Tuesday, April 03, 2007

When It Rains, It Pours

LYING IN BED, I can hear the rain beating hard against the house. A howling wind slaps the neighbor's outer door back and forth on its hinges. Thunder rolls in the distance like an omen.

I'm still in Milwaukee. Mama is preparing herself for my departure, but the thought of me leaving makes her anxious. She just can't believe that Daddy is not here.

I was planning to return to Maine on Sunday to get a few days of deep sleep before heading to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Thursday to take in the US vs. Spain Davis Cup quarterfinal tie Easter weekend.

But late in the evening last friday, I felt the urge to call my husband instead of waiting for him to call me.

"Did Joe call you yet?" he inquired. I said that he hadn't. "Well, he called with some very bad news and I gave him your cell number. Do you want me to tell you or do you want to wait till he calls." I told him to tell me. "It's about Damian."

Damian Vella was one of my best friends in high school. A short Cicilian boy with a big personality and more flair than a fashion designer, he was my running buddy. Though he was born exactly one month after me on January 8, 1968, he was a year ahead of me in high school because he had skipped a grade in elementary school.

Thinking we were grown, we flashed our fake ID's and populated many a gay bar in the Walker's Point area of Milwaukee. We also worked together for years at McDonald's, our first employer.

The Monday after Daddy's funeral, I fell apart. I was staying on Milwaukee's East Side at this big old mansion that belongs to my sister's doctor friend because Daddy's cousin Della Mae was staying in my childhood bedroom across the hall from my mother. I was so forlorn that I went to Von Trier, one of the first bars Damian introduced me to, an Old-Milwaukee-style neighborhood watering hole near his childhood home that made the best Long Island Ice Teas this side of the Mississippi.

Walking down the street after I left the bar, I had to wrap my arms around myself, fearing that, like some delipaidated car speeding down the highway, pieces of me would start flying off. I couldn't stop thinking about Damian. I hadn't talked to him in years, but whenever we spoke, no matter how much time had elapsed between phone calls, we eased into conversation without effort. Damian fit into my life like an old shoe.

The next day, I looked up on the Internet his telephone number in Minneapolis, where he lived and worked for 20 years. I needed to talk to him about Daddy. Preoccupied with Mama and family business, I didn't get around to dialing his number. Outside of my husband, I hadn't called anyone all week.

"Damian committed suicide late Tuesday night," Job said, his voice pained and deliberate. "Joe said his funeral is next Tuesday."

"Jesus Christ," I repied, too shocked to feel any other emotion, "I've been thinking about him all week. I meant to call him, but..."

"You've always been a pyschic bitch." Jop cut me off from my regret. "Do you think you're going to stay for the funeral?"

His obituary appeared in Sunday's paper. He's really gone. I cried like the sky pouring rain against this house.

Earlier today, I made a cheesecake and a tray of lasagna and took it over to his family's house before hanging out with Joe, who'd flown into Milwaukee from Manhattan this afternoon.

Thunder rolls in the distance like an omen. I pull out Damian's phone number and dial it. Finally. I hope to hear his voice once more. But the voicemail greeting recites that automatic robotic message that tells you what number you've called.

I hang up.

Later this evening, I'll see his body, attend his funeral mass at a giant Catholic church not far from where Joe and I ate dinner tonight.

Now, I sign his guestbook.

The wind-slapped door just banged shut.


wbg said...

Oooh, Craig I feel so sorry for you! Job told me the bad news this weekend.
My thoughts are with you!
Take care.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry Craig.

angel said...

Craig, I am once again sorry for you loss. Suicide is very tough to comprehend. Losing two special people in your life over such a short time is hard. It will become easier with each new sunrise..

take care

Craig Hickman said...

Thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you.