After the father’s final prayer we all rise, file outside to our cars and prepare to be moved to the cemetery for Santo’s burial. We walk the casket out like soldiers, for to rally was our only option. The Big Guy informed me that I’ll be driving with him to the burial. I felt close to him in that moment and wouldn’t for the life of me want to be driving with anyone else. The two of us throughout this past year had established a true connection. It was unspoken between us but obvious to everyone else. Walking out from the church swarms of people dotted our radar. And looking around I was becoming cold. I didn’t like the convenient bridge tragedy had presented. I didn’t like all of the woodwork, what came out of it, why and the emotions of convenience. “You can’t tell me people how to feel Carl!” I could see TR, my main man Tick, the hippy of the crew, Santo’s dearest pal, that audio playing on loop in my head as we loaded his casket into the funeral homes black Cadillac Hearst. It was a surreal life. I knew this Heasrt well. The picture of my “pinging” bats en route to our favorite Waltham dive bar with Magic and Des chauffeured by Brett himself on Sunday’s to speculate and for myself, manage my own risk spread throughout the youthful nothings of a wealthy suburb half way turned out.
The back door slammed. The locked could be heard, click. And as I walked out into the bright sunlight away from a deities confusing promises I found strength by the Big Guy’s side. As magnetic magnates in our own traversing odysseys we just sort gravitated towards one another. “You riding with me?” It was a question. It was an affirmation for an always assumption. For even on ACE field trips, faculty and juvenile delinquents such as myself rode a school bus. I rode with the Big Guy. We’d formed an unbreakable alliance.
My teacher and head basketball coach, curator of a provided heaven here on earth. We both enjoyed a comfort in the emotionally porous zoo of townspeople that had flocked to what I’d later learn was typically the least attended aspect in this American ritual of burying our civilians. And in the denizens of human obstacles invading our path to his green Honda, head after head, adult, kid, priests and fans came over to pay condolences or simply say hi and shake one of our hands. The attention had become obscene a harbinger of something far more awful to come for all of us. “Hi” “thanks” “OK” “Good” “OK Copy that” “Roger” “Hi” “Hi” “Hi”
Out of the crowd emerged my father’s sister, my aunt Ursula. She’d help run an art gallery where Santo’s mom sculpted and painted. A few weeks later we’d learn she had gathered the scattered remains of her decimated Silver Volvo from the accident site to sculpt something beautiful out of the remains. “I love you so much. I’m so sorry. I miss you.” Everyone it seemed suddenly loved me. And for my Aunt Ursula hers was a spirit I hadn’t seen since I was kicked out of her current residence, the million dollar Victorian house my father had grown up in five years earlier. I’d made a pact with my mother I’d never go back and be subjected to that type of ridicule again. And no one would call. And no one had checked in. And they knew. My mother’s sickness, the zero percent of family we had in the absence of my father’s side. We had the Outsiders, kids, the Young Guns, pills, comedy and now the Big Guy. And today we lost our captain reconciliation would not be that easy. I’d turn and embrace my dear aunt Ursula, a women my mother had told me judged her harshly for years. A women who’d poke fun at my mothers position in life, not in tune with bourgeoisie mores nor jokes that stems from a growing up having everything and never relinquishing such a lucky lot in life. It burned me. However I was becoming quite polished. I was six feet now and lost my braces. The hundreds of hours in the Hayden weight room using Bart’s BC football weight program had given my shoulders a semblance of upper body strength that complimented my two giant dimples.
I was no longer “dumbo” as my grand mother in the same breath would question my everything asking why I couldn’t be more like Ursula’s children. The Concord children, products of Chote and Exeter and their tony accents and Brook brothers loafers were the ideal she most wanted to think of her family as. They resented my mother as an orphan. They laughed at my dress and manner of speech. And everyone loved my sister Brooke but at the end of the day, she was with us. And ironically my aunt’s trophy cased children were on a fast track to heroin abuse, alarming addictions and accidents. I’d remember the large oil paintings of the children that hung over a long ago Thanksgiving feast in Concord. The black women played the harp as I asked only for dark meat staring at the frosted pond that so eloquently dressed an amazing plot of land in one of the countries premier places of residence.
