Following my mother’s 14 May funeral I called on Charlie at his special school; from there we pursued a thirteenth birthday-eve burrito treat at a location along N. Ctrl Jersey’s Rte. 22 (known in antiquity as Rte. 59, as Gracie and her late beloved sister Joan once informed me in their Gnostic fashion); said location eluded us prior to an intervention by Dr. Chew via text message, patiently rescuing yet again the Dad formerly known as Jersey Jim. Kristina had departed after the funeral to ‘proctor’ a final examination for one of my classes; a journey made meaningful via the kindness and companionship of our dear friend and colleague Jeannine.
Moments later, as I stood poking away at a traffic-obstructing ‘mission accomplished’ reply, a young woman driving slowly by inquired, ‘Are you Charlie’s father?’ Veronica—as she introduced herself–explained that she worked at Charlie’s school; loves him as do so many others at that paradoxically capacious-yet-intimate setting where the boyo has finally experienced a beloved community beyond his tight team o’ three’s homestead.
Meeting Charlie’s Veronica prompted me to glance furtively at the St. Veronica Holy Card my mom’s dear friend—Veronica—bestowed on me following the funeral, having impulsively informed Veronica at the wake hers was among my favorite names; didn’t yet ‘know’ it but ‘tis true. Such items as these cards were ubiquitous features of the devotional subculture in which my parents and their friends grew up and from which me and friends shied warily away, but this was an arrestingly spiritual moment, Veronica’s act of kindness as devotion. Veronica like Gracie has a beloved grandson ‘on the spectrum;’ it dawned later that popular representations of St. Veronica could well serve Charlie as the visual template for a chain of meaningful connections suddenly replete with echoes of this “true icon:” could work, that is, in the way of saints.
On the day of the wake I had forebodingly entered my parents’ home to change, only to be joyously astounded by the presence of my LA cousin Michael and his dad Uncle Bob; their long journey urged on by Michael’s brother Bobby, obliged to remain in LA overseeing final prep for rollout of his new Fox sitcom, to premier next winter (via lead-in courtesy ‘American Idol’). Mixed Signal‘s a paradigm-busting winner dear readers believe me I seen the clips: sitcom as dreamed up by Robt. Altman, graced with residual dashes of Bobby’s ‘Wedding Crashers’ brio.
My ‘California cousins’ lived til the early 70s down the Shore, just across Rte 36 from the Leonardo Quik Stop later immortalized by local boy Kevin Smith in ‘Clerks.’ Recall that classic’s heroically steadfast Veronica whose unmerited loyalty to the feckless Dante Hicks prompts Silent Bob’s (the director himself) initial on-screen intervention: a terse gospel to wise up by. I viewed ‘Clerks’ for the first time in Berkeley, Christmas week 1994 during an inaugural visit with the not-quite-yet Dr. Chew’s family in the East Bay (‘The Double Life of Veronique‘ was already by then enshrined as Kristina’s ‘iconic’ favorite film). K’s subsequent patient illumination of this true icon’s ancient cultural roots launched our ever-ongoing, oft raucous interplanetary collaboration, resulting in this case in a modest essay on Kevin Smith’s ‘Catholicity’ (who needs ‘Dogma’; the Jersey faithful are wondrously incarnated and way funnier in ‘Clerks’).
Between the afternoon and evening sessions of Gracie’s wake, Michael and Uncle Bob had joined other relatives in revisiting the circumstances of my paternal great-grandfather’s death by drowning in a Panama Canal construction site early in the past century. That Michael Fisher left a very young widow with two children and a third on the way: great-aunt Veronica. My great-grandmother lived on as a single mom and impoverished widow near Brooklyn’s formerly Irish waterfront for an additional seventy-five years; surely close to if not indeed some kinda record? Across the Harbor as mid-century approached the rebel longshoremen of St. Veronica’s parish, West Village summoned resistance to mob rule at home, most having seen combat in Europe and the South Pacific. Pete Corridan, S.J. quietly discerned their moves.
The litany of Veronicas intoned above evokes the shared mode of cognitive experience and connection-and-meaning-making passed down–with amply telling permutations–from Gracie through me unto Charlie. Though Charlie’s ‘diagnosed’ human condition is the one explicitly equated with ‘social isolation,’ Gracie and I were surely beset betimes with disordered thinking that rendered isolation-as- ideation unto all too painfully real experience. Now my mom’s wondrously complex spirit is loosed unto the world and palpable. Charlie? He daily confounds the shibboleths of ‘isolation’ at every turn: just ask most any Veronica.
Cousin Bobby arrived in Manhattan two days after the funeral; even so slack a Catholic as I discerned the moment as truly ‘providential.’ Bobby apprehends all I may say and feel in advance of the saying/feeling; his responses are preternaturally insightful dare I say pastoral (he’s the theologian in the family, I just wanna tell stories to engage his and others’ interest, just as he works to make his dad laugh; succeeds abundantly). With cold rain pouring down on the West Side we ducked into our good mutual friend Billy’s office; off being McGarvey someplace Bobby and I did our interstitial narrative thing in the gracious presence of a young colleague of Bill’s. It was a blessed couple hours: Bobby brought it around time and again to Gracie and to Charlie, especially after hearing of Charlie’s heart-rending, eloquent and most resolute “goodbye, Grandma” offered in the room he had dreaded entering for weeks. It was at that moment I too truly understood the moment of final goodbye to Gracie had overtaken us.
We celebrated Gracie’s life–and Charlie’s 13th birthday–on the day following the funeral. It had been some years since we tossed a real party: now here we were at home amid friends from days distant past and suddenly present, most notably dear Louise along with Jack and Jake, and friends on the journey Kathy and Sean and Scott, communing of a lovely afternoon rich in music and laughter and stories. And a festive, song-filled five-mile Charlie-walk.
Though such is in no wise party to his job description, Charlie remains our finest teacher ever: our each moment together measures how far we’ve traveled; limns the terrain in need of embrace. So, post-birthday guy: You the Man!…Salut Chalooch! For it truly was you, Charlie, you who disarmed the Irish waterfront’s doomed logic writ large in dear Budd’s Charlie the Gent. It was, is and always will be You, Charlie, best friend; warm-hearted Charlie, loves you to the end…