Monday, June 10, 2013

Having a drink with Devin

It may have been the most dangerous thing I ever did in a long time -- or at least a little stupid -- but can't help but think Devin put me up to it. Since I'm still alive to write the tale, guess it doesn't matter, danger or stupidity aside. And I may have made a new friend in the process, all the while just stopping to say "Hello" to my son at St. James Cemetery.

It's been 22 months since Devin was hit and killed by a driver on a cell phone. I talk to him often in my car, but really felt the urge to visit his grave today. Sometimes I just get a sense to do it. Great Cemetery People -- whoever they are -- left us a nasty note a month or so ago, and said we couldn't have any toys by the grave, so we moved the white angel that decorated the back. The party pooper patrol in charge of such edicts took the other knick-knacks Devin's friends had left as tokens of their visit.

Couldn't help but think the grave looked way too lonely and naked.

"I don't care what they say, Devin, I'm bringing the angel back," I said out loud as I parked the car and sat down next to his gravestone.

Certainly been a few birds visiting since last time I was here. Great. They take the toys but leave the bird crap.

Something different about talking at Devin's grave than when I'm just in my car. Talked about my job, and the things I missed about Devin. Talked about the time we had that  beer on the porch stoop after a tornado blew through Kenosha a few years ago. Talked about maybe wanting to move, or maybe not.

"Maybe you could show me a sign and let me know if that's OK."

After talking about a bunch of things -- my mind and mouth jumped from one topic to the next -- I figured I couldn't leave his stone looking like that. I had a pair of old shorts in the trunk of my car, and the cemetery hose was close by. I gave it a power wash, cleaned it up, took a step back and said out loud, "There. That looks better."

I already saw the guy out of the corner of my eye as I put down the hose. We nodded to each other as guys tend to do.

"You know him?" he asked while pointing to the grave. I could smell the Korbel brandy he later pulled out of his pocket.

"Yeah," I said. "That's my son."

Wow. Twenty-two months and just saying it made my voice crack. Still. Had to fight back a few tears.

He blinked in confusion and focused his vision on me and the grave.

"What?" he said.

"Yeah," I replied. "My son. He was 21. Killed by a driver on a cell phone. She carried him on the hood of her car for 800 feet before he fell off, and she kept driving for three-quarters of a mile. Didn't call 911 for about 12 minutes. She only got a $100 ticket."

"How much time?" he asked.

"None."

"Wait ... no jail time?"

"No. That's it."

I could tell it took his alcohol-clouded mind a bit to register it all. He took off his ball cap and pushed his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, then reached out and embraced me in one of those half man-hugs.

His name was Mark, he said. Told me he lost his Mom when he was 15, and his Dad when he was 37, but he thinks about them every day. He pointed where his family was at and told me he walks through here often to visit.

"Sometimes," he said, "I see them."

I told him the story of my dream that night in October 2011 -- two months after Devin died -- when I saw him running down 80th Street, I yelled his name and he said, "You can see me!"

"That happens to me all the time," Mark said. "That's why I drink."

He pulled out that pint of Korbel and raised his eyebrow.


"Next time you have a drink, have one for Devin," I told him.

He took a swig and handed me the bottle. I took a sip, too. It was warm and it was sweet and it had a kick and it felt just right.

"I'm no angel," Mark told me. "I got in some trouble, but I'm not a bad guy. I was a fighter, but not anymore. Now, I just like to drink, cause I always see them."

"Devin could be a bit of a hell raiser," I laughed. "I think it's OK."

"Oh but he's a saint now!" Mark said. "I'm telling you. He's here. He sees all of this."

I asked if he needed a ride. So much for all those ghost stories about picking up hitchhikers on the side of the road.

He  turned me down. "Naw, I live around the corner."

We talked some more as I watched Devin's stone dry and we started to bid our goodbyes.

"You know what? I will take that ride. You don't have any guns or tasers, do you?" he asked.

"No," I said, wondering if I should ask the same.

He got in the front seat of my black, Ford Focus.

"Put on your seat belt, I don't wanna kill ya'," I said.

We drove through the cemetery.

"Slow down!" he yelled.

I was only going about 8 miles an hour.

"You gotta go even slower," he said. "They're walking back and forth here across the street. I'm telling you, I see them. Don't know if I've ever seen Devin."

"Tall kid," I said. "Brown hair."

"I've seen a few of those," Mark said. "Maybe I have. I'll look out for him."

He really did only live around the corner. My flirtation with danger ended rather quietly, as he opened the car door and said hello to a neighbor lady. Told her he was at the cemetery, then looked at me and said, "She knows. She sees them, too."

And she did smile at me with a knowing kind of smile.

Devin -- always the one to think I was too straight-laced, who always accused me of not caring enough, had to be loving this. He had to set this up.

Mark paused as he got out of the car.

"Hey," he said. "You mind if I come by and have a drink with your son another time?"

"Not at all," I said. "Anytime."

"I appreciate that," he replied.

So do I, Mark. So do I.