When I drive by the spot, I am immediately reminded of how painful the memory is; a moment in my life that I have never tried to discard, but only keep strong in my mind for the value of sentiment. To me, to speak of love is to know when everything I felt important in my life holds value. There are many times when I lose sight of what that is, and I simply plod on until the next time I can breathe and imagine how genuine a single truth is in my life. As I approach the anniversary of losing my cousin, Billy Grade, I am wracked with an aching void that I have either worked very hard to keep alive, or struggled to make sense of, always walking away with unanswered questions, often wondering with confusion whether forgetting was really acceptable.
The other night I was reminded that it is okay to remember, in fact, there is nothing I want to forget of the life of my cousin. I was driving home and as I descended into my neighborhood, I can call it that because I drift down a very long hill before I make my final turn to my home, I came upon my t-intersection and began a slide as my wheels engaged the black ice that had arisen from the arctic temperatures of a current cold snap. Whenever I come upon this intersection, I always imagine I could slide right up the little hill that the driveway on the other side offers. This would mean blowing right through a stop sign on a quiet road where in the summer you can often see children playing in the middle of the street, fully embracing a naive trust that drivers will always be aware of their presence. This night would be different.
As my tires grasped the icy road, I navigated to a stop at the proper juncture, and then noticed an Suv move unsuspectingly through the intersection at a moderate speed. I imagined what fortune to not have slid into the vehicle and become another statistic of a cold winter’s night, assuming only a fender bender and perhaps some forced commentary between both parties as we exchanged insurance cards. Neighbors creating a moment together as a result of inattentive driving. I was happy to not be a party to that outcome as the car continued up the hill. That’s when my heart took pause, and my eyes watched a young man on a saucer slide behind the car with a rope attached to the back end of the vehicle. In my amazement, I then noticed the tail door of the vehicle was open and I could see young bodies of teenagers sitting in the open vehicle with smiles as they watched their friend slide behind them, eager for their opportunity that surely lied ahead. The car came to a gradual stop, and the young man rode out the final few feet, stepping up with the saucer in his hand just shy of the rear bumper of the car, everyone in smiles but certainly aware of the witness in the vehicle facing the intersection.
I debated the moment, and suddenly realized this was how I lost my cousin Billy 41 years earlier on a hauntingly similar night. The moment felt so eery I would perhaps feel relieved to know that the time of night was probably almost exacting to this night. It was a Friday night, in December, during a seasonally cold snap that made the quiet roads of 53rd & Thomas Avenue in Minneapolis an inviting venue for skitching. I was in Wausau at the time, anticipating a family reunion in a couple of weeks where our Irish families would congregate and simply love one another. I looked at the car stopped, looked at the teenagers now fully aware of my long pause, and I drove into the intersection intent on speaking to the driver.
As I got out of my car, the young man with the saucer stood for a moment and then began to walk away. I yelled to him to come back and he kept walking. I yelled firmly and he turned and began to return. Meanwhile the driver had rolled down his window, and I glanced inside to see a half a dozen young and concerned faces wondering what this stranger had in mind. What happened then remains rather vague in my eyes except to say that I believe I was talking to my cousin as I spoke with an unbridled venom of how upset what I was witnessing made me. As I yelled at the driver I made sure the young man with the saucer was hearing my words, but as I recall, I couldn’t define the face of anyone in the car. I could only suggest they were all faceless images of the beautiful young man we had lost at such an early age during a time in my life, when the importance of the human condition had no real value to me except getting all of my material needs met and knowing I was truly loved by my family.
It was then I realized I was talking to Billy as I screamed at the innocent faces looking back at me with confusion, as I asked them to make good decisions … ‘Don’t be so stupid’ … as I heard myself reaching for any words I could to convince this young lot of teenagers that their actions would lead to a pain for their families no one should have to endure. I caught my breath and listened as the young driver said, “I’m sorry sir, I won’t do it again.” I wanted to reach out and hug him and every kid in the car, but instead I turned and walked back to my car.
For a moment my tires would not grab the ice, and I vainly tried to move away from the scene, conscious of another car that had pulled up nearby probably wondering what was happening. I took deep breaths, and slowly tapped the pedal of my car, and the wheels gradually began to move forward. I didn’t look back, only continued to my home more aware of myself and my pain than I had been in many years. As I pulled into my driveway, the tears came and remained in long sobs for quite some time as I walked into my home and reflected upon what I had just encountered.
This morning, after coffee, I came upon the intersection on my return home, and replayed the scene again, and found myself on 53rd & Thomas, for a moment, only to privately weep again.