May 18, 2015

Say A Little Prayer For Uncle Sethie

I hope there are movies in Heaven. 

I love you Seth.  I love you, man.  I can't believe you're gone.

I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I didn't write this sooner, so you could read it while you were still here with the rest of us.  Why do we always wait until waiting is no longer an option?  In the hospital, I asked you if it was okay to write about you - about your plight - and I never ask anyone if it's okay to write about them before I actually go and do it.  Just ask all my ex'es.  You said 'Yes' and I didn't write anything until now, and I'm sorry.

Yesterday, I got the call that you were gone and it wasn't a surprise.  LaSala broke the news.  He left me a voicemail while I was playing the piano in the other room.  When I saw that LaSala had called, I knew you were gone before I even called him back.  Anthony LaSala never calls anyone, as you well know.  Sicilian pirates rarely use cell phones.

Anthony called us all, just as he called us all a year ago when you got sick.  Lloyd and Jay.  Tween.  Skeery Jones, the Tuccillos and Pablo.  We all know each other forever, "The Brooklyn Crew."  We still wear our eternal friendship like a badge of honor, as if it were something special.  And it was always just that.  It still is, now more than ever.  Now that you're gone.

I was going through my latest romantic misadventure a year ago when I got the word that you were in the hospital.  You could barely talk when I paid my first visit.  I told you that I was being two-timed and you rolled your eyes and sighed, just like the old days.  Your sudden illness made my problems seem like a pittance, it put everything into perspective and actually helped me navigate through another tough time.

Back in the day, a Seth Kushner malady was like football on a Sunday.  It was almost always on the schedule, one of many running jokes that friends like ours perpetuate over the years.  But things were serious this time.  Leukemia.

I hope it didn't take one of my stoopid blogs for you to understand how proud of you I am.  How you fought to stick around, to regain that normalcy to your life that we all take for granted until things start to go haywire.  You were doing it til the very end, against all odds - sharing your opinions about various TV shows and movies on Facebook, taking in as much of it as you could in those final days.  You were in the home you had created with the family that you created - your son and your courageous wife - where you were always most comfortable, even before the sickness crept in.

The last time I saw you at the hospital, the prognosis was bad.  I expected to walk in and say goodbye for the last time.  I expected to see a battered man taking in his last breaths.  But you were a spitfire that day, you were optimistic.  "I'm not ready to say goodbye to you sonofabitches," you growled determinedly.  You were being strong, stronger than I had ever seen you.

Then a man neither of us knew walked in.  He told you he was sent by someone you knew, but you could not figure out who that person was, nor could he verify it.  Instead, he prayed aloud and sang a hymn as we sat there quietly in your hospital room, and then he was gone, some mysterious angel sent to give you more strength.

You were in a coma a few hours after I left, with a swift death sentence attached to it.  Then you woke up.  Weeks later, you were released from the hospital, declared leukemia-free.  You got to hang with your Hang Dai crowd, to spend time with your great friends Carlos and Marty and Dean, three dudes who got to know you better than I ever did and who loved you just as much.  You made peace with your Mom.  You got to spend your last days in Brooklyn like the tried-and-true Brooklynite you were.  You were a dead man walking, a temporary miracle, and so when I returned Anthony's call, I knew what was coming before he even uttered a word.

I still don't know what to believe, Seth.  I stayed positive, we all did.  You were never totally out of the woods, and now you're out of our lives.  Are you on Tatooine right now?  Are you anywhere?  Last night, I sat out on my back porch, poured a bottle of wine and looked up at the stars.  "Are you up there, Uncle Sethie?" I asked to no one at all.  And then the fireworks started.  Lots of them.  Last I checked, it wasn't the 4th of July.  And yeah, I'm pretty big on signs.

I'll never forget the look on your face the first time I saw you after Superstorm Sandy.  It's etched in my brain, one of those snapshot moments that stick with you forever.  My house had been destroyed and you walked into a Bay Ridge restaurant while I was hugging the rest of the gang, and I caught the look on your face as you walked in, waiting your turn to hug me too.

You looked at me as if someone had died.

In that moment, even tho I had been the one numbed by Mother Nature's wrath, I felt bad for you.  You were always concerned, even affected, by the misfortune of others.  When your friends were suffering, you were suffering too.  And in that moment, I felt lucky to have you as my friend.  Just as I do in this moment, now that your suffering is over even if the void you've left will be forever felt.

