Kevin just held me and let me cry into his chest. He still smelled exactly as I remembered. He held my hand, and it felt like I was 26 again, and we were looking forward to a long and loving life together, and that his asthma was just some minor inconvenience when he was playing sports with his friends.

A few moments later — or maybe a lifetime — Kevin’s friend returned from the bathroom. “Hey Steve,” he said. “I want you to meet someone. This is Lisa. She was the love of my life.”

Old Maid on the Bar Stool (part 1)

I wasn’t sure what to expect the next time that I saw him. I’d only been up a few days, but I figured he at least would have come and found me by then. Then again, we hadn’t seen each other in some sixty years at that point. Maybe less. Maybe more. I still wasn’t sure quite how time worked on the Higher Planes. I was having enough trouble just finding my way around the Elysian Fields. Apparently they have an 18-hole golf course somewhere. The terrain changes every time you play, but the par remains the same.

I was down at St. Peter’s Pub enjoying a pint of the finest stout I’d ever imagined when I finally heard his voice. I spun around on my stool and there he was, looking just the same as the day he died. He didn’t recognize me, of course. I’d put on a few dozen years since the last time that we saw each other. But he still caught me staring, the old maid on the barstool.

I turned my face away to hide, trying to work up the courage to say something. He was hanging with a buddy who looked to have died somewhere between our ages. For a few minutes — or maybe just a lifetime — I sat there and listened to him talk. The sound of his voice sent me back to a time when I was young and he was still alive.

We both were still alive.

Then I overheard him tell about a girl. Some saintly slut that he’d been seeing, or sleeping with. I don’t know. I had never thought before about how that worked around here. After he had passed, I tried to move on. It took a couple years, but it was just what I had to do. It hadn’t occurred to me that people in the afterlife might do the same.

I downed my pint and flagged the barkeep for another. I bet he’d never thought I’d keep my drinking up the way I had, although sometimes I think his death’s what drove me to it.

Finally his friend made off for the head and I took my cue. I scooted down the bar until I was seated right next to him, and spoke the name I hadn’t spoke in years:

“Hey, Kevin.”

It seemed my voice had triggered some kind of recognition in him. He turned around to face me.

“…Lisa?” He held his breathe as he looked my withered frame up and down. “You’re here?”

“Of course I am. What did you think, I wouldn’t make it? Think they’d send me down below?” I didn’t mean to get so defensive so quickly. But his wasn’t the reaction I was expecting either.

“No! It’s just…It’s been a while, you know? How…how long has it been?”

“Sixty-three years,” I said.

Read part 2 here

The Stage or the Curtain

2 years ago, I lost my oldest friend. I had gone back to my hometown to attend our Boy Scout troop’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. I was a pretty terrible Boy Scout (I collected all of the arts merit badges — and plumbing, ’cause it was funny), but Mike was one of the people that I was most looking forward to seeing. Sure, we both had our own separate lives now, but he was always like family to me. Plus, I was really looking forward to teasing him for getting poison ivy on his balls at Camp Sequassen, because let’s face it, that was pretty hilarious.

Mike never made it to the party. Only a few of us knew why.

His wake saw over 500 people descend upon our suburban Connecticut town. It was an incredible outpouring of love and support; in a way, that made it worse. Maybe if Mike had seen the amount of people who turned, the number of lives he’d touched — maybe he wouldn’t have thought of his own life as being so expendable.

Maybe. Maybe not.

At the reception following his funeral, a few of Mike’s friends put together a slideshow with memories of him. These were friends that Mike had made in more recent years, especially at college, and most of them had never met his family until that week. The slideshow concluded with a video of Mike performing The Decemberists’ “I Was Meant For the Stage” at an Open Mic night. I had forgotten that he had finally stepped out from the backstage of the theatre and began performing (I think we scarred him in 7th grade during the filming of our home movie sequel to The Story of Rikki-Oh).

If I have ever seen a ghost, it was in that video. I still remember the exact moment during the song that Mike’s mother lost it, when he sang “Mother, please be proud / Father, be forgiving / even though you told me / ‘Son, you’ll never make a living.” I don’t know how much Mike’s college friends knew about his life in high school, but the song choice was frighteningly poetic; my mother even thought it was an original, autobiographical song that Mike had written himself.

That night, I followed the funeral crowd to Mike’s favorite Thursday Karaoke bar, and sang in his memory. It was strange, seeing all of these people with so much love for my friend — and not knowing who any of them were. That’s just the nature of things, I suppose, as we can go on to new places and start different lives. I listen to his friends share memories and stories, and I wish I could chime in or relate, but again, it was a different life for me. Still, it always comforted to know that he had continued to grow as a person, but never really changed at the heart of himself.

Each year, around this time, I try to make my way back to Hamden; there’s always a walk, or a fundraiser, some event in his memory. Everyone else — the friends I met at the services, extended family — they sit together, laughing and chatting and sharing stories. I feel bad inserting myself into their world — I don’t mean to rob their grief for myself, nor do I mean to intrude on their celebration. I know sometimes they wonder who I am, what my connection to their cause is. If they’d ever ask, I’d tell them, don’t mind me; I’m just here for Mike.

Shit For Brains

She drops memories like tiny
shits behind her where she
walks, a trail of small,
hard excess condensed into
pellets and buried beneath
her bedding at dusk. And
when she wakes, aroused
by tunes, or the crinkled
sound of sunburnt prunes,
the rest of her remembers
in its actions — thumbless
hands supporting chins,
the precious cuddling of
dust upon her pelt, the
endless fights for sustenance
against her sibling rival.
But still there’s something
missing in her muscles
when she sleeps, the only
thing remembering the warmth
her mind won’t keep.