Friday, March 25, 2011
By Sean Kenealy
It was a belt buckle, that’s how I recognized him; a brass image spelling the name Irv. I remembered seeing it when I was a little boy, worn by my mother’s estranged cousin from New York City, a man she rarely spoke of, but always referred to as “something special,” with an eye roll and a lovable tone.
At twenty-two, fresh out of college and new to the city, I gave no thought to finding Irv, family or not, but that didn’t seem to matter. Because there he was, in broad daylight, amidst millions of strangers; a coincidence wrapped up in the shape of a man I only recognized from childhood memories and dated photos: my flesh, my blood, my second cousin Irv; brass belt buckle to prove it.
“Irv,” I said. “Hi, I’m Dan Reily.”
He stood next to a long car, dressed in a suit, looking past dark sunglasses so I couldn’t read his expression.
“Or Dan Kemen,” I continued. “My mother’s maiden name.”
He lowered his glasses, as if accepting the fact I wasn’t crazy and deserved to be seen in the natural light. Irv had an old face, a face of someone who had worked their entire life because they knew they had to. He looked just like I remembered.
“Kemen?” Irv said. “You mean Susan’s little boy?”
I nodded, unsure if being “Susan’s little boy” was good or bad.
“Susan’s little boy,” he repeated, and he walked closer, revealing his combed over hair, round belly, and tanned skin I could have confused with my own.
“You grew up,” Irv said.
“And you got tall.”
He smiled, as if reliving years of his life in this one moment, not seeing me as I was, but as he remembered, a shy eight year old boy.
“And you got hair on your face, too!” Irv said.
I laughed, won over by his simple observations, which anyone could have made, but coming from him seemed like the most exotic, sincere discoveries in the world.
“Man oh man,” Irv said. “This is something! Wish we could do something special right now. Wish I could just drive us out of here!”
He tapped the roof of the car, as if trying to clue me in.
“Oh, that’s right, you’re a driver,” I said, piecing together details of his life I remembered hearing as a boy.
“Susan’s little boy!” And he tapped the roof of the car again, much harder this time, as if too in awe of my presence to address anything I said. “Hey! You know what I would do right now if we could do anything?” He pointed at me and bent his knees. “Go to Coney Island. You ever been there?”
“When I was a kid.”
“But have you ever been there been there?” Making it obvious he thought physically being somewhere didn’t mean you had actually been there.
“We used to go down there when we were kids. Me, your mother, a bunch of other cousins. Man on man!” He laughed, like sharing secrets with me was the most natural thing in the world.
“Drinking, causing, trouble…Shit. That’s where I wish I could take you right now. Over any place in the world.” Irv sighed. He looked out at the city, at the millions of strangers surrounding us. He was an old man, I was a boy; two people who knew nothing of each other. All we had was blood.
“You know they’re tearing Coney Island down soon,” Irv said. “The whole thing. Isn’t that a shame?”
He tapped the roof of the car, this time much softer than before.
“Well,” Irv said. I smiled. All I could do was wait.
A young man walked over, dressed in a tan, sleek suit that made me realize how cheap Irv’s suit probably was. Irv held the car door open for the young man, keeping his eyes down and mouth shut; it seemed like a practiced routine.
I knew he would leave soon. Drive off is what drivers did. But I wanted more. For him to ask how I was, what I was doing, where I was going, all the things you were supposed to ask your family.
“Well,” Irv said again. And that was all. He put his glasses on, pointed at me, and drove off. We never said goodbye.
If it weren’t for the skyscrapers, Irv would have driven off into the sunset.
It had been five years.
“Irv died,” my mother said over the phone. I adjusted the receiver and stared out at my girlfriend lying naked on our bed. We were both naked. “You didn’t know him well. But he visited once or twice when you were a little boy.”
“I remember him,” I said.
She was silent, as if waiting for me to say more, to tell her a story, to tell her about the one time I saw Irv five years ago because I recognized his brass belt buckle, which I never did. Not then, not now.
“There will be a funeral,” my mother said. “You don’t have to come, though. I know you weren’t close.”
“I’ll go, Mom. He’s family.”
She sighed, which quickly turned into a laugh. We were hundreds of miles apart, but I knew she was rolling her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “I love you very much, you know.”
“Well,” my mother said. She sighed again. “I love you, too,” and she hung up the phone, giving me no chance to ask about the funeral or how he died. To ask any of the questions you were supposed to ask your family. I could have called back, of course, but I didn’t.
And then I collapsed to the floor. I flailed my arms, kicked my legs, and cried harder than I’d ever cried in my entire life. A shaking, sobbing, naked body. I had no reason to be so upset. My mother was right, I didn’t even know Irv. But maybe there was something more. Maybe it was our blood. Maybe it was because we never went to Coney Island, or because deep down, even if no one wanted to say it, maybe it was because we both knew we would never go. It will be gone soon, anyway.
Or maybe it was because Irv was something special.
Posted by Sean Kenealy