And it played in a flash. Coach Farias would always celebrate the bandwagon that formed whenever his teams got off to a 5 or 10 and 0 start. “Can you hear the drums?” He’d ask loudly as the ACE phone rang endlessly with old friends some of which he hadn’t heard from since their last possible state title contender. “Aunt Ursula, I know, It’s OK, I know, thanks, thanks. OK.” I kissed her, embraced her hug and patted her head like I believed a legend would handle the unscrupulous and emotionally explosive situation her breaking through the herd presented. I never had a family. And I learned that toughest of lesson the only way possible. And it was years ago. And it was sad, so sad but I wasn’t going to let people of that character bring me down.
I’d found my own family. A founded a gang, UNLV and we turned into the Young Guns. And they were my sister’s and also my mother’s family. I did that. And unlike a side of a family I’d believed was there, they disappeared too, just like my mother said they would. My family would never. And unlike the family we’d lost, never knew and or ever really had, I’d do anything for my family anything in the whole wide world at the drop of a call, if my homies call.
Snap back to reality. There was this combustion of chaos as people managed to their rides and dozens of people it seemed were approaching myself, the Big Guy as the trek to his green Honda and was becoming a difficult journey.
“You coming with me?” It was the Big Guy now by my side. “Of course. Shotgun.” I smiled whipping out of sunglasses. He didn’t have to ask. “Take care Carl! I love you baby.” I was hardened in a way she could never of possibly conceived. I’d given the moment, but in my head all’s I heard to myself was, get the fuck out of my face with that shit. I was sixteen years old.
Finally the car, shotgun, the side door that put me in my favorite seat, I grabbed the handle. But not yet, my shoulder was grabbed, “hey, het!” I turned to not one but two kids I’d gone back with who’d recently drawn a mutual ire in my high school game of thrones. “Carl, dude, dude, let’s squash it man, for Santo, life is short, it’s not worth it, I’m sorry, are you?” Given the moment I indulge, hugging him, I was defeated and reply, “for sure yo we’re cool.” I’d been squashing beefs I didn’t even know existed most however I was acutely aware of. In all of this sadness and within the mighty politics of sympathy I felt our celebrity growing. All in that one instance outside of the church on the way to Santo’s burial. Allot was coming at all of us.
Another quick set of hugs and I was in, door was locked as Big Guy plopped down, locked his door and the car dropped to low rider status. “Jeepers. This is a mad house.” And from the departing saddened frenzy, sound was forgotten. Driving from the church I was blinded by the flash of a camera. Fuck me sunglasses. I’d seen to have lost them. The trip from the church to the cemetery usually takes ten minutes. Right out of the gates I notice the procession was going to the cemetery in anything but a direct fashion. “Why did they turn that way?” The Big Guy, “Yo, I got no clue maybe Mc D’s!” Fat guy always cracking jokes. As we slowly cruise further and further away from our final destination the high school was within eyeshot.
The deep procession was rolling through the student parking lot. Santo’s parents and his relatives that traveled to be here hadn’t yet seen the voluminous nature of the graffiti laced tributes to their son. It had over taken the field house and one side of the entire high school. It was truly, a sight to be seen. Kids die everyday this was different. It was truly a real time lap around the once crazed and high-flying student parking lot. There were two eighteen wheeler rustic almost train cargo cars that never moved. There were woods, on its right side, the field house and out face of the LHS hoops gym bricked its back. Worthern road ran across its head and due to the fact most Madison teenagers drove their own cars, the student parking lots overflow parked here. Everything was slow motion, glancing at all of the art that graced our high school where Santo starred and gave his life it was the saddest thing. I felt comfort as assuredly the family for the stunning representation that Santo’s death had caused throughout the entire 1245 students at good old Madison high.
