The Internet is at once a blessing and a curse. It has revealed all manner of news to me – good and bad – through the years. But, since it is a source of almost instantaneous information, I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh on it.
But last night, it got me again.
The mother and I had been talking about some of her friends who’d passed on, in particular one that I’m sort of named for. (Sort of, in that I wasn’t saddled with her ethnic name, just blessed with its nickname – by the mother’s design – a name that historically, only those closest to me ever use.)
From there, the mother started talking about this friend’s sons who had been in many ways the mother’s “first” children. She had babysat them both in her teen years and they had padded around after her like puppy dogs even when she wasn’t on the clock.
The eldest of the two was killed in a freak non-military accident during Vietnam. (He’d survived being shot in ‘Nam, only to come home and be run over by a military truck as he rode his motorcycle back to base.) He was only 19. It was tragic and things were never quite right after that.
It was no secret which of the two was their mother’s pick, something my mother railed about and against all the time. It was no wonder then that the younger brother went to great lengths to get attention, and in ways that were less than desirable.
J was six years older than me and during the years I was most impressionable, he was gorgeous. I can still see him in my mind’s eye about age 20 in this convertible ‘Vette that he had. What a sight that was!
He would surface periodically through the years, in between jobs and in and out of trouble. The mother would chide him, but she always had a soft spot for him. In the past decade or so, he’d settled some. Losing both parent s and getting married had taken the edge off a bit. Drugs and alcohol had ravaged his model-like looks. He continued to get into the occasional bad scrape.
Occasionally, he would call. (Often on the mother’s birthday, but mostly just out of the blue.) But there had been no contact for a few years. The mother had reached out some time back only to be greeted by a disconnected phone.
The mother just happened to mention him last night. I was online at the time, so I Googled him. Initially, first and last name weren’t enough because he happens to share his name with a popular NFL player. So I plugged in his mother’s maiden name which, I had temporarily confused as his middle name in the searchbox. But it was enough.
Instantly, the first result was an obituary. From exactly three years ago. My jaw fell open as I read. Yes. It was him. I couldn’t speak. I must have had a look of horror on my face as the mother immediately began asking: “What? What’s wrong?”
I almost didn’t tell her.
Finally, I just blurted out, “J’s dead. Has been for three years.” She was instantly over my shoulder so I bumped up the page size so she could read.
She was devastated. I was devastated for her.
Frankly, I was surprised that he’d made it to 48. He lived more than a decade beyond what I ever thought he would. Even the mother had to concede that.
She called a few friends, none of whom knew anything. She called a cousin whom she has kept in touch with who said she knew he’d been in a crash but even she didn’t know he’d died.
She called a long outdated West Coast number for an aunt (the mother had been close with the whole family at one point but many have died and the rest have scattered). The Internet, to its credit, provided me with a current number.
They talked until well past 2 a.m.
The silver lining is that the mother felt better. She reconnected with an old friend and got all caught up. And for me, the best part is that image of a young J, dirty blond hair waving, blue eyes glinting, riding off into the sunset in his ‘Vette.
Happy travels, J.