I was fresh back from our neighbors to the North. I stayed with the drum corps until November. I then joined up with Jazzmobile to learn some more about music. I still had pictures of Spiro following me and showing me up. Even worse, I thought of the prospect of meeting other Spiros.
I looked over the other musical competition as I auditioned. Spiro could have easily outplayed them, yet no one ever heard of him. I was sure that time would have revealed him to the masses. I just stayed with Jazzmobile long enough to face the challenges. When I was done, I moved on.
This would be the school year, the big year, that I would get my Associates degree. I was planning to take it back to Rose and show her that I was on my way to reaching my goal of being a teacher. I wanted to convince her that, in addition to achieving my dream, I would be able to take care of the both of us. I expected not to have any competition. You see, Eddie had graduated shortly before I went to Canada. If he was like I expected him to be, he should have broken up with her. I always included that in my prayers. This would leave the path open for me to get her back for good. I entered SJU much more stout-hearted than my first year. After all, I sort of knew my way around the place. I had a good idea of what to expect. I was determined to make this my school year. I believe that everything for me revolves around two year or evenly divisible yearly cycles. If it wasn't going to happen in my sophomore year, it would definitely happen for me in my senior year. I was ready.
I spent the second year molding myself to take up the new challenges. I had a whole year-my first in college under my belt. I felt more secure, but I had to focus on my school work and Rose, not necessarily in that order. It would be a year of a double graduation—mine and hers. I was already feeling giddy from the summer before with the disco music. It helped me ease my way into the atmosphere.
As my second year drew to a close, I, ironically, took a job at SCS as a sexton in order to pay for my club dues, carfare, and entertainment expenses. I swore that I would never return to this place, but here I am using it in order to survive. It was about a week after I left Jazzmobile. This was not going to be a lifetime job. I only worked on the weekends. It also served another function. I felt better when I first left this place in 1970. Now, I needed the same boost six years later. I was using SCS as my second springboard to better things. I felt that I wasn’t going to be trapped in this place. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to stay at the place. My graduation eventually came and I was now a holder of an Associates degree. I took my degree and headed back to CK to find Rose.
I chose a nice day in May—nearly two years and a month after my tragic break up,shortly after I graduated. It was sunny outside. The sky was picture perfect. One couldn’t have asked for a better day. I felt quite sunny on the inside. There was nothing that could bother me at this point. I was going back to my home. I was going back to the place that showcased my last big defeat. I had a goal in mind. I needed to see Rose.
This was the moment of truth, the moment I waited for. I found her. She was so resplendent. She was still as beautiful as that day when I first met her. She still had the same smile that caught my attention some four years earlier at this time. She was happy. I knew why. At least, I thought I knew why. Now, she was a senior.
We sat on one of the back stairways and talked about the old times and what had taken place since I was gone. We were nowhere near what used to be our favorite place. We were in her new favorite place. Perhaps, it was a sign of things to come. There were a lot of changes in the two years since I’ve been gone. I was feeling a bit like an outsider. After all, I did graduate and the present emphasis was on the soon to be graduates. Still, I had to show everyone my success story in the making. Right now, I was looking for one more level of success.
Perhaps, I was just a bit cocky. There were no guarantees that I was going to be successful. Something in the back of my mind, though, told me that this smile was somehow different. I had to ask about Eddie. At that point, time had stopped. Somehow, I felt that the worst was yet to come. That was when she delivered the bombshell. My worst nightmare was finally coming to light—she and Eddie were planning to get married. ENGAGED??? I got hung up on the word. I couldn’t get by it. It choked my like a noxious gas. It couldn’t be. The word ripped me up deep inside. He did it again. Everywhere I turned, it was Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. It was almost a year since he graduated and I still found myself facing him again. Round two! He beat me again, yet, he was nowhere in sight. I know that he was sitting somewhere in the distance with a huge grin on his face knowing full well that he had the ultimate prize. He was my curse, an albatross to me, the mariner. I wanted to seek him out and beat the the living raspberries out of him. If only she knew what kind of coward he really was. I wanted to tell her about the bus pass and the gang that almost beat him if I wasn’t there to help him. No, that would look like a cheap shot at a guy who wasn’t present to answer those charges. A huge portion of me wanted to find him and beat the crap out of him every day of the week. A small voice within me said that this would not be the solution. Why go to jail and lose such a great opportunity for a vast future? I had to go on.
