School was an afterthought for the next couple of days. All’s we could do was accept cold realities as we girded ourselves for the motions. Today was the first of a three part series of wakes at the town’s funeral home I was all ready far too familiar with. The wakes ultimately lead to the burial of Matthew Jonathan Santosusso. The only good point in my mind was that I loved the temptations. Santo had struck a chord. It was so much more than us. In fact the school, and powers beyond our control entrusted with the production of this Church Service, three wakes and burial colluded to keep us as far away as possible. We were cut out of anything spoken but nonetheless had front pew seats next to the family at the church service and later at the burial, fucken curtains
We were pissed at the snubs. I was silently enraged. This thing had become colossal and the politics of sympathy were in full swing. It drew a greater divide in my distrust of the entire thing. The first wake was slated to start around 2PM on a school Wed. What strikes me in reflection is how a schedule driven town stopped all scheduling to revolve around this grief that had re-entered Candy Land itself, Madison MA for the first time since 77, sixteen years (the last time a teenager died at LHS). It was Thursday at noon, and that was it, everything else stopped. I was again in the center of attention, be careful what you wish for doesn’t begin to describe the haunting irony boomeranging back.
And like the tough times of past, darling occasions regardless of court appearances I had a deep set of friends and there was universal truth in math. It was polarizing. The field was now level. It would stitch us together. The love we had then was strong and we thought like many kids and clicks it would last forever. Ironically it did. Meeting up with Magic, Monster, Mr. Fullerton, Spec, Diamond, Friday Night and the rest of the basketball team slash what friends I had remaining we were ready to “roll” through the inaugural wake. Dressed in oxford white shirts, and cotton “sock” ties, penny loafers and khaki’s we walked from school to the funeral home as one. We wouldn’t be the first ones to arrive or the last, I was scared to see Santo resolute and frightening. I took focused deep breaths naming all of the people whose name I knew that began with the letter “G.”
Approaching the funeral homes cadaverous climate with all my crew not a word was muttered. Not a movie was quoted. Game faces. I couldn’t look up. Once at the funeral home the “viewing” line stands as long as bread lines in the pits of communist Russia, longer. All, all coming to pay there respects to our lost family. I turn to Magic and we both say concurrently albeit soft as Downey for some ungodly reason, “mine would’ve been bigger.” Challenge. The line at the funeral home stretched beyond it’s real estate and curled to the corner of Mass Ave, endless faces that Santo’s passing had checked reality for. Kevin, aka, Mr. Friday Night begins to lose it, we watch startled and scared, Spec quickly to the best of his ability calms his brother down as we continue our march in April with downed, dead heads. Mr. Friday Night is not supposed to lose it was all I kept thinking. We’d been motioned as a group to the front.
Line cutting privilege here represented a non-fortuitous adolescent plight rather than an edge. All’s I ever wanted in life was cut the line, I never stopped bragging about how often Des did it, and with such a shift in the galaxy’s crust, the irony’s came strong and steadily. All eyes remain defensively open as we languidly pace past the three and a half-hour waiting line to the front. We enter the Funeral Home’s gateway or atrium with humbled ignorance flat in the air and sadness hanging in our hearts. Brett was the first to greet us, somber and professional running the show that his parents long ago started, a multi million-dollar funeral business. Brett didn’t look good but then again he was taking anti depressants and smiles were not in the job description. Brett was the heir to the funeral home. The maturity he exuded during holy sanctimonious moments of peril was meticulous and garnered a certain type of respect that was unfounded outside of funeral home culture.
His countenance surrounding comas and processions led one to believe this was a man, years ahead of his age, he’s deliberate, he’s calculated, he’s smart, he’s blonde, definitely rich he was a scratch golfer. He like my mentor and sister’s boyfriend Des had dropped out of high school only never to return. A slam-dunk was just the opposite for the Madison brat pack of the 80’s existing now in the early 90’s and forever going forward as challenged. Brett was well versed on the manners and sport of the very well off. The customs, built in racial subterfuge, a required and rarely revealed outside of your bestest financial benefactors was a trait necessary, if you wanted in. Shaking Brett’s hand and moving beyond his fat under chin symbolized that we had now moved inside the “realm.” I couldn’t walk. With a thousand guests behind us, panic has glued our loafers to the spot we can’t seem to move past. Jesus. Brett devotionally peered down and handed the keys to his upstairs residential space. Bottom line without a question Brett had a Zanex up there. And we were on the same page. One thing those guys always had were pills, they almost always had Zanex, Klonapin and on occasion Valium which incidentally had gone out of style but was my favorite.
