…for honoring the man…
AND FOR REMEMBERING HIS NAME
“I can’t breathe…”
It was a chilly and bleak November day in Minnesota. Normally, I love bleak days but on this particular day I wasn’t especially happy with my life.
Too many people who should be nice to me…weren’t.
Too many people who should appreciate me…weren’t.
Too many people who should love me a lot…or even ‘just a little more’…don’t.
And the worst part about this was that I couldn’t understand why.
If I actually thought that the problem was with me, I would have done something…anything to change the situation. But it wasn’t me.
I had spent many hours soul searching and many hours asking questions…trying to know what it was that I was doing wrong…or not doing right. But no answers…so no solutions.
So I got into my car and took a little drive down to River’s Edge Falls, a wonderful little park in the heart of Minneapolis, to watch the icy, cold water race fiercely over the rocks and then crash down to the bottom.
It was always a soothing place for me to visit but unfortunately, I found I was coming here more often…needing more and more comfort.
The park was beautifully deserted. Good. Mondays are like that.
I could just lean against the ancient stone wall and watch the water crash down…over and over…the rhythm so relaxing and the deafening noise somehow comforting and calming.
I knew I would get my focus back…re-charge…decide the correct path and take it. I’d figure it out…I always did. I wasn’t born yesterday. I had some life skills.
“Hey there little lady, how would you like to come with me to those bushes over there and warm me up on this chilly day.”
The man’s voice was mean and angry. His words slurred. Could I feel a tiny prick of a knife in my back…? No matter.
As I slowly turned, I reached into my inside jacket pocket and pulled out my loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver that I always carried…because…why not?
And then I shot him through the heart. Twice.
No one heard the shots as I watched him fall to the ground…left hand still clutching a very sharp-looking steak knife.
“Fuck …you…” he croaked as the blood flowed quickly out of his heart and in seconds he was dead.
“Apparently not…” I said and I walked back to my car.
I THOUGHT IT WAS ALL OVER.
I THOUGHT THAT I COULD COME HOME…
I WAS WRONG. DEAD WRONG.
Fall in Minnesota. Summer was gone…finally. I hate summer. I always have. Too much sun. Too hot. Too many bugs. And now…unfortunately…too old to wear really cute sun tops…sigh..
November on the other hand, is the perfect month. The sun hardly ever shines and when it does, it’s weak and getting weaker…almost dying…I’m okay with that.
The wind is chilly but not piercing…not yet anyway. November here is just like November in Winnipeg, Canada. I love Canada.
I lived in Canada for many years…beginning in 1969…yes…that date is correct…and whatever you want to wonder about that…go right ahead.
It makes no difference to me. I am way beyond that. But here is something you don’t need to wonder about…because it is true.
The Vietnam war was a horrible and tragic mistake.
And…more than 58,000 young boys and men lost their lives because of that mistake…and one of them was my very best forever friend, Johnny Taylor.
I met Johnny at an outrageous Halloween party in 8th grade.
From that night on, he was my only true friend in so many ways and later became my forever friend and then…my ever so sweet and delightful lover.
Johnny didn’t die in Vietnam…oh, he was there all right. He was definitely there…for 365 long, brutal, killing days and nights. He was there for every single one of them.
And then…he came back home…to die of a heroin overdose…in my arms…in the back of a speeding ambulance with me screaming into his beautiful, unseeing brown eyes.
“YOU CAN’T DIE!! YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME!! YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN! YOU PROMISED!!!”
It was 1967. He was 19. I was 18.
8th Grade Halloween. I meet Johnny.
There comes a time in every childhood when you are told…you’re “too old to go ‘trick or treating’ this year.”
No more free candy from strangers. No more running wildly around the streets in the deepest of darkness…screaming and hollering to your friends…stuffing candy in your mouth as fast as you can…yes, yes you heard right…even while you are running…and hollering. It was…after all…1960.
All gone. Forever…just because you got one year older.
In 1960, our suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota was new but growing fast. There were acres of new housing developments with miles of streets that we could dash up and down…filling old pillow cases with candy and money and whatever else strangers were willing to give us. Home-made fudge was the best. Remember…1960.
There were no parents standing in the streets with glow lights or flashlights to guide us…or umbrellas to shield us from the rain. If it rained, we got wet and we lived. If we fell down…we got up. And…we came home.
But this year…5 days before October 31, my mother said…
“Riley. You’re too old to go trick or treating this year. All of us moms got together and we decided that now that you kids are in 8th grade…you’re just too old. No arguments (and here she held up her hand for emphasis)…we have all decided.”
Oh…we knew it was coming. We had heard the whispers and had actually paid attention when the moms had dropped little hints…so we knew.
And we were ready.