We just returned from a week in New York where we attended our 40th high School class reunion and the marriage of our 28-year-old daughter. We enjoyed seeing our former classmates, visiting with friends, especially Joe and Terry Berardi who opened their hearts and their home and let us stay with them for several days while we were on Long Island. The entire trip was a great experience and I would not have traded it away for anything. There is a familiar comfort reuniting with old friends and visiting our old neighborhood. Several of our friends and classmates are what I call true heroes. They were police officers and firefighters, ran into burning buildings, stepped into the line of fire, and they saved lives. Some friends became physicians, teachers, IT techs, attorneys, musicians, entertainers, full time mothers, (one of the most challenging and most important jobs), secretaries, mechanics and yes, one became Santa Clause. I have wonderfully successful and, well, just wonderful friends and classmates.
Since leaving Valley Stream, New York a little over 36 years ago, we have only made a handful of trips back to our home town. I worked in Manhattan, “The City” to those of us from the area. I took a bus, the subway and then walked a half mile or so every day when I last worked there over 36 years ago. It was home, Long Island was home, the City was home, I felt comfortable there, and it was a place I knew. But not so much anymore. I am reminded of Neil Diamond’s song, “I am… I said”. It starts like this:
“L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time
And the feeling is “lay back”
Palm trees grow and rents are low
But you know I keep thinkin’ about
Making my way back
Well I’m New York City born and raised
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home,
But it ain’t mine no more”
You could substitute L.A. with Sarasota, FL or Etowah, NC, the two places I have spent the past 36 years and the story is the same. A few years ago I thought that maybe we could find a way to move back to NY when we retired so we could be close to all those old friends and few family members that still remain there. This past trip to NY made me realize that NY is not home anymore. It was somewhat heartbreaking to finally realize this. Neil Diamond doesn’t stop there he goes on a little farther and says:
‘ “I am”… I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair
“I am”… I cried “I am”… said I
And I am lost and I can’t
Even say why
Leavin’ me lonely still”
I am lost in some ways. I even wrote a poem about that very subject years ago called, “Lost”. I would be a total wreck and totally lost if not for my wife, JoAnn. She gives me the stability and comfort I need when I question my reason for being and why I am. Other than my wife and children I have no family nearby. My three sisters are spread out all over the country and we do not speak much. I have cousins who are spread out all over the country also and we have never been all that close primarily due to the distance in both age and miles. I have friends, but most are co-workers or acquaintances and not those truly close friends you can just stop by and talk with about anything. When it comes right down to it, I have very few close friends.
Some of you at the reunion may have noticed I would wind up off to the side by myself. Please understand it was not you but me that makes that happen. I suffer from “profound” hearing loss due to the career choices I have made. I wear hearing aids but even with them it is difficult for me to hear conversation when there is a lot of background noise like other voices, music, or traffic. It is very isolating to be among a crowd of people who I would love to communicate with, but all I can hear is many voices talking with the ability to only pull out words here and there and make no sense of them.
“Did you ever read about a frog
Who dreamed of bein’ a king
And then became one
Well except for the names
And a few other changes
If you talk about me
The story’s the same one”
I am a frog with a dream. I became the king of my dreams. As many young boys growing up when I did I wanted to be a firefighter, a police officer; I wanted to help protect people, save lives, and to put bad guys in jail where they couldn’t hurt anyone ever again. I did all that: firefighter, paramedic and law enforcement officer for over 40 years combined. But sometimes you have to be careful of what you dream and wish for. I have seen friends lose their lives in the line of duty, hurt and put out from the service, and some lost their lives to their own hands. Some of them are now suffering from diseases directly caused by their response to the attacks on September 11, 2001. Being the king you once dreamed of can be a nightmare you never knew existed.
We also went to the cemetery where my father is buried. He died in 1962 at the age of 41 and when I was only 4 years old. My entire life I have always wanted the father I never had. Every time I went to the cemetery I cried for the father I never really knew. I had always longed for the man who would throw a baseball with me, teach me the rules of football, give me the fatherly advice on fixing cars, repairing a faucet and even more importantly; teach me about girls and women and how to be a good husband and father. But it never happened and I wandered through all of this, somewhat hit or miss and maybe I figured it out on my own, or perhaps I haven’t. What I know is that this was the first time I went to his grave and did not cry. And now I cry because I fear I may have lost some of my humanity in not crying.
There was more; we went to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. The reflection pools are beautiful, but I could not go into the 9/11 Museum. A part of me wanted to go, and although the line was long, we could have done it. But I knew I would not handle it well. See – I am a child of New York. I may have moved years ago but it is where I am from and I have never forgotten that. On September 11, 2001 New York, my home town, was attacked so violently and viciously and without provocation nearly 3,000 innocent citizens and first responders were killed, maimed and are still dying; and I was not there to help! My eyes welled up at the reflection pool and my voice cracked when I approached a NYPD sergeant to thank him for putting his life on the line for the rest of us. I would have been no more than a puddle on the floor inside the Museum.
“But I got an emptiness deep inside
And I’ve tried
But it won’t let me go
And I’m not a man who likes to swear
But I never cared
For the sound of being alone”
It almost sounds as though I wish I had not made this trip to New York but nothing could be farther from the truth. I was able to see friends I have wanted to see for many years. Some I have been able to reconnect with through social media and some I cannot. Regardless of how much time I was able to spend with them, I enjoyed every moment of time spent with each and every one of them and yearn to see them again. I learned that while I still love New York, it is no longer and never will be my home again. My father died 54 years ago and maybe I am finally coming to terms with it. I love all my friends, I don’t hate anyone and find it few and far between when I dislike anyone. My hero friends, those of the Thin Blue and Thin Red Lines, have stood and some still do stand to protect each of us. They make this country a safer and better place to live. I have the highest regards, deepest respect and truest of love for them. I will always do whatever I can for them. Life is short. I will try to smile more, love more and bark less.
‘”I am”… I cried
“I am”… I said”
“I am”… I said By Neil Diamond, © 1971
© Alden Doane 2016