Don't fuck it up
The liberal application of gallows humor in the face of family tragedy.
What do you do after someone awesome dies? You go on a long-ass ride.
If you fuck up something so badly that it actually gets you killed, you will be on the receiving end of some gallows humor.
That is how we process grief in our family. It works for us. As well as anything works, in the face of your garden variety worst nightmare. You, dear reader, don’t have to like it.
Tommy routinely blew shit off. You needed a hand with something? Sure, Tom was in. But we all understood that those plans were soft. He might show. He might not.
The problem, as it turned out, was that no one ever held it against him. He had this Marilyn Monroe like quality to get away with shit that would have torched other people. Amy Green, wife of Marilyn Monroe’s business partner, Milton Green, once said of Marilyn, “she’ll fuck your husband, but she doesn’t mean anything by it.”
They were both so Charming. So funny. So generally affable, and so predicable unpredictable, that no one ever called them on stuff. We just like having people like that around. You happily took the bad with the good.
And it was never really a problem for Tom, until he blew off his doctor’s appointment last week.
He’d been feeling shitty. Beyond shitty. He told his sister Lexi that he felt like he was dying. He had stomach trouble. Heartburn. He was crazy tired. He couldn’t sleep. He felt like shit.
If this were a game of Family Feud, and the survey says, “name the most obvious symptoms of heart disease,” our list above is the top 5 answers. People in Tom’s life were concerned and made an appointment with a doctor. A doctor who would have dropkicked him into an operating room before hearing his full list of symptoms. Or they would have given him pills or a pacemaker or something. Point is, what he had was fixable.
(Martell men have a habit of dying in early middle age of heart attacks, so when no one’s looking, I scan the cardiac health literature.)
But he blew it off, and this time it literally killed him. He fucked up.
Everything above is my surmise. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will do an autopsy, at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. They’ll release the results in a couple weeks. I know what it’s going to say: sudden cardiac arrest, resulting in death; caused by acute heart disease, or a shitty valve or some miscilany that was amiss in his ticker.
Tom had also put on some weight recently. He was probably at the highest weight of his life when he died. Did that play a part in the cardiac arrest that killed him? Almost definitely.
If you don’t know Tom, drugs will be the presumed antagonist in this story. Others will suspect suicide.
He may have used some substances recreationally, but he was not a habitué.
It wasn’t suicide. He was sitting in a chair. One minute he was there, the next minute he was gone.
When his heart stopped it probably looked like he’d nodded off. There was a small window of time – 2 minutes or less – when he could have been saved, by application of CPR, or a defibrillating zap from a machine that most people don’t have handy.
So what’s the takeaway. The takeaway is this: if you ever want to have a good time, tell Tom the story of a fat football player from Rutland who tripped and fell on his own teammate, during a freshman football game at BUHS, in 1993. I told that story a hundred times, but in Tom’s mind it was like a bottle of the same vintage, opened at 5 year intervals. He was a connoisseur of that story. In his ear it became smoother, rounder. More refined with each telling. It was a ruby red story in 1993. Fresh off the vine. When I last told it, over a feast of Tom’s pot roast this last summer, it had aged to a coarse brick. It took twice as long to tell, as it did in ’95, because we couldn’t stop laughing. Each sentence would spark fits of laughter:
“So Rutland had this nose guard named Freddy Downy,” BHAAAAAAA! The room explodes into tears of laughter!
I played offensive Center. I hiked the ball, and blocked the guy in front of me. When we played Rutland, 7 times in 4 years, the guy in front of me was Freddy Downey.
After one play, a solid gain for the Colonels, on a run to the left, Freddy Downy tripped and fell on to one of his own teammates, while running back to the huddle.
Freddy Downey was all of 5 foot 7, but weighed about 300 pounds. Having him land on you, from even that low height, could not have been fun.
Dave Henry, father of Jeff Henry, our quarterback, was the game referee, and saw it all go down. Barely holding in his own laughter, Dave turned to Freddy, pointing at his fallen comrade and says, “Hey, you just splashed your own guy!”
BHAAAAAAA! We couldn’t breath from the laughter! If we’d still been eating pot roast, everyone in the room would have needed to Heimlich every other person, simultaneously.
That’s it. That’s the whole story. When Tom was around, it took at least 45 minutes to tell.