Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snug as a Six-Foot Tall Bug in a Rug

There are memories of my children that are stored, put to the back of my mind…not forgotten; just simply tuck away like a winter comforter that when the chill of missing or grief comes to clawing its way in like a harsh North wind keeps me warm and snug.  Perhaps one memory isn’t so different.  It’s a memory of seeing my son take on responsibility and earn the trust that was bestowed on him.

Last December, Gi and I went to a Christmas dinner that we purchased tickets to attend.  We questioned who would watch the kids and decided since Tim was now fifteen years old he was old enough to watch is younger sisters.  Tim promised not to disappear into his boy-cave – his bedroom and enter the world of PS3.  He was given a set of instructions, such as bedtime, when to answer the phone, not to answer the door unless it was the Pizza-Man, and above all not fight with his then one month shy of five years old sister and two-year old sister.  I told him it would be a losing battle – they’re girls.

During the dinner both his mother and I checked on him periodically.  “Yes, I’m fine.”  He would grumble.  “Yes, the girls are okay.”

Then the phone calls started to come from Tim. “They’re not listening.”  He would grumble.  “When are you coming home?” I could hear the frustration in his voice.

“Did you put on something they would like to watch?”  I suggested different ideas.  “Did you just curl up into a ball and let them beat you down?”

“Ha ha Daddy.”  Tim growled.  “No, I tried Nick Junior.  I tried the Disney Channel…they wont listen to me.  Alaina keeps saying ‘You’re not my father.’”

“Okay, Monk,” I said.  “We’ll be home within an hour.  Okay?”

“Yeah, I suppose.” He said as he hung up the phone.

As close to that hour deadline as humanly possible, Gi and I came home.  I opened the front door, the living room showed no signs of destruction – at least not readily visible.  I looked behind the vestibule door and saw the kitchen broom.

“Why is that here?”  I asked Tim as I was noticing white flaky stuff on the carpet.  “What is this?” 

Tim looked embarrassed.  “Well…I had to kill a bug.”

I looked up to the ceiling.  There was a hole in the ceiling about the diameter of a quarter surrounded by several circular and crescent shaped dents.  What was he doing mapping the phases of the moon?  “Why is there a hole the ceiling?”

“I told you I had to kill a bug.”

I looked at the hole.  I looked at the white plaster flakes on the carpet.  I looked back at the hole.  “Kill a bug with what?”

“The broom.”  Tim went over to the vestibule door, picked up the broom, and held it up with one hand and pointed with the other.  “I mistakenly used the wrong end.”

“How big was this bug?  Should I call the police and tell them to be on the look out for a giant bug?”  I looked at the hole.  I went to the front door and opened it, looking up and down the street.  “Did you get it?  I mean I hate to go back out and the bug comes back for revenge.”

“I’m sorry.  Do you have to bust my balls?”  Tim was getting upset.

“Yes, I do.”  I laughed.  “I’m your father and I have to know these things in order to protect you.  I don’t want a giant bug coming back and eating any of my children.”

“I said I was sorry.  Geez.”

“Tim, I’m just teasing you.”  I grabbed him by his ear as was our custom.  As Tim got older he didn’t like to be hugged by me.  I guess someone teased him about giving his dad a hug.  Funny though he still gave me a kiss good-bye when I would drop him off at school.  “I wouldn’t have noticed it if you vacuumed the floor.  I could have blamed your mother.”

The next day the girls told me about how their brother had killed a big bug that tormented them from the ceiling.  Tim described it as a thousand-legged; the girls described as something large and ferocious.  I thought of the giant bugs from Starship Troopers.  If you had seen the movie Neil Patrick Harris is in it and lives entirely by a different set of Bro-Code rules.

But from that night after Tim was a hero to his sisters.  I know they miss him.  This is one of those memories I pull out and wrap myself up in and smile.  I’m tearing up on the outside, but I am chuckling on the inside with a smile of pride that I could trust my son.

