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Journal Excerpt Sept. 2,1984
While laying in bed under the blanket of night, the pain of the past emerges. It eats at us and invades our dreams. Is this why we are on this earth to deal with pain and disappointment? So many times we try to escape it all and this also comes out at night. The escape is only temporary and the hurt dwells within until faced up too. I must channel the pain into positive areas of self-expression
Sometimes it paid off being raised by strict parents, although as a boy I didn’t appreciate them. Don’t get me wrong – Mom and Dad were not oppressively strict. There were just some things I couldn’t do or get away with, like staying out late at night.
One Friday afternoon in the Spring of 1968, I was hanging out across the street at Johnny Bosco’s house with my other good friend Mike Smith. Johnny’s parents had recently separated, something unheard of back then and we had the house all to ourselves.
We blasted the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Album at full volume…”Come along for the mystery tour” singing along with the record at the top of our lungs between raucous laughter and carrying on. It wasn’t long before Johnny pulled out some bottles of liquor from his parents’ cabinet and started pouring drinks. The stuff tasted horrible, but made us very silly in a matter of minutes. We ran around the house singing, laughing and diving on and off couches and chairs to the beat of the music. We got more rambunctious as the music played and our tentative sips of liquor went down.
There was a dance at the local public school that evening and I seem to remember Johnny planned on going, although I attended Catholic High School and didn’t know anything about it until he mentioned it over the din. After an hour or so performing silly antics in the house and sipping whiskey from jelly glasses Johnny suggested we take his dad’s big yellow Cadillac convertible for a joy ride and then to the dance. It certainly sounded reasonable at the time even though none of us had a drivers license.
Just as I opened the door to leave for our joy ride I heard my dad’s whistle – his signature “come home for dinner, kids” whistle to the Army tune of “come and get your beans boys, come and get your beans.”
“Oh shit!” I thought…”dinner”. I immediately ran into the bathroom and squirted toothpaste in my mouth to hide the smell of alcohol. I ran across the street and tried too make the case for skipping dinner and going to the dance at Smithtown High School. I didn’t mention anything about riding in the Cadillac or our crazy antics.
“It’s getting late Patty and you don’t even attend that school,” Mom yelled from the kitchen.
I think Dad was on to my slight buzz even though I killed the smell with Pepsodent toothpaste. No amount of convincing, pleading or whining changed their minds.
“No! You’re not going. It’s as simple as that”.
Dad wasn’t one to raise his voice like Mom. No was all he said. I wasn’t going anywhere that night. They let me run across the street to tell the others who were waiting until dark to roll the car out of the driveway and set out on their joy ride to the dance.
“What do ya mean you can’t come? Do ya always gotta do what they tell ya? ” Mike Smith sarcastically snickered.
Turns out, Mike couldn’t go with Johnny either – his Dad called him home soon after I ran back to the house. I left them both splayed out on the living room floor with the sound of Beatles music still blasting. Come along for The Mystery Tour lyrics followed me out the room as I left to go back home.
John mumbled something about picking up our mutual friend Scott Johnson for the dance. I went home to dinner with a low-grade buzz not realizing how very lucky I was.
Johnny rolled the car out of the driveway when it got dark and picked up Scott at some point after leaving us. The newspapers reported a yellow Cadillac convertible being pursued by police driving over 100 mph before barreling through the center divider and smashing into two cars approaching head-on. John miraculously survived without real harm, but three people died in the crash and Scott permanently lost his sight by the impact of his face slamming into the dashboard.
My best friend, the little Italian kid I received my first Holy Communion with, was never the same after that tragic night – our friendship changed forever as well. I didn’t see Johnny much after the horrible incident. I never learned all the details of that tragic night or what transpired after going home for dinner. Johnny unfortunately was killed in the early 90’s (that’s another story) and never told me anything beyond the newspaper account. He ended up in a juvenile detention center in upstate New York.
I visited Scott laid up in his bed soon after the accident. He totally accepted responsibility for his role in the tragedy, harboring no animosity towards Johnny. I still picture him lying on his bed, forehead and eyes wrapped in white bandages. His parents blamed John for their son’s blindness and eventually filed a lawsuit against John and his parents.
Johnny was a totally different, more quite and reserved young man when he returned from the detention center. We spoke a few times, but soon fell out of touch. His mother moved to the next town shortly after the incident. Johnny and I didn’t see one another for many years until I enlisted in the military and was stationed in Denver, Colorado. John moved to Boulder after marrying then divorcing a few years later. We re-kindled our friendship while I was in Colorado, but it was never the same – there was always a polite distance, something unsaid between us that kept us from getting too close.
I think about Scott and what his life would have been like had he not gone on that joy ride and what mine would have been like if I did. The accident scarred Johnny for the rest of his short life in a different way.
The big yellow Cadillac, the Beatles and the sixties in general changed all our lives in some way. Looking back it seems like such a distant memory – more like a dream than an actual event in my childhood.