Sunday, March 17, 2013
There was a time when I loved the St. Pat’s Parade in Albany. We’d go to McGeary’s and chase girls all night long. But I haven’t been to a Parade Day in many years, and today looking at the pics of green-clad parade goers, I don’t miss it in the least. For me March, St. Pat’s Day especially, has become a sad thing, a depressing gateway to spring. As fate would have it, I married a woman who also hates March and would prefer to see St. Pat’s expelled entirely from the calendar. So this year we went to JC Penney’s then Longfellow’s for dinner. No chance of rubbing elbows with the Blarney-loving bunch.
My March story starts in 2000 when my uncle Dave was dying of lymphoma. He was diagnosed in November of ’99, quickly got worse through the winter, then March hit and he went to the hospital, never came out again. His mantra was a simple one: Make it to spring. He died on March 21, 2000, the first day of spring. He was 33 years old. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, and I went through it front row at 20. While my friends were away at college, I was learning about death way too soon. That was Black March, and the brightest light of hope this family had ever known was extinguished in a gut-wrenching swipe. Every March I retrace the steps of that time thirteen years ago. But no matter how many times I replay Black March in my mind, it always ends on the 21st with that call from my father. “I’m sorry, son . . .” No amount of green beer and goofy hats can rewrite March for me. March is Dave at Albany Med. March is that crowded wake room at McVeigh’s.
There’s a legend that says my family--on my mother’s side--is cursed. The curse supposedly comes from the German branch (I’m German?) and says that a male ancestor had married a woman in America then left her alone, went back to Germany, where he resumed his life with his first wife. From that a curse was put on the family that promised no descended woman would ever be happy. I don’t know about curses, but every woman in my mother’s generation was widowed by 50, and my mother’s one female cousin died of a heart attack in bed at 51, about five years after being widowed. My grandmother died the most horrific death you could imagine, as did her sister, who before dying dealt with a husband who cursed her seven ways from Sunday for five years from a stroke and dementia. My great-aunt’s son then died at 50, horribly, and her grandson dropped dead of a heart attack at 32, a week before his wedding. There is evidence to suggest the women in my family are slated to suffer.
But I return to March 2000, always March 2000, where the ultimate sadness in this family’s history waits. Dave was married into this family, and he was immediately the star of our funky bunch. He instantly made everyone’s life better. From giving my father a free truck, to giving me my first real job, to setting my aunt and her daughter up for life, to just being there and making us all better. Dave was the blessing this family had prayed for. He was the light. He would break the curse. Then it instantly and stunningly went the other way, and POW, he was dead and gone. And all the good he brought this family, all the light he shined on us, was instantly reversed. The curse had claimed another.
All these years later, I wish I never met Dave or knew him. It sounds bad but it’s true. As much as his brief time with us was a blessing, his horrific death was a shotgun blast to my psyche. With him I was the happy protégé. Then . . . In so many ways, his downfall ruined my life. It completely recalibrated the way I looked at the world, and gave birth to an unshakable depression and a certain feeling that doom awaits me, always awaits. I don’t feel blessed to have known him or any of that Hallmark-card crap. His life was a tragic one. This story is a brutal one. Dave’s death showed me that bright lights could burn out, the bad guy did win. The Fairy Tale ended when he ended.
Today I have officially outlived Dave, but my path to 33 and six months was a hard one, riddled with nightmares, and fear, and self-destruction. But I managed to survive. How? I'm no fool. I know the secret to my survival. Only one good thing has ever happened to me, and it is my wife, and now I’m here with her, and every success I have ever had has been with her. She is the second thing I have ever loved in this lifetime (the third counting Head Coach Tom Coughlin, of course), and as long as she’s with me, the doom will stay away, replaced by hope, laughter, life. I like to think she was sent to finish the job Dave started in ’90. I like to think that she can end any curse that could exist. Of course she would say that's not the ONLY reason she lives--to save me from some curse--and I'm selfish for suggesting that. And I am selfish, she's right. And she is the shining light of this family. Everyone is better with her here. And when St. Pat’s rolls around, you won’t find us anywhere near North Pearl Street. But wherever we are, we'll be there together. I'm happy and ready to March on.
See Pics: http://www.timesunion.com/seen-events/slideshow/SEEN-2013-Albany-St-Patrick-s-Day-Parade-58574.php