Whatever your dream is, find a way to make it happen. […] Life is short. Live it now. And live it with all your strength and passion now. Don’t keep it in reserve against a day you might not have. While the ember is still lit, fan it to flame. Be bold about it, even if your circumstances mean all you have is to love boldly and laugh boldly. Because now is all we have, and these dreams won’t chase themselves.
One more year celebrated successfully on this side of the ground—guess I can’t complain!
Well, I could, but who would listen? :-)
Edward Lee Koslosky, Jr. (1967–2010)
Rest In Peace.
I don’t handle death too well, as it turns out.
Eleven years ago, one of my best friends almost lost his life to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which had up until then been undiagnosed in him. But even though at that time he was given a practically zero chance of survival, he pulled through, and for the next eleven years, he defied all odds to the contrary.
But when I got the message from our mutual friend Wayne on Saturday, my heart sank, as I knew it could only be one thing. And unfortunately, I was right, as I learned that Ed had finally lost his battle. Then came the responsibility of calling up old classmates and roommates to pass on the sad news, and that’s something I would just as soon not have to do again for, oh, ever.
Within a couple of days, I was on a plane down to Texas to say goodbye. I was sad, of course, but I really didn’t know what to expect from myself beyond that. At the visitation on Wednesday, I got more than a little choked up, a few tears were shed, but I still didn’t know what else to expect. But even in midst of all that, there were actually a few laughs, as friends and family gathered in groups to tell their stories of Ed (not all of them suitable for public consumption)—and believe me, everyone had a story.
Then came Thursday, the day of the funeral service. Immediately before that came a second visitation—and that’s when I found out what to expect from myself. For the first time that I can remember in my adult life, I cried. Not like the tears of joy on the day I got married, not just choked up or teary-eyed—I cried, and once it started, it wouldn’t stop for very long before it would start up again. For the rest of the visitation, I cried. Through the entire service and Wayne’s elegant eulogy, I cried. Lined up after the service with the rest of the pallbearers, I cried. And all the way to the cemetery as part of the procession, I cried.
But then… it stopped. As we carried his casket to his final resting place, some sort of peace fell over me. Yes, it sounds incredibly trite, but it’s exactly what happened. And as we stood listening to the pastor’s final words, I think I actually smiled a little. I think I finally understood that no matter what pain I may have been feeling, I knew that the pain Ed had been carrying (and hiding) for the past 11 years was finally gone. More stories about Ed followed, and then we all went our separate ways—but not without making a promise to not wait another 10+ years for all of us to get together, as we knew Ed wouldn’t want us to drift apart again. It was the least we could do.
To Edward and Martha, Sandra, Don, and Eddie… Wayne… Chris, Milda, Tom, Keith, Susan, Lana, John and Kristi, and countless others: We’ve lost a son, a brother, a father, a friend. But we had him in our lives, and even though he may not be here with us on earth, our lives are fuller from having had him for as long as we did, and we can take some solace in knowing that he is finally at peace.
This likely won’t be the last time I have to do this. I know this feeling of heaviness will eventually pass. And maybe the whole thing gets easier to do over time—but I hope not.
Saturday was a cold and windy day, but our group had plans that couldn’t be kept waiting. So it was once again back to the subways. Pedro and my sweetie pondered the maps and led us on our way. To this point, I still didn’t know where we were going—again, the whole weekend’s plans were one surprise unfolding after another. But once we got on the #4 north towards the Bronx (and taking into account the size of our group and the fact that she would have planned something up my alley), I offered a guess: Yankee Stadium. And the guess was right. And I was thrilled.