“Hey,” there was a reason I was rolling with the Big Guy to the burial. “Hey, its going to be OK.” Always wanting to be tough for the Big Guy, I gain my composure as he adds, “Hey there’s a lot of spray paint on this school.” “I know its crazy.” “Hey you betta not be painten.” The Big Guy after all was still the anchor you never wanted to fuck around with. “Hah, its not me.” “Hey, we’ll have this part of it all out of the way soon.” “OK”
And away we driver out of the student parking lot back on straight route to the cemetery, I closed my eyes and imagined next years headline. “The Buy Guy saves the Dream, longtime coach and teacher saves seniors shot at life, Arriving at the cemetery I observe, “what a beautiful day.” “Yeah its like Santo brought the sun back, for all of these days it was cloudy and now, look at this? Once again not a cloud in the sky.” “crazy” The cemetery was quaint, steady. Here in this American option of burial there were no head stones, stones laid flat, it was so filled with finality that I FELT LIKE I WAS IN A GHETTO BOYS video, be careful what you wish for. Arriving to the sheer panic, Jesus, please give me much more strength
Out of the car, there is a role, we still have responsibility and heading to the Hertz, Brett gives a nod and a wink, as we convene and fall into place. Carrying its casket sad, tired and nervous, not wanting to actually carry him to a spot in the ground where they bury him its hard not to say fuck it, and be the one to break, but again I had YG, my family besides we were almost there, what do I give a fuck Always had to say that, as a last resort to keep from being “shook” and emotionally bugging when the cameras were on, or when I accidently touched on of those never go near emotional “tender” reefs.
The burials large cast of straight and sullen faces populate the outer rims of his perfectly dug and carved out lot. We placed the casket as ritual on the mechanism that drops him to his final place of rest. Penny loafer to penny loafer we stand. Straight was our posture. Straight were our faces as the last part of this begun. These are the things that change boys to men. Magic was to my immediate right all lay silent, “Snap” A lone old school camera snapped brightly. “I want that.” Magic whispers “So much” I reply. This was finalization. And we never did see that photo.
The father says a last prayer. He invited all present to share any final words. This was a moment that no one was budging. I wasn’t saying shit. Magic wasn’t either. In fact no one was, this pigeon holed the father a bit. The silence quickly became overbearing. How long could he let this hang?
Finally an all too familiar, unique voice could be heard clearly out of the crickets. We all in YG on the front lines kick saved a stomach “pit” as we instantly recognize the voice. I can already see “blotchy” spots appearing on Magic’s face but he would never. He’d controlled his emotions long before I’d learned. The voice, David Sears was autistic, we thought. He was something. He was off. He knew all of us and forever walked up and down Mass Ave in the center of town showering niceties and small talk in what we believed my have been a manufactured, and very British accent.
“Matt I will miss seeing you at Steve’s ice cream! I will miss you and the ice cream! You were very pleasant, yes very pleasant at Steve’s ice cream.” Boom. Silence broken. It was an instant classic. And one after the other adults and friends kicked the shit out of that once awkward silence. Finally I’d been touched in a very special way, I was compelled to contribute. As if drawn into the center of the circle by some magical tug I stepped out beyond the front row suspending thought, “you know, when you’re a guy always competing, trying to be the best, you” and I managed to choke out, “forget to tell them you love them.” And yet again I broke. I cried. Life wasn’t fair. Both of my hands go over my face in a panic. Falling apart Magic pulled me back towards the now huddling fellas. I felt rapid pats on the head. I dried up. It felt so good.
As the casket lowers itself into the ground I realized I didn’t want to die. It was an act. The chances were calculated. The raps were raps. The casket was lowered. The flowers were iridescent, plush and many. The dirt was tossed on top. And I walked away. And that was it. And I was composed leaving with the Big Guy. “Farewell Santo, I bid you adieu.” I always knew that phrase and last word from a famous Boston sports headline after the Great Ted Williams had finally retired.