Monday, November 28, 2011

American Pie

There has always been music played in our home and our car.  If we went on road trips, wither it be to visit family or just to explore the roads and byways music was pumping out of the car stereo – FM radio, CD, or tape in the case of our old Camry.  One song that Tim loved was American Pie by Don McLean.  The song is the story of McLean’s reaction to Buddy Holly’s death in an airplane crash and a history of how rock and roll music changed.

I told Tim how in late 1971 and through 1972, my childhood friends and I would sing the song while we played on the street.  I told him how Buddy Holly might still be living if he hadn’t lost a coin toss to Waylon Jennings deciding who would fly in the ill-fated plane and who would ride in the tour bus.  As Tim got older he picked on the symbology used in the song – not just the Catholic catechisms, how the soda shops and malt shops in the 1950’s actually did exist and juke boxes were a conduit to the forbidden music – that was innocent by today’s standards.  But the song also told of the musicians changed the course of rock history following Buddy Holly’s death.  He became interested in the Big Bopper and Richie Valens who died along with Holly that cold February night.

Buddy Holly was the first rock and roll musician to use violins in his music.  His music influenced John Lennon who named his band the Beatles in homage to the Crickets – Holly’s band.  Buddy Holly’s wife had a miscarriage shortly after Buddy Holly’s death.  There was a revamp and growth in Folk music with Bob Dylan at the helm in the early 1960’s.  There was a nationwide sadness and disillusionment in the United States following John F. Kennedy’s assassination until the Beatles landed, and through the same medium that won Kennedy the presidency in 1960 overtook and revamped rock and roll. 

I pointed out events that McLean alluded to in his song – Bob Dylan using an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival and being booed off stage, The Byrds song “8 Miles High”,  the Summer of Love in 1967, Woodstock, the Rolling Stones hiring Hell’s Angels as security for the Altamont where a concert goer was stabbed to death.  How Mick Jagger is said to be both the Devil and Jack Flash when parts of lyrics are referenced in the song.  The girl that sang the blues was Janice Joplin.

Don McLean was recently interviewed and confessed that American Pie was written in our hometown of Philadelphia and first preformed at Temple University.  When we were asked for a list of Tim’s favorite songs to be used in a montage video for his viewing, American Pie was at the top of the list.  On May 17, 2011, my music died; the course of what I had enjoyed with my son had been taken from us.  Maybe one day I’ll go back to the sacred store and his sisters will take an interest in some of the music their brother loved and shared with me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Believe in Father Christmas

In 1996, Gi and I were facing our first Christmas in our home.  We had just moved in a few months before.  As Christmas Day was counting down on our calendar we opted to put our house budget to making sure Tim would have presents to open and not worry about a Christmas tree unless we could find one that was inexpensive.  I wasn’t on the Police Department yet, and I felt inadequate to give Gi and Tim a Christmas tree.  I thought maybe a small ceramic tree would suffice, but Gi wanted a real tree for Tim and stood her ground on what she wanted.

We both grew up with live trees decorating our homes; she wanted Tim to have nothing less.  It was a few days before Christmas and we were finishing our present shopping, food shopping, paying bills, and looked at the trees that were being sold on street corners and in the parking lots of the shopping centers.  Our collection of ornaments were made up of decorations we had given each other, received from family, and what was given to Timmy for his first Christmas.

We walked home, Tim in his stroller snuggled up in blankets and a warm coat and hat.  I opened the door and on the living room floor was an eight foot Christmas tree.  Gi followed in with Timmy in her arms.

“How did this get here?” She said as she put Timmy down.

“I don’t know.”  I rolled the tree over to look it over.  “No one breaks into a house and leaves something.” 

Timmy looked at the tree and tried to help me roll it over again.

Within a half hour the tree was up in a stand, as we hung ornaments on the branches.

We wondered who gave us the tree.  Gi called her sister and brother who lived nearby; no one knew anything about the tree.