Brett continued to serve the rolling assembly as my front door excitement was easily concealed by a vast nothingness encapsulating all of my breath. Brett continues, “Pay your respects first though.” I agree and he hands over the keys to his money upstairs apartment that lay vertically above the funeral homes showing area. Great break for this squad needed a team timeout after we, you know. The entire basketball team was shuffled to the front of the line closet to his open casket. In the most serious of my Madison climates all eyes were peeled on me as I approached the casket. Just like I always wanted it, from day one dysfunctional outlets usually included the kids you broke bread with together, today was no exception and together we stood. It was haunting, this lung drop irony where like so many close to a suicide or a child’s death everyone at some point thinks it was their fault. Santo was gone, a price for my arrogance? If ever there was a time in my life where I immediately wanted to cease speaking with Jesus, this was it, like all of these moments in life, this numbness of mind made most of it hard to believe. Medication in a pill-crazed town was readily available to all of us, mostly because I was shady as fuck. I was sixteen and now possessed the prowess to string together a string of numbers on a pay phone and acquire anything, stomp out any curiosity. I was still sixteen. And for myself, Santo, my boy C, Hank, E Double, we all had birthdays in late May – August, we were the youngest. Santo was in August, like the recently expelled Hank, the youngest of the Young Guns. And Santo sadly the best all around athlete we had. The last time I saw him he was dunking at will in the field house, in khaki’s. Kid was cool as fuck. I shifted a lung, blocked out a tear, not here, nah.
That he was one of us, and that’s all I lived for, would make all of us according to the Madison public officials dangerous, and they were right. Looking at the outpouring of town support only made it more factual and I was on my last heels of denial. A kick save to an immediate breakdown, seeing Santo dead in the casket jumpstarted everything I was fighting to keep in. But I couldn’t lose it, not now. I wouldn’t let anyone see that from me, not here, suddenly Magic senses a disturbance in the force, turns around and calms me. “It’s just a free throw” I nodded my head regaining composure. Magic like a point guard, a leader steps up to the casket and down on bended knees says good by to his guy, it broke my heart. As Magic paid his respects, he broke down, and was comforted by both mother and pops, I lost it. I couldn’t handle this, clutching my Young Gun tang top, I lose it before even stepping towards the casket. I was up and it was too much. I lost it, I rallied, bent down, trying to behave as I had seen others, it couldn’t be me. And wasn’t that the strangest thing. He looked great, like a million bucks, hard not to think his eyes were suddenly going to pop open in the latest and biggest practical joke of his to date instant hall of fame. But the line was long so many were behind and everything was gone. I had to get up, I had to move on, walking to the family killed me worse. I was hugged. I was comforted. I was told it was OK. The three people we should be strongly consoling were holding us firm and telling me “it’s going to be OK. He loved being a Young Gun.”
I held Matt’s father Nick until ushers assisted in my “moving on.” Santo’s father was the hardest part. Santo’s father’s own antics and competitive gene in town that made him an outcast in his own right always found a fan in me. I knew had bad the old man wanted it. It was my dream too. It’s why this was so unfathomable. Baseball hadn’t even started yet. Santo was dead. It’s all over. For everyone, and for the dad, his old man, I knew intimately and without the guards of candor to understand their like of one another. And it killed me. Swallowing my throat trying to move on, holding his loving mother, his older sister just a couple years older, it was hell.
