August 1, 2013
Some things change everything.
Some moments – when a number of events collide – you know (even without knowing it) that the world will be different.
This is an illusion, of course, a kind of Freudian wish fulfillment with our minds sorting through reams of information we need to make sense of and coming up with connections that exist in nearly every living moment of our lives.
We give imports to some over others, as I do now that monumental trip to
on August 1, 1979, the first stone of an avalanche that would eventually undo
the foundations of family as I had known it.
I just didn’t realize it at the time.
I remember being extremely anxious about receiving my student loan check for college.
I had decided to go back to school after a rough and tumble decade as a blue collar worker and worse. I lived in a rough part of
Passaic and did not want
the nearly $2,000 check to sit in my mailbox for the three days I expected to
For days I had helped the family pack up their possessions in Little Ferry to return home desperate to find the check there, and it was not – until the night before we were set to leave and I was to drive one of the vehicles south.
Pleading the need to get the money secure, I convinced my uncle not to leave at the crack of dawn as he wanted, but wait long enough for the bank to open so I could deposit the check, and to my surprise the normally hard-headed head of that small family agreed.
This part of my family has always been within easy reach of me – except during those years in the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was on the run from the police and them – so this move out of state was more than a little disturbing, spelling the disassembling of a family I had always counted on to “be there” even if I wasn’t.
This move also corresponded with the decline of my other uncle – a desperate alcoholic my father had taken down the wrong road before I was even more – and the family had relied on the south-bound uncle to take in the drunken uncle, and now with some many miles between them, someone else would have to take up the chore.
I didn’t even sense it at the time that for the next two decades that someone would be me.
College – even going as late as I was – would also change my life and drag me by the heals out of my lower and working class existence and into the bottom tiers of middle class. And this dark cloud (or bursting sunrise, depending on your interpretation of how the future turned out), hung over me the whole trip, raising questions I could not answer about whether I was doing the right thing in giving up a life I seemed made for in exchange for a life I dreamed might be.
The omens (ill and otherwise) were everywhere. During the trip south, I learned of the death of my all time hero, NY Yankees catcher, Thurmond Munson, a man whose character I had modeled myself on, but never managed to live up to, more than just a symbol of my working class existence, but the rung I clung to in order to avoid falling into the pit I had lived in during those years hunted by the police.
Lying on the floor of a motel room in Virginia (maybe West Virginia – I don’t remember rightly now), the news hit me harder than the move itself, and I found myself mourning the man the way I would family member after family member over the next two decades, as if he was the first of the siblings to vanish from my life.
The death and the trip itself seemed determined to strip me of all icons from the old life in order to provide in me room for new icons that better represented what I was to become. So by the time, I got there and back, I was already a different person, and the world I walked into was a different world as well, new sets of friends, new budding romances – another clump of time (periods in my life that seem self contained, filled with their own sets of characters and own situations – I’ve lived through scores of them to this point although not likely to live through many more) – where I would learn new rules of order, although this time, college and the land beyond seemed like a whole new planet – and was.