Saturday, August 28, 2004

Loss

We're supposed to remember our first crushes. I do. My first was when I was in kindergarten. K was two days younger than me, he had curly brown hair, and I literally chased him around the classroom. I have no idea what I would have done if I'd caught him. Our parents became friends and he's a doctor now, married to a lawyer, and has two kids.

My first "actor crush" was Edd "Kookie" Byrnes on 77 Sunset Strip, but I tossed him off like a yesterday's news when David "Illya Kuryakin" McCallum graced my TV by co-starring on The Man From UNCLE. It's been a real kick watching him this past year playing "Ducky" on Navy NCIS.

And then there was E. E was dating one of my mother's younger cousins, M. M is 16 years older than me and back then, in the '60s, she was the person I most admired: Single, working in the record business (and getting me free albums), a stylish dresser (I had to get go-go boots because she had them), and she had a sexy boyfriend. E was between us in age, 10 years older than me, six years younger than her. He had slicked back hair, soulful eyes, and looked like a skinny Italian gangster, or lounge singer. He had the greatest smile, the kind that lights up a whole face.

When I was 16, I had my party in the basement of our house and my parents invited M and E over so they could have some adults to talk to. I had been teasing E for a short while by then that there was no reason, given the closeness of our ages, why he couldn't wait for me to become of legal age. So there he was, at our house for my birthday, asking me if I was "sweet sixteen and never been kissed." I admitted shyly that I was. So he kissed me. Not a chaste kiss on the cheek, but a full bodied kiss on the lips (no tongue, that would probably have shocked the hell out of me, since that was my first kiss). I floated down the steps to the basement, my love for E solidified for all time.

Eventually, nearly a decade later, M and E finally got married. They'd been together for 11 years by then and we teased them that they shouldn't ruin a good thing with marriage. They'd moved out to California by that time, and the marriage was a good one, until this past week when E died from cancer at 61. M is battling cancer, too, and now her main support is gone. She and E never had kids and while she has her two older brothers and their families, it's not the same.

I hadn't seen E for 18 years, the time of my last trip out to California. I can't visualize that skinny, young man with the slicked back hair, anymore, because I don't have pictures of him from then, but I can still see him as he was in the '80s: a bit heavier, curly hair, and that same wonderful smile.

I don't think of myself as old enough to have a 78-year-old father, but I do. And there is only one friend of his left from the old gang of childhood and navy buddies. I thought of my father's friends as uncles and adored them all. Loss is part of life -- I lost my mother in 1982 -- but there is something inevitably sad at knowing my father's generation is being whittled down by time. I just didn't think E, who was so much younger, would die so soon.

But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. The first of my generation died last year. He was 60, the eldest son of one of my father's cousins. Until now, it hadn't hit me how close in age he was to E. And at 51, I'm two years younger than my mother was when she died of cancer.

E was special and he will be missed.