If anyone has experienced the sudden death of a close friend or relative, it’s hard to explain the intensity, sadness and fear of the moment. I’ve had the unfortunate circumstance to have had two people, very young in life, pass on. But that intensity and sadness can change in a split second. While there’s often a thin line between love and hate, I also have realized there’s a thin line between sadness, pain and humorous laughter. Here’s my story…
Way back in high school, my group of friends were semi-outcasts. Definitely smart and brainy, we were a motley crew of ethnic minorities (Asian, Jewish) who were not part of the usual popular crowd. Even though we were talented in both cranial and even some athletic skills, I would say that none of us would say that we peaked in high school or had active dating lives then. But we found each other and afternoons would be spent playing basketball, Dungeons & Dragon, Monopoly and more. Over the course of our friendships, we had one new member creep into our group, Grant. Grant was a bit different from the rest of us, he wasn’t a brainiac or ethnically different, but he was a tweener. Part of a military family, he didn’t seen to fit in with any of the stereotypical groups and ended up being a good friend of ours. His love of military history caused us to coin him, “Sergeant Shnorkles” because he was a bit plump and had an upturned-nose.
My fondest memories of Grant would be at sleep-overs or playing football. As gross as it sounds my favorite practical joke would be to creep over in the dark to where he was sleeping and pass serious gas as close as I could to his face. He would always start cursing me out and start retching but never was mean-spirited or really that angry about it. And when we would play football, he was always an upright character. He seemed to enjoy it but had a formality to himself. Grant enjoyed defending the QB and over time, I found it harder and harder to get past him to sack the passer. Without knowing it, Grant was spending more and more time in the gym, getting himself fit. He was a lot stronger now and as his physique changed, he started spending less time with us and more time with a new group of friends in Revere. He had a beat-up old Oldsmobile 2-door and would cruise the strip at the beach on the weekends. Which we didn’t mind, because even though it would have been fun to spend more time with him, misfits don’t judge or peer-pressure each other.
One night about three weeks before high school graduation, Grant took us for a ride in his big-engined beastie. He seemed on edge and a bit crazy, he threatened to careen us off the road and would purposely swerve on narrow roadways while we screamed in the car. There was a lot swearing and punching to get him to back off and he finally did, but he gave all of us a serious scare. Think Mr. Toad’s Scary ride times ten. As he let us out of the car we all wished him an affectionate “fuck you” for the experience he had put us through, but of course we were glad to have just caught up with him. He said a good bye, gunned his V-8 and was off into the night.
Little did we know but Grant had been in transition. As graduation weekend approached, most of us had gotten our college acceptance notices and we were off to various schools ranging from Boston College to Brandeis to the University of Michigan. Grant had missed his college of choice and was committed to a year of military prep school given his family history. And for whatever reason, he must have felt that it wasn’t an acceptable option for him.
The next day, late in the morning my house received a call. This wasn’t the days of Facebook or twitter so news took a while to travel. Grant had been found shot at his home, WTF?! As news continue to trickle in, we found that Grant had shot himself with his own shotgun. His family had tried to revive him but there was no luck, he was gone at 18. As the shock and sadness set in, various members of our rag-tag posse showed up at my house to mourn together. Paul, Aaron, Marc, Jay, DaveM, Ben and my cousin sat in the living room, stunned. We talked about the happenings of the night before and could make no sense of his actions. While Grant wasn’t going to the school of his choice we all found it so unbelievable that he would do such a thing with him being on the edge of the rest of his grand life.
In the midst of all our sadness and tears, our last friend Dave K steps into the room. He had been working at Burger King, the usual teenager job and had gotten notice last. He was obviously distraught and overcome by the news. Dave was a stocky guy, muscled and a bit stout. If you don’t remember Burger King uniforms from days gone by, think polyester. Burnt orange polyester with ribbed-corduroy pants. A shirt-vest combo where a plaid orange vest was stitched onto a fake yellow shirt with big yellow collars. They were wretchedly ugly especially when you consider the fact we were getting paid $2/hour or so.
Dave was standing there in front of us on the verge of tears. He was wringing his ugly burnt orange visor in despair with the silly BK logo on front. As we relayed the facts to him we slowly took in this poor guy standing in front of us. He smelled of grease and smoke and was wraught with emotional pain and upset. Miserably sad his tight polyester pants and pseudo-vest heaved with his emotions and…
We all bust out in uncontrollable laughter. Raucous, teenage mirthful laughter.
The ridiculous visual of Dave standing in front of us was just to much for all of us to handle. We were on the edge and had tipped over from pure sadness and pathos to ridiculous hilarity. It was like all this pressure and steam had been released, Dave sat there a bit confused but eventually joined us when he realized why. Good for him, good for all of us.
And yes, while the sad moments around Grant’s passing still pop up in my memory bank from time to time, so does that moment of laughter and mirth. And you know what? I’m pretty sure Grant would have been right there with us, laughing at our sad Burger King…