Yesterday, I got a Facebook IM from completely out of the blue, and it really knocked me for a loop.
It was from a guy who lived down the block from me when I was growing up. It started with the words, “You probably don’t remember me.” And he was right, I didn’t.
I have a compendious memory about certain things, and a near photographic memory about many others. But much of my benighted youth I have blocked—and why wouldn’t I? Between the neglect and the beatings, there were some bad times, too.
That said, I never did drugs and was never that interested in drinking. My way of dealing with the vicissitudes of my fractured up-bringing was to stick my nose inside a book and when I wasn’t reading, I’d be out playing ball somewhere—anywhere to escape my whereabouts.
But let me put all that behind me—it’s been almost fifty years. Instead, I’ll talk about the IM that threw me.
“George,” the note began, “George, I doubt you remember me, but I lived at __________, just across the bottom of your street. I was searching for people from the old neighborhood, including Nancy. I then came across the news of her passing 11 years ago. I’m sorry for your loss. She was a wonderful friend to many of us.”
Nancy, as many of my readers know, was my baby sister, two years my junior. She died on Mother’s Day in 2007 at the age of 47. (I was about to write "the too-young age of 47," but when your sister dies, the truth is, she would always be too-young.)
Nancy had just bought a large Ducati motorcycle and early Mother’s Day morning she was driving it up 12th Avenue. A drunk ran across the road against the light, as drunks do. She swerved to avoid him and, unused to the weight and the balance of the bike, and swerving and braking quickly, the bike tumbled on top of her crushing her to death.
The police told me she died almost instantly. Her face, when I saw her at the Chief Medical Examiners looked like she'd been on the receiving end of Sonny Liston's fists.
The IM I received brought all this home to me, though to be clear, my thoughts of Nancy are never far away. In fact, when I’m at the beach, playing with Whiskey, I often sense Nancy alongside me, laughing and smiling as I do, as Whiskey gallops in the surf after her toy rubber duck.
I think about Nancy when we have big family dinners, or steaming hot soup dumplings from Joe’s Shanghai down on Pell Street. Nancy knew how to eat and like me, there was little she enjoyed more than a good Chinese meal, or my wife’s brisket with some greasy kasha varnishkas along for the ride.
I think about Nancy when I’m with my own kids, up on the Cape, and just hanging out around the house, or playing in the too-cold surf, or burning the life out of meat on the charcoal grill.
I think about Nancy when things are shitty at work. When good people and friends leave, when you feel like things are collapsing around you, or when you just feel a deficit of life and enthusiasm, and life feels like less than living.
I think about Nancy.
As the IM I received yesterday morning said, “she was a wonderful friend to many of us.”