It was Christmas Eve, Joe – Gi's sister Meg’s fiancĂ© came over to the house.  He looked at the tree.  He gave a satisfying look at the Tannenbaum.  “It’s amazing what you get for Christmas. No house should be without a Christmas tree.”

Joe had bought the tree and used a spare key we had given him to bring it in.  Joe died almost two years later in a tree accident.  I think about that first tree every Christmas.  I think of Joe’s gift, as I am now.

I believe in Father Christmas.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Horse

Soon after I went back to work, a co-worker told me that I need to get back on my horse.  What horse would that be? 
What is the color of this horse? 
What breed is this horse? 
Do I look like a cowboy or a cavalryman?
Is it because I am grieving my son still and will be for some time still yet to come that I am suddenly a purveyor of equine sensibility? 
Is this horse a Clydesdale - large, majestic, and strong?
Is this a pale horse that Death rode upon and Hell followed after the fourth seal is opened?
Is this a horse of a different color, much like the one that transported Dorothy to see the Wizard when she entered the Emerald City?

Could this horse be powerful and fast as a Mustang, where I can ride off quickly, to be far and away from the pain?
Why not a bronco, a horse that needs to be broken else throws his rider?
Could this be a horse that is caparisoned, being escorted behind a caisson carrying a coffin, without a rider and boots backwards in the stirrups?

Honestly, it is from a misperception that I am to suddenly be past the grief, anguish, and pain from the death of my child; that this horse I am to be on is the answer to all my questions.  That like any rider from horse stories, the visual of getting back on the horse and try again.  I have gotten back on my horse several times.  This horse has thrown me, broken me rather than I break him. 

What is forgotten is that I, as the grieving parent, never asked for anything.  I was told numerous times “If you need anything call me.”  I appreciated the offer from friends, family, the students of Archbishop Ryan and other Archdiocesan high schools, the community, and the others that have supported me emotionally and spiritually since Tim was killed.  All I really, and honestly, desired was to know the aforementioned people did not abandon me.  They didn’t.  If anything the support from this extended family and modern children’s crusade grew.  The cheers and good wishes have hardened me to face the next day and be able to see the sun or remember that despite storm clouds the sun is still there.

So for the meanwhile, I plod along…leading this horse by the reigns stopping every so often to watch the wheels go round and round.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Arlo, Pierre, and Thanksgiving Day

I just arrived home after visiting my son, Tim. Last year, on Thanksgiving 2010, my son and I went on a quest to hunt down a turkey baster for the preparation of the Thanksgiving bird. It started at 10 o’clock in the morning. We headed off in the family car and it was soon into thirty minutes of our sojourn, I realized that I was missing Pierre Robert’s traditional playing of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacre; Tim’s mother had a habit of flipping around the preset stations when commercials were playing too long. I quickly turned to WMMR’s preset home on button #1 and felt disheartened as Arlo was finishing up.
Pierre Robert

However the gloom soon vanished when Pierre announced that he would be playing Alice’s Restaurant again within an hour and half or so...taking into account the eighteen minute and some odd seconds of song/tale. Tim asked me why it was a big deal and I explained that I have my own personal traditions.

I told Tim how Arlo was arrested for littering with a half-ton of garbage that was packed into a red VW micro-bus. Tim thought it was funny when I told him how the police pulled out all sorts of CSI equipment and the twenty-seven 8x10 color glossy photographs with the circles and arrows, along with a paragraph on the back to explain each one.  Tim became very interested in the story behind the song, which is the story in the song.

Tim with his positive outlook on things said “Well Daddy, its going to repeat. So if we hurry we can listen to it on the way home.”

Before the song, courtesy of Pierre, was repeated we finished our quest and procured a turkey baster at the department store that was so very happy to see a customer that was not camping out front awaiting the Black Friday alarm. 

We drove home listening to Alice’s  Restaurant, with Tim laughing and giggling...sometimes repeating a funny line like “father rapers, ” or how the fellow Group W bench mates moved away from Arlo when he said he was arrested for littering, and moved back when he added unruly behavior.