You were one of the staunchest supporters of my music - you came to all the shows, the good ones and the shitty ones.  You created the album artwork for all my Q*Ball albums.  You were an incredibly talented photographer, and I still feel like that was always your truest calling.  You co-directed my one and only music video.  You put me in a spaceship, you put me in a bathtub, you put me in a swimming pool with a powder blue suit on.  You put colored star stickers and Christmas lights all over my skull.  We were young kids trying to figure out how to convey an image, and then we were middle aged dudes still trying to figure it out.  Your hard work and creativity were always an inspiration, even when we got it all wrong.

We had a quarter century together, my friend.  Something to be grateful for.

Our primary language was cinema.  TV and books and girls.  You never forgave me for shitting all over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull after we saw it together in Battery Park City.  We huddled down together in Brooklyn after 9/11.  You drove me home after I played a showcase at Virgin Megastore, then pulled over on Independence Avenue so I could go piss in someone's driveway because I couldn't hold it in any longer.  We bought you a lightsaber for your 30th birthday.  You got me home after I had a bad pot brownie experience at The Frying Pan the summer after the worst breakup of my life.  We interviewed Chuck Klosterman at his apartment in Brooklyn Heights and I almost erased the whole thing.  Calamity was always our second language.

We called you Chief Yenta because you liked to gossip.  We playfully made fun of your pale complexion, of your propensity for speed talking, and you always took it in stride.  You were there for me after my divorce, after the hurricane.  I got stood up on an online date in Bay Ridge one night, and you and Terra met me out for dinner, salvaging the evening.  You bonded with all my girlfriends - you were always rooting for my romantic victories and you listened intently and patiently after all the defeats.

You were a great friend, Seth.

And then it was your turn to taste victory.  It remains the fondest memory of our friendship, that fateful night in Boston when you met Terra.  Some slug got up from his seat in a basement bar in Beantown and Anthony and I nudged you into it, and there she was and there you were, and we hung back and left the rest up to you.  You sealed the deal that night and we were all proud of you.  Thrilled for you.  The Schmuck was finally victorious.

Your life was forever changed, and I'm sure you realized in the end that you had hit the jackpot with this woman.  I'm proud to have played my small part in all that, to see you become a loving husband and father.

Soon after you and I first met, you lost your Dad in a tragic accident.  He was riding his bicycle on Ocean Parkway and was struck and killed by a motorist.  Joel Kushner was a guidance counselor at my high school, Edward R. Murrow, and he knew me before you did.  And then he was gone and I remember hugging you at the funeral, thinking of how your Dad had left you too soon just as I think about you being gone way too soon now.

We became good friends after that, bound by a mutual love of geek culture, music and movies.  I had been to your house a time or two, inside the rubble you called a room, piles of comics, Rolling Stone magazines and action figures dominating every corner.  I met a lot of cool creative people thanks to our friendship, and even as our lives took divergent paths as we both aged and found new creative outlets, I still felt a closeness to you that distance and lifestyles could not tarnish.

And now you're gone, Sethie, and I don't know what to believe - but if I get to choose, I wanna believe that you and Joel are at the movies right now.  You're watching Star Wars (not the prequels, sorry).  Maybe you're 41, maybe you're Jackson's age.  Maybe you're not any age at all, maybe you're a butterfly or a Jawa.  Whatever you are and wherever you are, I like to think that you're with Dad.  You're reunited, and it feels so good.

That's what I have always hoped the afterlife is - a reunion.  We hurt so much for the people that are gone - seemingly forever - left to pick up the pieces, to try to keep the faith and make sense of it all.  I still hold out hope that Nana and Nicky and Uncle Sal will be there on the other side.  Uncle John, Grandma & Grandpa.  Blanche and The Big Cookie and Seth and Joel.  What we would give to spend just a little more time with those who have left us behind.

There's a whole world of people out there right now who feel cheated out of more Seth Kushner time, and isn't that the truest testimony of a person's vitality?  You mattered to us, Seth.  I hope you knew that.  Now it's up to the rest of us to keep your memory alive while we keep the faith that you are in a better place.

So keep a seat open for me, my man.  Just don't eat all the popcorn.  We'll watch all the Scorsese movies, Hitchcock and Kubrick.  Lost, Breaking BadSeinfeld and The Honeymooners and Batman Begins.  We'll hoist some brews and have another Ronversation, reminiscing and rejoicing over one of life's great friendships.

Say a little prayer for Uncle Sethie tonight, for his wife Terra, his young son Jackson and his mother, Linda.  For all of his family and for everyone who he has touched.  Say a prayer for one of life's true good guys.

I miss you already and I'll never forget you. 

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