I’ve been to the Stadium on a handful of occasions for games, but this was going to be an inside-the-stadium tour, which I’d never done before there. Plus, given that this is the last year for the old Stadium (with the new Yankee Stadium opening next door to it for next season), it was great to be able to see the inner workings of the old place before it met the wrecking ball. And it was just as cool as I was expecting, me being the huge Yankees fan and all. (Thanks, dad!) We, of course, got to walk around Monument Park. We also got to mill around the home dugout, the press box, and one of the high-roller luxury suites, and—because it was still spring training and the Yankees were out of town—we also got to step inside the Yankees clubhouse. (No pictures of the players’ lockers, unfortunately, as they were very adamant about their “no photography inside the clubhouse” rule. In fact, it was rule #1 of the many rules that a large man recited before the tour, the breaking of any of which would see us “…removed from the tour”—this last line became a running joke among us for the remainder of the tour… guess you had to be there. Bummer, too, because it’s not like any of the players’ personal items was out for display—the only things there to see were a bunch of empty lockers and piles and piles of empty clothes hangers. But hey, it’s their rules.)
And all this time, my sweetie had been toting around a shopping back with (what else) my birthday cake. After the tour, we tried to find a public place (a park or anything) where we could sit for a spell and cut the cake, but around that part of the city, nothing was to be found. So we ended up in a McDonald’s next to the stadium. But it was my friends and family (and, of course, the cake), so it didn’t really matter where we were to me.
The rest of the afternoon was free, so everyone went there separate ways for a few hours. A small group of us ended up back down in Greenwich Village, where we spent the afternoon eating and milling about. (No Julia Stiles this time. Oh well.) Later that evening, most of us got together again (a couple of folks had made other plans for while they were in the city, which was fine by me—after all, they’re in New York City!) for a couple hours of entertainment at Ha! The Comedy Club (also within walking distance of the hotel… not an accident) that my sweetie had bought tickets for. And with the exception of one poor, terrified female comedienne (who, unfortunately, just bombed), it was a funny lot. A couple more of our group broke off to catch a late-night show, and the rest of us wandered down the street to another pub to grab some dinner and a couple (maybe more than a couple) of beers. And for the third night in a row, it was back to the hotel well after midnight—a little tougher on this now-old guy, but ask me if I minded.
Sunday morning found us all together one last time for a group breakfast at a diner (say it with me) down the street from the hotel, and then it was everyone off to make their way back home. New Hampshire. New York. Virginia. Florida. Nebraska. Texas. And the best birthday I’ve ever had officially came to an end.
A huge thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy lives to spend a weekend with us in New York City. Ray and Amy. Milda and Lawrence. Keith and Staci. Tom and Tanya. David and Kimberly. Pedro and Nicola. You are my friends, and you are my family, and I must be doing something right to end up with the ones that I have. You’ll never know how much this meant to me.
And to my wife: I love you. You are everything to me. And you must like me a little bit, too, to go through this much time and effort just to celebrate me turning old. :-) Thank you, sweetie.
[Oh, one last thing. Remember the signed picture from everyone that was my gift at the birthday dinner? Well, we almost didn’t. After getting off the bus that took us from South Station back to our car, we accidentally left the bag containing the picture in the overhead compartment on the bus. By the time we realized this, we had just missed the bus leaving the station and heading for its next stop up the highway in Concord. And you should have seen us tearing after that bus—85-90 miles an hour at midnight, trying to catch up to it. Somehow, though, we never caught sight of it. But as we pulled into the Concord bus station, we saw our bus sitting there—it turned out the driver had to make a stop of his own, if you know what I mean, and because of that, it hadn’t yet left the station. We managed to talk our way back onto the bus and, with much relief, recover this precious item. Hey, it was a perfect birthday weekend—surely you didn’t think it would end on a low note…]
We headed off to Carmine’s for a nice birthday dinner together. And her phone is still going off with the text messages, to the point where she finally tells me that she’s telling her sister that the phone is being turned off for the evening. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from the hotel, so we were there in very short order. And the place is packed to the rafters, with a line going out the door. They tell us that only one person from each party should stand in line, and everyone else should wait inside at the bar. I get ready to take on my normal line-standing role, but my sweetie says that she’ll stand in line instead and that I should just make my way to the bar. (This is very unusual for her. Should have set off some sort of bells, but my Spidey senses were apparently taking the night off.)