We talked about her forthcoming graduation even though I had my thoughts on her pending nuptials. No, I couldn’t break her heart about her dream man. He made her happy, happier than I could ever make her. I could see how happy she really was. It was her moment in the sun. I wanted to be the lucky man in her life. Eddie was the only occupant of that area of her life. That was to have been my place and now he beat me to it. I worked on this. It was my plan. He only took advantage of a golden opportunity. Perhaps, it was best that he wasn't present for this occasion.
I asked her if I could attend her graduation. I knew deep down that I could crash the event. It was going to be held at SJU just like mine. Eddie would have to be in my new world. He would be in my area of town. Still, I just had to see her for what was probably going to be one last time. I wanted to have her permission just to reassure me that there was still some direction, some hope, for us. She said that I could come. I felt happy, but a voice deep down inside told me not to get too comfortable with the answer.
The graduation took place on June 12, 1976. It was a rather pleasant Saturday evening, balmy yet clear. I had to work at SCS for the evening Mass. I just wanted to attend the Mass instead of working in the sacristy. During Mass, I usually did my school work until it was completed. On this night, however, I could only think of the graduation. I couldn’t even think of any school work at the time. The mere fact that she could be gone forever was the only thing I couldn’t forget. The fact that Eddie was one reason and the graduation was the other made matters worse. Perhaps, the graduation would have been easier to accept if she and I were getting married. No, Eddie stole the thunder. I was left wrestling with reality and losing every step of the way. This was the night for the final gamble.
That June Saturday was a busy one at work for me. I rushed everyone out of the church when Mass was over. Why do these people have to stand around and talk? Did they ever hear of the telephone? What about standing outside? I would never get to the graduation by bike at this rate. Besides, I would be too sweaty if I did make the ride. Suppose she did give him up and decided to go with me? I would surely look foolish riding us home on a bicycle. Eddie already had a car. I didn’t even have a clunker. I just had a learner’s permit. I needed to get there as soon as possible. I made arrangements to have my dad rush me to the campus. He had no idea why I was in so much of a hurry. I just had to get there in time or my world would crash with a huge thud. The ride seemed to go on forever.
As soon as he pulled up to the gym, I hopped out of the car. I nearly broke my behind in the process. The physical pain was not even a thought at the time. I had to see her again. I could hear the resonance of the gym. Somehow, I felt like I was walking into what was going to be another personal disaster for me and no one else. The cards were now all on the table in the hopes of winning this poker game. I came too far to go back now. I had no desire to go back except to have things be the way they used to be. There was no room at all to bluff. It was now all or nothing at all. There was definitely life inside of the building. I just couldn't let that that chump beat me.
I dashed inside just in time to hear her name being called out. It was an emphatic call. The name seemed to float around the celebratory air. It was if God had just decided to call out her name. I swelled up inside. Her name stuck with me. Was the world revealing the fact that I was feeling pretty low? I heard "What I Did for Love" playing in the background. I checked my watch. It was 8:03 PM. I remembered the numbers. I remembered how those numbers came up when I said my farewell to Laura. I was now forced to say a farewell to Rose. She was now officially gone, but not out of my thoughts whatsoever.
I stayed around after the end of the ceremony. I immediately began to swell up with tears. I figured that I would embrace her one last time before she walked on her way into my memories. I was even hoping, from a distance, to meet the rest of her family. I knew that her sister Angela was there, but I forgot what she looked like.
I rudely pushed my way through the crowd. There was too much happiness, too many stories for me to become involved in. They didn’t concern me. Who cared about them? I had only one story on my mind. I needed to see her. This was proof that I loved her. I let my heart, the same one that took me to the chapel some years earlier, be my guide. My heart that was now vulnerable to what could be its weakest moment. My personal radar led me to the right spot. Soon, the world only held the three of us—Rose, Eddie, and me. I needed to touch her before he did. I needed to feel the magic just one more time. I needed to feel her caress just for the one more time if it were meant to be. She looked up and saw me. Our eyes met for the moment. I saw the angel, my angel, with a glimmer in her eye. I saw her through the tear in mine. I began to swell up again. This was it.
