In less than a week, I'll be hitting 80 West with CC and my fake (but incredibly authentic) Aunt from the Shore. Following family tradition, my Brother Rocco's graduation party will be Memorial Day weekend. Graduations, weddings, reunions…any big family event usually comes with a lot of reflection. Though, there have been maaaaaaannnny (please see last name), none in my life have triggered as much emotion as this one.
Rewind a few decades or so:
On paper, we were the perfect family. We never had too much, but always enough. We were taught to work hard for what we wanted and to appreciate whatever we were given for our efforts. We ate a home-cooked dinner around the table every night, and needed a damn good excuse if we were going to leave our chair empty.
Our parents supported our interests and never missed a single game or show. On the rare occasion that Dad wasn't cantering, Laura wasn't in the choir and I wasn't serving, we were in our pew a solid 10 minutes before Mass every single Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation…or any day my Mom thought the Church should have made a Holy Day of Obligation.
When I was still under my parents' supervision, I took so much pride in the way we lived every moment as a family. When we had to fill out forms in high school for various activities, I was so proud that I only had to list one address for both of my parents. Of course, it is now obvious that we were the perfect recipe for disaster. In August 2004, just after we returned from our annual family vacation, my father left us.
There has been plenty of time to reflect and consider what has happened since then and I'm sure we'll never forget. But this is not a story of loss or sadness.
I still don't know what he felt or how he made it through the days that seemed to take years to pass. I don't know where he ran to clear his head, or what it ever was that made him come back. What I do know is that whatever Rocco did for himself as a teenager was more than the rest of us could do as conditioned adults.
He had more of a chance to fail. He was the youngest, the newest member. When he was taking on the toughest years a young man endures, he was suffocated by a prime-time scandal in a small town which he didn't ask or deserve to be any part of. It seemed everyone knew more about our lives at that point than we did.
The only home he knew became a house of tragedy that the rest of us couldn't run fast enough from. In the darkest moments when memories of the "happy days" felt like poison, it was easy to question the innocent ones. Once we realized we could never make things "the way they were" again, we wanted no reminder of the way things were. For a while, we all wanted…even probably needed to live more as individuals less as a family.
As the situation unfolded us, I was dubbed the strong one, the one most capable of thinking with some clarity in a situation that was already too much to handle, and bound to get worse. I reached Florida before I finally felt I had run far enough. Even then, clarity hadn't come.
Somehow, as we all sat in our own corners simply surviving another day loving each other, but still needing distance, Rocco and his guitar became the clarity for all of us. If, faced with so many opportunities to fail, he can make it through, than there is no excuse…no reason for any of us to run. He has been the end of the tragedy and the beginning of our new, much stronger family. Wanting things "the way they were" seems juvenile now, considering how much less we knew about each other then.
As the festivities begin, Graduation is only one of the mountains of reasons we have to celebrate. There will certainly be stories of sadness and loss, I suppose that's the how we're reminded that this is Earth, not yet Heaven. But I'm most proud that the story that began in August 2004 is one of how a young man's courage became the reason his family returned home.
Never has it felt so good to be from 909 First Avenue.