Today, Thanksgiving 2011, I was driving home from Tim’s grave when I heard Pierre announce the vinyl cut of Alice’s Restaurant. It jarred the memory in full detail as I parked in a lot and listened; the pain of missing my beloved son was eased just a bit for the day.

I am thankful this Thanksgiving for having been blessed with a son such as Tim, as I am equally blessed with his sisters who are too young to understand. So I thank Pierre for giving me this memory. Although Tim had heard Alice’s Restaurant many times over his short life, it was the first time he listened and understood the humor and his own personal message.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Little Drummer Boy

Christmas, a time of Yule and Noel, a brief moment in childhood believing in a man delivering presents while you’re nestled in your bed; where in retrospect seems like a long history of memories.  As a parent, it was for me to make my son, and later his sisters as well, happy and keep alive an age-old myth.  It is a time of wondering what Who-pudding consists of, or how to cook a who-beast; an attempt to explain to a little girl a hundred years ago that there is a Santa Claus because he lives in all of us during this time of thanks and giving.  It is also a time for telling of a ghost story and conclude Scrooge’s redeemer was not himself but Marley who is fettered to the bonds of avarice.

Despite how I see the world’s seedy and dark underbelly that does not rest even on Christmas; it is from a song that I would find some solace – some humility.  Knowing that despite my own childhood, there is redemption in the innocence of how my son saw Christmas.  He saw the humor as he listened to stories of pranks I played on my siblings at Christmas, and worse when I shared sentimental moments of my own childhood – friends and family now gone; toys broken and now possibly buried in some landfill.  I shared with him the Christmas specials that aired each season of my youth, and how I played Charlie Brown in 8th Grade when our school drama club preformed A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Of course other holiday movies would come and go.  My mother would play National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  We got our own copy to add to the Christmas movie collection.  Tim’s favorite part was when Eddie (played by Randy Quad) was with Griswold as they were about to try a new cooking spray on round sled.

“They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one.  Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour.”

Christmas also comes from a brief parable told in the form of song as a little drummer boy who has nothing to give a new born king but a few rum pa-rum pum pum’s on his drum, giving only of himself as Mary nods her approval, the ox and lamb kept time; the baby smiles at him all along acknowledging such a simple and unique gift.  The holiday animation from Rakin/Bass first aired on television when I was four years old.  I remember as I sat in front of my family’s color television with combination stereo and record player horrified at the thought of being orphaned and losing a pet.  Greer Garson’s grandmotherly voice narrated the tale soothing the horror to a happy ending.  The special never became as popular as Frosty the Snowman.

The boy, Aaron is orphaned after marauders killed his parents and burned his home to the ground; a hatred of all mankind takes root and grows in the boy.  Aaron is soon conscripted to play his drum for two bumbling and conniving troupe performers seeking fortune and fame by using Aaron’s ability to play his drum, that as if by magic, enchants his small parade of animals, a donkey, a camel, and lamb, to dance and perform.  It is later in the story, while seeking patronage from the three kings, Aaron learns the kings are following a star that would lead to a new born king in Bethlehem.

Soon after the Magi, along with Aaron and his animals, arrive in Bethlehem, the lamb is gravely injured after being hit by a chariot.  Aaron desperate to save his lamb goes to the kings.  He is told that the lamb is beyond their knowledge of care and will soon die, but if he goes to the newborn king the lamb may be saved.  Aaron heeds the advice, goes to pay homage at the Nativity where the infant Jesus lies with shepherds standing guard.  With his pride humbled and his anger dissipated from the sight of the innocent baby, Aaron plays his drum.  The first Christmas miracle is revealed as the lamb regains his health – perhaps as a thank you from the infant Prince of Peace.

It’s from that song, this parable, that Tim found also humor – in me!  The song was originally known as Carol of the Drum, written in 1941 by Katherine K. Davis, based on a Czech song.  In 1958, The Little Drummer Boy became a famous and favorite Christmas song when the Harry Simone Chorale recorded it.  It was recorded many times after; David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s cover is amongst my favorites.