Before I could get any closer, Eddie called out to her. This would be the final test. Where would she go? To whom would she give her heart? It had come to this. It was either him or me. He and I looked at each other. There we were—two men getting ready to meet for the championship. He didn’t blink; neither would I. Two tall men waiting for the ultimate moment. It came down to this one long period in time. The two greatest opponents of all time—good versus evil—stood just a few feet from each other. No one else in the building could imagine what was unfolding under the roof. They couldn’t even fathom the pinnacle of emotions that culminated in this meeting between Eddie and me. He and I saw it coming. I looked into his eyes. I could see his anger. I was moving in on what was to be his moment. But, he also saw my anger. I was Mount Vesuvius. I was waiting to explode all over him. Somewhere in both sets of eyes were souls that waited and longed for their greatest reward. One of us would leave the building as the champion—the Rex, a king, the victorious one. The other would be the loser, a pathetic wretch. I wasn’t going to be the loser. This is the end of an extremely long 728 day waiting period. I marked all of that time down to the exact minute. I held out for the last shot. I knew nothing about giving up. This would go against my very nature if I gave up now. I was used to keeping it when the going got tough. I held on to hope. Who would be the happiest man of the golden moment?
I waited. My eyes locked in on the scene that was being played out in front of me. The seconds felt like months. Time nearly stopped. It was an eternity. She looked at me and smiled. Then it happened! She walked in his direction while he walked in hers, stopping her in her path. After that came their embrace. My hopes were over. It was done. It was the same type of embrace, my type of embrace, that I used to give her. I witnessed the transfer. Our embrace was now their embrace. It’s just that I am now not in the picture. After that, I don’t even think that she ever saw me again. I was a non-entity. I was all of a sudden being removed. It was as if I wasn’t there. I understood. I’ve always wanted her to be happy. Now, she was happy and I was crushed. I always thought that her happiness would always include me. I couldn’t even match this event. I, however, felt even more rage toward Eddie. I wanted to tear his arms off and feed them to him. All I needed to do was to get a grip on his air passage. I resisted. She probably wouldn't have liked that. I resisted some more.
I walked out of the place with tears in my eyes. The warm building that I used to walk around in suddenly felt like a tomb-cold and desolate. She was now gone. Eddie scored a key victory. He beat me soundly once again. As far as romance was concerned, I was dead. Round three.
I lost what felt like the title in a world's championship match. Eddie was now the new champ. The world was celebrating his victory. No one remembers the loser. I was now, for the first time in a long time, a loser. It was a strange feeling to lose what I wanted so much. I came up extremely short, empty-handed. All of sudden, nothing else made any sense. I couldn’t even figure it out myself. Were the bigots right? Was this a forbidden romance? Should I have left her alone and looked for someone else? No! I loved her and I still do. I was right. I followed my heart. I must have been right. I felt good when things were fine. Now, it didn't matter anymore. I just knew that I would never feel that type of happiness ever again. The sun had set and my memories were secured in what had to be the cruelest form of fate. Rose was gone as quickly as she entered my life. It was so ironic. We met in a chapel amidst prayers and here she is being sent along in life with prayers. The cheering I felt within when I met her was now being heard aloud all throughout the gym. They weren’t cheering for me. They were cheering for Eddie and Rose. This was not my moment; it was all hers. I was now relegated to spectator status. A spectator? I gambled and came up way too short. Now, I had to recover and try to get home. I reached into my pocket. I had a few bucks, money from selling votive candles at church, to get me home. Votive candles were used for memorializing a lost loved one. I needed a candle right now for my very own. I lost a loved one. I wasn’t going to light it at my parish church though. I walked around to find some much-needed solace. I hurt. I really hurt. I turned and looked for my friend, the sunset, over the gym. It settled slowly as if to prolong my extreme agony. The sun wouldn’t go away fast enough. “No,” I said. “Let it last just a little time longer. Let me hug her just one more time.” Her celebration had begun. I went into mourning. It was so ironic. I was happy when she came into my life. Now, I am happy that she made it and graduated yet just sad that she was going on her way with HIM. What could he give her? I watched the setting sun as I hurt. It hurt way too much. The pain was too great to bear. I was cheated out of real, true happiness. I didn’t feel that I deserved this pain. All I wanted was to have this one part of my life to myself. I was happy with everything else.
Then, I remembered Joey.
The next day, a bright and clear Sunday, I noticed that things had changed. I had changed. My perspective on life had changed. The world looked so different. I saw it not as my friend, but as an enemy to be conquered. I felt a huge hole in my heart. I tried to rationalize what had happened the night before, but they were all rational lies. Did it really happen or was it just some horrible and cruel ending to what should have been a beautiful dream? I was bruised. I didn't want to continue with anything until someone explained why I felt so destroyed. Still, I couldn't tell anyone what had taken place. It had to be a secret. I could never tell anyone what took place. Why did I feel so desolate? How could this happen? Was she really gone forever? Maybe she really didn’t exist. No, she did. I had some strong feelings that were encased in tons of pain. I really loved Rose. She was my finest moment and now my finest moment was behind me, gone.
