Well, the long dreaded event has finally happened. One of my cohort died this week.
He’s not the first of the Canavan Square crowd to go, of course. Since our time together on the street corner started back in the sixties, a statistically predictable number of our friends, acquaintances and neighborhood characters have met their end. But those souls were all lost before their time; they died in auto wrecks, in work accidents, from drugs and/or alcohol. Each death in its time was shocking by its suddenness, finality and unfairness. Unfortunate as it may be, to die from a youthful screw-up, just some adolescent stupidity, happens all too frequently.
Of course, each of these horrible events should teach the victim’s peers a valuable lesson. It should, but it doesn’t really, and I suspect it never has. At fifteen or twenty you know innately that you’re immortal. Sure, tragedies happen to some people, but I’m not that stupid. Or that careless. Or that whatever.
I know now that I was just as stupid and careless as any. I was just luckier than a few. And so here we are, late at night, fifty years on, contemplating mortality.
But this loss is different. Jimmy was in his sixties, as I am. While his struggles with addiction held ample clues to his eventual fate, he made it all the way to last week before his body finally, inevitably gave out. He is now the first of us who could possibly be described as “dying of old age”. I believe natural causes is the accepted euphemism.
That I am a few years older than Jimmy doesn’t help at all, as you can imagine.
I actually hadn’t really seen Jimmy in about forty years, to be honest. I got engaged and married and moved to the suburbs soon after he was drafted into the army. His substance problems multiplied in Germany and, when he returned, he was no longer the bright, happy kid we remembered from all those teen-age years. His life spiraled down from there until we had all lost touch with him. Now his brother’s widow has messaged me on Facebook that Jimmy died in a VA facility a few days ago.
My recent medical issues have driven home to me just how tenuous our grip on this existence really is, that’s for sure. My sixty-six year streak of no stitches, broken bones, or chronic disease and mostly excellent health was brought to a screeching halt by a single CAT scan. Now I have a dozen or more prescriptions I don’t really understand and more doctors than St. Elsewhere.
Not that I have ever taken care of myself. I grew up on Coca Cola and twinkies and hardly ever saw a sweet I didn’t cram into my gullet. My sweet tooth even became a running joke among my friends, and I got used to being presented with a plate of cookies or fudge whenever we went to someone’s house. I rarely exercised and I sat on my butt at a desk all day. But it worked for me. Until it suddenly didn’t.
Hearing about Jimmy really made me sad. Both for the loss of a good friend from my youth and because I know that my future holds more of these sad occurrences. It’s all right there in the actuarial tables. I even know that one day in the distant future, my friends will be spreading the sad news about me.
That will be in the very distant future. Perhaps I can use Jimmy’s passing as a wake up call to get off my ass and get into some decent shape. Perhaps, but I probably won’t.
But I’m still declaring a moratorium. Starting today, all my friends and loved ones are ordered to stay healthy and safe until I say different. It’s zero tolerance; there will be no exceptions.