Whenever the song would play on the radio during the Christmas season, and it would never matter which cover or version, I would turn up the volume and sing along.  It is my favorite Christmas song since I was little – because of the television special.  I would get choked up – misty eyed.  Tim would lean forward from the backseat to see if a tear was forming and giggle.  Here is his dad, who is supposed to be a bastion of strength and confidence, getting teary over a song.  But thank God, it was an annual thing…for about six weeks.  If Tim happened to be seated in the front of the car and heard the song as he pushed the pre-set buttons or scanned through the radio stations, he would tune in and pump up the volume.  He would then grin and giggle.

“I’m daddy,” he would say.  “This song makes me cry.”  Tim would then laugh and ask when the tears would start.

“Shut up.”  I would glance over at him.  It was said with a combination choke and giggle.  “It’s not good to make fun of your father’s vulnerabilities at Christmas time.” 

It was worse after I bought the DVD of the Christmas show.  Tim would rewind the scene over and over.  

“Boo-hoo-hoo.  I’m daddy and I cry over the little cartoon lamb that got run over.”  He would put a finger to his cheek and trace a path of an imaginary tear, or mime a crying baby rubbing his eyes.

Now its six months after my son was taken from me.  This morning, I got in my car and started to drive to work.  Gi had used the car the night before and tuned the radio to B101.  I don’t know if it was a sign, Timmy teasing me, or what not; a cover by Restless Heart of The Little Drummer Boy had just started.  I turned up the volume but did not sing along.  On my way to work, I just simply cried listening to the song with a few brief chuckles as I remembered how my son would tease me over a song.  After the song, I just cried some more.  I wonder now if his sisters will pick up the mantle of sentimental teasing.  I held off writing until it was a little later because I didn’t want the girls to see me cry.  I wouldn’t have been able to finish because they would want to comfort me, not understanding that I am enveloping my thoughts with good memories despite the loneliness I feel without my son.

Little Drummer Boy
Katherine K. Davis
Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too,
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you!
Pa rum pum pum
On my drum.

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Learning to Stalk Santa

Every Christmas, multitudes of parents flock to the malls to stand in line waiting to have their children photographed with Santa.  There was no difference with my family when it came to Timmy.  I had graduated from the Police Academy in June, 1998 when Timmy was just shy of his third birthday.  Since Timmy was born friends had told his mother and me to bring Timmy to the Neshaminy Mall because the Santa there was the best.  The only problem was that at the time we didn’t have a car, and settled for photographs with either my dad playing Santa for a Police party or someone at a Christmas Bazaar.  It didn’t matter; it was the magic of Christmas.

I hated Christmas before Timmy was born.  I mean I made the Grinch look like a saint.  But the first Christmas, feeling like a character from O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, I tried to buy whatever I could for my son’s first Noel.  I bought a few baby toys, including Winnie the Pooh.  My father of course bought up just about anything my wife and I picked and considered.  Some of the things were too much money; others were on our “not safe” list.

I was still working as EMT and dispatcher at a private ambulance company, and with what I had left after groceries, bills, bus pass, and mortgage, I went to Toys R Us or Kay Bee Toys and bought the marked down toys.  Still each year was photographed with the first available Santa. 

Finally after I graduated the Police Academy, I bought a used Camry.  We drove to the Neshaminy Mall for the guy advertised as the real deal.  Timmy yelled with excitement as we passed the billboards on I-95, saying excitedly “Santa!  Santa!” When we arrived, Santa had just left for a lunch break and were handed a reservation request.  We filled it out and handed a square red diode laden pager.  So what do we do now?  We decided to go for Timmy’s favorite food – Pizza!  Down the hall from the Santa Chair is Pizza Villa.  It’s a nice place to get a slice, a whole pie, or even a buffet meal of Italian food.