I had to go back to work the next morning. I felt like calling in sick or, better yet, quit the freaking job. It was the very first real day of life without her. I hopped on my bike and rode it for a while. I never thought that the bike would turn out to be my best friend at the moment. Her graduation song kept ringing in my head. I wanted to go CK and sit there for a while. I wanted to go back and think of the old days, the days that I enjoyed without limits. I wanted something to outweigh the scene from the night before. I was hoping, in my wildest imagination, that she would come by and see me again. In the end, she didn’t even know how much I really loved her. I dashed those hopes and rode around for a while. I just couldn't just start all over again. It took me 17 years to meet her. I wanted her and no one else. No one else would be good enough for me. From this point on, every girl would have to be compared to Rose. I would never marry until I met someone who could meet and surpass my love for her. That is tough competition for any woman. No one has won yet.
I really didn’t want to go to work. I wasn’t in any mood to talk to anyone at all. I really didn’t even care if the boss fired me. So what? It was just some peanut-paying job that a monkey could have done blindfolded in the first place. I wasn’t making thousands of dollars. I was only trying to write something on my resume. This job was just a filler. It was also an awakening to real life. I came back to earth with a crashing thud. I had to recover. At this rate, I could have drunk my way into a bottle. If the rest of my life was going to be like this, I was in real trouble. I had to find my niche and stick to it.
I went home that Sunday evening and wrote Eddie’s name on a sheet of looseleaf. I then tacked it to a wall and repeatedly punched at the name with such force that I nearly bled on the paper. I heard the wall crack. I dreamed of his face replacing his name just this one time. When I finally tore the paper from abuse, I prepared a new sheet and repeated my angry act. I hit so hard the next time and heard a crack in my hand. Did I break it? I had to stop. My anger was turning into more rage. I truly began to hate him more than I hated an escargot sandwich. I sunk lower than I should have. Punching the wall served no purpose except for destroying paper, wall and hand.
I eventually took stock of myself and thought of what came from this situation. I am capable of hurt. I never hurt like this before. I didn't want to lose anyone. Again, death, I believed, had introduced itself. I did make a new friend, my train pal and buddy in New York, John. I called him Igor because of his deadpan humor. I thought that he might be a true buddy to the end. I would learn how good a friend he would be some 11 years later. He also knew about Rose and me. He also knew and knew about Eddie. Only John would truly understand my extreme dislike for Eddie. Things were tough, but not all that bad. I learned how to be more dependent upon myself. By watching Rose leave, I was able to learn more about myself. I learned that I had a weakness. It was her. I had to keep this pain within me and find my direction. Life had to go on.
The rest of the summer was a living irony. I kept returning to SXS to resume the rest of my duties. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps, I was trying to start all over again. I knew that I would never meet another Rose. It was the very place that I swore some six years earlier not to return. Now, I was back and truly defeated. I took on a job that I really didn’t have my heart into at all. My duties included setting up for funerals. I just don't like funerals. It seemed like there was a funeral every week. I am sorry that someone lost a loved one, but it was much too much for me. I already lost my loved one this past June. It made me think of my own mortality. I thought about what would happen if life suddenly ended right now. What would be my accomplishments? It was time to regroup and set up new goals for myself.
Although I was practicing every day, the music just wasn't happening for me. I even considered putting the trumpet away for good for the second time. I remember reading a quote from a book by the noted jazz critic, Nat Hentoff. It said that one couldn’t play the blues unless one had dirt on his shoes. I think that I had enough dirt on my shoes to build an adobe complex.
I just wanted to do some more touring on my bike and push this past June out of my mind. Unlike last summer when I was out enjoying myself every week with the drum corps and listening to the disco music, and yes, dancing, this summer left me very depressed. I needed a pick-me-up real quick. I still had two more years left. I was racked with pain. I had to put it behind me. I felt that no one else would be able to replace her. The real question was whether or not I would be able to believe it. So far, I do believe.
“The fairest things have fleetest end;
Their scent survives their close.
But the rose’s scent is bitterness
To him that loved the rose!”
(from “Daisy” by Francis Thompson)
Chapter 7: The Smart Aleck SJU Junior