I waited at the bar for, oh, not that long a period of time, actually—we had arrived pretty close to our reservation time—before she made her way to the front of the line. I saw her chatting with the maitre’d, at which point he ushered her out of the line and told us, “Your table’s all set; the rest of your party is waiting for you.” When I mentioned this to her (“Rest of our party? Do they have the right reservation?”), she looked understandably miffed, and we both figured they’d borked our reservation and that we were going to be marching right back to the hostess stand in very short order. And she takes off up the stairs ahead of me. I mean, she takes off. Not a happy camper. (Again, though, unusual, in that this is typically my role. More bells missed.)
Up the stairs. Around the corner. Past the waiter (“They’re already waiting for you.” Moron.) and to a curtained-off booth. And as I pull back the curtains, I’m already coming up with my apologies to the complete strangers whose dinner I’m about to interrupt. So back go the curtains…
(And I’m sure you’ve already figured out what happens next, more or less.)
…and in front of me sat not a table of complete strangers, but a table of some of my best friends and family. And given that I realized what was happening about a millisecond after I pulled back the curtains, the look of surprise on my face was quite genuine. (That despite the efforts of the Carmine’s staff to inadvertently blow the surprise. “The rest of your party is waiting”, indeed. Not sure what part of “surprise party” was hard to figure out.) And then the now-obvious truth came out: All of those text messages to my wife weren’t from her sister—they were from various people in the party who had been IM’ing her their location and plans so as to make sure that we didn’t accidentally run into them. For example, one of the first messages that she received right after we got to the hotel on Thursday was from one couple who had walked into the hotel literally minutes after we left the front desk for the elevators—in fact, almost every single person in the group was actually staying at the same hotel we were, and we managed to avoid running into them for the better part of two days! (no small feat, as you can imagine) And the others: “We’re in the hotel lobby.”… “We’re leaving for the restaurant now.”… “Everyone’s here.”… (etc.) My friend Keith was apparently the most prolific of the texters, as she got updates on every move of his short of knowing when he was stepping out of the shower in the morning.
[Aside: In fact, when I had previously IM’ed my friend Pedro saying that I just saw Julia Stiles, he told me that he’d about had a heart attack when he first started reading the message—”I just saw…”—as he thought the next words were going to be along the lines of “…you walking down 7th Ave”. He was quite relieved that I had merely sighted a celebrity. Oh, and I also discovered that he was quite the accomplished liar, as he and I had been chatting about my lack of knowledge of my birthday plans for weeks, plans that he’d known about for months.]
The party had been waiting for us long enough for everyone to introduce themselves to everyone else, so that spared me from having to actually function as a host (which I probably wouldn’t have been capable of at that moment anyway). And so friends and family from all stages of my life had time to figure out what they had in common besides being stuck knowing me: my brother and sister-in-law, one of my best friends from back since the 6th grade and her husband, two of my roommates from college (and their respective spouses), one of my classmates from college and his wife, and one of my best friends since college (and his very significant other). The rest of the night was a gleeful blur of food and wine and endless laughter—oh, was there laughter (and not always at my expense, thankfully, though among the gifts—or is that “gifts”?—from the evening were the “Oh crap! I’m 40!” T-shirt and the tube of Fixodent ever so thoughtfully sent by one of my grad school officemates who couldn’t attend the festivities in person). The capper was the picture frame that I was presented, signed by everyone but also signed by quite a number of people who couldn’t attend in person. (Like I said, she thought of everything—and everyone. There wasn’t a single person there or that I talked to later who didn’t rave about the level of planning and detail she had put into this weekend. And it was still only Friday.)
Eventually, we all wandered back to the hotel and collectively called it a night (though a couple of us met in the pub next to the hotel for a late-night pint before turning in). After all, there was still Saturday to come…
Continue to the finale…