Filing slowly, finally out of the Funeral home, the sun was shining, shaking what seamed like endless hands mixed with many hugs we’d accomplished phase I. “Nice work.” Magic and I handled our always obligatory handshake / compliment whenever we were involved in good camera work. With touchiness at still gout sensitive levels I suddenly remembered Brett had given us the keys to his upstairs apartment. “Brett gave me the keys to the pad, side entrance.” “Well let’s go.” Magic and I quickly follow through on the hashed out plan. “Yo” Magic gives, the “yo” THE NOD AND Big Guy like whistle, and the fellas follow. Walking up to the centrally aired upstairs funeral home suite at least I felt cool. Sitting on the white leather couches was me, Magic, Spec, Mr. Fullerton, Monster, and Freddy and it was grand. We were there but we weren’t we could see they couldn’t , we were safe they were them. We were going to have a shot of Vodka. We could witness, re cap and avoid exposure to the many enduring social missteps a crowd this size almost always guaranteed. Peering out of the apartment it was astonishing, Madison MA it felt like a storybook. And this was the saddest chapter. Matt’s death, Santo. It hit everyone. And every face burger that I ever grilled I looked out at. They couldn’t see me. I knew that many would ask many. As many always had. And it wasn’t a complaint, a worry or rumor but a heartfelt interest. In some ways we were the performers, the troublemakers, the comedians, athletes and head cases. The breakfast club all tied up in one. I shook my head like a canister and poured out those thoughts, “Fuck I need a new cane.” I stood up and changed the subject. “Des what’s up baby!” I delivered, crisp, synchronized dap trying to change the energy rescuing my mind from itself.
“What are we going to do?” I asked exhausted from the question I needed an answer to right now, tomorrow and forever. “I have no idea, stay up here for a week?” Magic responded. I only knew the more this “stuff” went on the sadder I got. “Holy Shit!” All attention was silently converted towards the window. If Magic said it, (say this like Vadar) there’d be no false alarm. Something was happening. We just didn’t “jump” anymore at sixteen a terrible seasoning to our aging red blood, bones and meat. Oh shit, ZILLA And it was Stretch. He’d just drove over, peeled out, in teenage cry, the circular and gardened center patch to the funeral homes front entrance. Quickly dusting out in a smoke he nearly hits part of the suited visitors still standing in line outside to pay their respects. “Jesus Christ” Magic says shaking his head Being sums of a greater whole part we begin cursing Stretch for being “fucking retarded” before we broke out the level and shifted it’s lay a bit more towards Stretch’s line on the graph. We all fell silent in guilt’s stranglehold. Stretch spent the last moments of my Santo’s life holding him in his wide reaching arms. I’m such a fuck head, fuck nut, fucking prick, fuck-faced faggot. Jesus. Please. You up there? Help me make a good decision take a good action here. Fuck, Stretch, I can’t miss that. I a shook my head, grabbed Magic “he should be with us.” “Your right.” “what a zilla.” Mr. Fullerton says loudly as we all nod in agreement. “We can’t let him slip.” I stated aware of how slippery shit had become. I felt a fool. Police chased, sirens sounded, soared! Whispers, ears, the funk, Santo pretty punk, so far from a Stretch slam dunk he’s been here less than a year. A family needed. I wasn’t a curtain or a font. However harking to an opposite side of the mind, I was running a family. And what we just witnessed Stretch do was no good. Not the action, but the place, timing, the whispers, the ears. I knew. And never in my life felt so vulnerable.
Stretch’s reckless driving at the very worst possible time caught him an around the clock police tail for the rest of the school year, wherever he drove they would be there. This would keep me out of his dope ride for the duration of our time on that plot of land and point on time graph. I knew early he was a zilla. I’d seen him freak out and loved it. It was perfect. He was our center and naturally Santo hated him at first and they’d fall in love later. It was the nature of almost every loving relationship I’d form. I had a script. But it wasn’t being filmed it was a notion helping out my character assignation.
Assisting my acting that allowed me to block out everything going on around me and flex back to my check bones. “He’s officially nuts.” Magic delivers something in the name of that being said. “We all are, it’s pretty fucking cool!” Monster says rubbing his hands and doing the “Jack” thing with his eyebrows, Monster loved it. Anything associated with destruction made him happy. And he hated isolation. His biggest fear he found safety in numbers, destruction, and unbridled cavalier acts, together maybe we as acts, we weren’t so, “nuts.” We were a family. And no one realized it. They knew now.
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