Tomorrow, July 3, 2013 is the 30th anniversary of the death of a close childhood friend of mine. I originally wrote this post in 2008 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his death. It seemed appropriate to post it again this week. After I'd written it, I heard from many members of his family (including his mom), which was more moving and gratifying than I can describe. This is my little way of saying I still remember.
My next-door-neighbor was a year and a half older than I was, and we
had known each other since I was a toddler. Sometimes with my wife and
kids, I look at the grainy Super 8 movies my parents used to take.
There we are, two preschoolers sitting in a little plastic wading pool
on the patio. There he is pulling me around in my old red Radio Flyer
wagon, both of us decked out in godawful early '70's attire. I think
he's actually wearing white shoes and a white belt. What were our
parents thinking? There we are at my seventh birthday party. There he
is, about to enter high school, playing with my new puppy.
at it now, a 19-month age difference isn't much, but it seemed like a
lot at the time. Richie was older, seemed to know the ways of the
world, and was willing to grab my hand and guide me through the maze
like a big brother. He showed me where my classroom was on the first
day of first grade, and did it again on the first day of middle school.
He gave me my first exposure to Billy Joel and Steve Martin records
(smuggled out of his older brother's bedroom). He interceded with a
bullying classmate of his to leave me alone. Though it's virtually
unthinkable to me now, I applied to, was accepted at, and nearly
attended an all-boys Jesuit high school simply because Rich was a
In St. Louis, you grow up a baseball
fan. You play baseball, you watch it, you listen to it, you talk about
it, and back then you collected the cards that went with it. Rich was
of Lebanese and Syrian descent, so he was quite a haggler. My mom would
take us to baseball card shows (hey, we were really into it), and I
would watch in a combination of disbelief and envy as this 14-year-old
kid would begin bartering with these grizzled baseball card dealers.
"How much is the Mickey Mantle?" "Fifteen bucks." "Okay, how 'bout
this? I'll give you ten for both the Mantle and the Mays." This would
be followed by the dealer laughing a "you're crazy" laugh and Richie
heading off undaunted to the next table.
One day he
came over and told me he had something to show me. We went back over to
his house, where he produced a 1954 Bowman Ted Williams card that he'd
bought from some poor sap at a yard sale for about a dollar. I think
the market value at the time was something like $600. He also had what
appeared to be the hat first baseman Keith Hernandez was wearing when
the Cardinals clinched the 1982 World Series. It's provenance was
complicated, but in the on-field scrum after the victory (this was back
when everyone would rush onto the field after big game like that),
somebody grabbed Hernandez's cap with the number 37 written right there
under the brim, and somehow (I told you he was a haggler) it ended up in
Rich's possession. He also did the first Mike Shannon impression I ever heard. In St. Louis now, everybody does a Mike Shannon impression, but in the early 80's it was revolutionary.
family had a little, yappy schnauzer named Tuppins. (I have since come
to assume that the name came from that Julie Andrews song in "Mary
Poppins," but I never thought to ask. Come to think of it, I suddenly
recall being really impressed at about five years old that Richie
was able to sing the part of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" where
they sing it backwards. Big time stuff for the preschool set.)
He'd make the reluctant and fearful Tuppins play goalie in garage
hockey games, facing a barrage of plastic pucks. Rich also had a
hamster named Harbey (and no, that's not a misprint--it was Harbey with a
"b". Again, I never figured out why, and never thought to ask.) By
hamster standards, Harbey was virtually immortal. He lived in this
huge, labyrinthine Habitrail in Richie's room, and I'd swear that
hamster lived to be like eight years old.
On July 3,
1983, my childhood ended. It sounds narcisstic to put it that way, and I
don't mean it to. The end of my childhood isn't the main point, and 14
is about time to start growing up anyway. But I also can't seem to
separate the events of that day from how they affected me and how much
everything changed. That was the day Richie died. It was a boating
accident. I never got all of the details and it seemed to morbid to
ask, but apparently on a family Fourth of July weekend trip at a
Missouri lake, some friends of his were goofing around in a motor boat
and the motor caught Rich's life jacket and pulled him under and hit him
in the head.
It happens to different people at
different points, but that was the day when I realized that the carefree
summer vacation days of childhood are a mirage. For the first time, it
truly dawned on me that death was real, that you never know what a day
might hold, that some things are gravely serious, and that life is
incredibly, terrifyingly fragile. For the first time, I came face to
face with the reality that none of us gets out of here alive. And for
the first time I came to know that dull throbbing of loss deep within
the gut that lasts until you fall asleep and then hits again like a wave
seconds after you wake up. Over the years, that grief has gotten less
and less, of course. But if I stop and look for it, I can always find a
little piece of it still there.
Richard John Kilo was
16 years old when he died. He's now been gone far longer than he was
here. His parents, thankfully, are still around, and they stay in touch
with my folks back in St. Louis, though they moved out of the
neighborhood a few years after Richie's death. They were, and remain, a
wondeful, loving, warm, inviting family. My mom told me the other day
that they'd called her after watching the thing I did on C-SPAN a few weeks back and said kind things.
I remember in the horrible, agonizing days immediately following Richie's death, his mom would ask his friends--even beg them--to
please never forget him. I can imagine her fear that, with her son
only now being here in memory, his friends would grow up, have careers
and wives and kids, and lose those memories which would seem to make
Rich's short time here a little less real. I was 14 then; I'll turn 40
later this year. I guess this is just a way of saying: I won't forget.
I never do.
Richard John Kilo, May 26, 1967 - July 3, 1983.