We opted to sit in a booth and had a pizza ordered.  While we were waiting, Tim stood on the seat of the booth, and with an opened mouth, excitedly pointed at a guy wearing red pants with suspenders, black boots, and a Christmas themed thermal shirt.  He had the white beard, blue eyes, and a laugh that could belong to no other than Kris Kringle.  Timmy sprang up and off the booth seat and proceeded to interrupt Santa who was attempting to enjoy a hoagie.  He got to a few feet of Santa and froze.  He inspected the man. 

“Hello there.”  Santa said.

Timmy just gave a slight wave.  Finally he found the courage to speak, “I’m Timmy.”

“Oh you are?  Are you on my good list or my bad list?”

“I’m on the good list.  I’m a good boy.”

I walked up to retrieve Timmy so Santa could eat.  “Daddy aren’t I a good boy?”

“Yes Monk.  You are a very good boy.”

Timmy waved good-bye to Santa with a “See you when you get back from lunch.”

I now saw why this Santa was considered the best.  He was Santa in spirit. 

Every year since, we would stalk Santa at the Pizza Villa.  Tim would continue to sit with Santa until Alaina was old enough to be with Santa alone when he was eleven. That was the last time Tim had his picture taken.  It broke my heart when he said that there is no Santa.  “I just liked going to the mall with you and mommy to get it done.  I’ll still do it if it makes you feel better.”

Last Christmas season, Tim passed the game of Stalking Santa on to his sisters.  I burst with laughter as my girls did the same as their brother had done ten years before.  Last week, Santa was at the mall.  The girls ran over to him and hugged him.  Alaina promised she would return to get her picture taken.  Oh how much I miss him.  How much more is there to find some joy this first major holiday season without Tim?  I guess it’s the small random things.

Friday, November 11, 2011

May 17, 2011 Feeling Adrift

The sunlight seemed brighter as I walked out of the Emergency Room.  The nurse walked beside me, partly holding me up, partly holding me back from doing anything stupid.  I pulled out my cell phone and called home.  I knew Gi would be possibly still at the hair salon with the girls – Alaina was graduating Pre-K the next day and we wanted her to have her hair cut and styled.  I crossed the parking lot and sat on the curb.  It was the first time noticing Tim’s blood on my hands, my clothes, and even feeling it dry on my face.  The answering machine at home picked up.

“Where are you?  I’m at hospital; call me back!”  I cried into the phone.

I called other relatives and friends.  I called my aunt – my Uncle Vince’s window, Maryanne.  Uncle Vince was killed two months before in a motor cycle accident.  I didn’t want to drag her into this – I felt selfish to ask her to be with me, but I had no one that was close by.  My sister Katie was en route from the Egg Harbor Township.

“Is there anyone that you would like me to try to call?” the nurse asked.

I shook my head.  I didn’t have anyone else really.  I haven’t spoken to my father since before my mother died.  It’s not worth getting into, but in short his letter of disownment was enough.  I just never thought that he would carry what ever he felt towards me and my brother and sister to his grandchildren.

“I have to get back to my son.”  I said as I got up.  I was coughing and sputtering, feeling anger, disbelief, shock, and nausea all at once.  My son was dead.  No one had any answers beyond the obvious and what I was already informed.  The nurse grabbed me by my arm and clung to me.  Partly holding me up, partly attempting to give me comfort.  I felt like a macabre suitor on a bizarre hellish date.

As I entered the room where Tim still lay, another nurse came in and whispered in the nurse’s ear.  She nodded and tapped her thigh in a manner showing she was uncomfortable.

“Mr. Connors, we are going to need to move your son.  I’m sorry.  I was told that the room we’ll be moving him to is more private.”

I acknowledged her, nodding my head.  I followed as the nurse was joined by another and rolled Tim to another room.  The window on the door was occluded with mini-blinds.  I didn’t know what reality was any longer.  I felt the nightmare beginning.  I felt that God had abandoned me.  I lost all connection with what was my world.  I felt alone.  I was adrift...the anchor of my soul was severed from me.