Dreaming

In the dream, Joe picks me up like a little girl… high over his head… beaming at me with an imp grin like he might toss me up to the ceiling.

“Put me down,” I tell him. “You’re going to pop my implants.”

Joe laughter. Loud, unbridled joy guffaws from Joe. I’ll miss that the most.

Joe’s last will and testament directed The Stockpeople to join the extensive Burke clan and other good friends to celebrate his life. So we did just that, meeting in gorgeous Shoreham, his childhood home. We came from all four corners of the country to live like nuclear Stocktons before there were any husbands or babies or faraway jobs. The only thing missing was a golden retriever. It was exhilarating and exhausting, full of giggles and tears, ocean panoramas and pink skies. It was perfect.

My favorite eulogy was from Nancy. With classic Burke humor and love, she reminded us that Joe’s bigger-than-life persona included a larger-than-human ego. Joe was quite aware of his handsomeness, seductiveness, magnetism, and crowd-wowing abilities. He wasn’t perfect (who is?), but we adored everything about him. I read The Joy Vacuum out loud. I couldn’t get through that without ugly, gasping tears. But Joe appreciated things that were real… even if they were messy. So there was that.

I miss them already: Erin’s not-aware-how-stunning-they-are daughters, the overtall boys, the staggering beauty that accompanies the Burke genes. Why didn’t we do this sooner? We kept asking ourselves that. Joe probably had, too, as he traveled thousands of miles to visit everyone– one last time. Did he know we’d do it? Did he know we’d quit work early, board planes and ferries, rent houses, and buy cases and cases of wine? Maybe not. But if he knew we did (and we think he knew), it was just what he had imagined. We loved each other all over again and for the first time.

It was supposed to rain. Instead: this.

Joe's Sunset

One thing Joe did beautifully in his later years was to live soberly, with purpose, mindfulness, awareness, and kindness. In the past five years, Joe had introduced me to a handful of people I now call friends. If Joe thought you should probably know so-and-so, he’d broker the introduction, and then watch with great satisfaction as it all played out the way he knew it would. At his own memorial service, we could feel him mayonnaise-smearing his joyful love all over us, forcing us into a huge Dagwood sandwich of piled up people—messy and delicious.

*          *          *

At least an hour late, the Burke family pulls up to the Stockton home, noisily spilling out of the family car. Joe’s body fills the frame of the doorway, and announcing in his made-for-radio voice he bellows, “THE LOUD FAMILY IS HERE.” I’m 11. He picks me up, beaming at me with an imp grin like he might toss me to the ceiling.

I don’t want him to put me down.

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YOU’RE NEVER TOO FAT FOR YOUR REUNION… by Steve Safran

I’ve heard there are some people who won’t attend our high school’s 30th reunion because they are “too fat.”

Ridiculous.

I am plainly twice the man I was in high school. I am heavy and balding and need glasses and look absurd next to the high school graduation picture of myself (which was always, and remains absurd). Anyone not attending the reunion because they are fat– and I suspect few are– should just take a look at the rest of us.

Hi. We’re 48. We’re doughy and dowdy and victims of the ‘80s. We were On a Road to Nowhere while busy Not Starting the Fire and being In Your Eyes. While we Just Said No, Frankie Said Yes. We Rocked the Casbah, at least as much as one could in suburban Boston before 11pm. Now we’re achy, and our feet hurt, and it’s not because of the Diamonds on the Soles of our Shoes, either.

At first blush the 30th reunion seems like one you might skip. Surely the 25th is a more widely acceptable marker of time. But the 25th wasn’t that big a deal, with all of us loosely connected by social media. Here’s why the 30th is so interesting: many of us are the age our parents were when we smeared soapy SENIORS 1986! on the back of the family station wagon.

It’s 2016. We have become our parents. (And at least two of us have become grandparents.) Sure, there are those in my class who have younger kids. A couple even have toddlers, God bless ‘em. My goal was to be “40 and diaper free” and I beat the mark handily. But the bulk of us are parenting teenagers.

To me, the 30th reunion is where it’s at. It’s life affirming. All the pretty girls who dated the jocks arrive on the arms of far nerdier husbands. They look at those guys, shake their heads and chuckle: “What was I on?” Successful men and woman happily discuss life, not caring a fig for those who used to tease them. There are guys who peaked in Junior year, doing shots with beer chasers, the ones who never left, the ones who won’t shut up about LA, and the ones who got fat/skinny/rich/lucky/weird/cool. It all just sort of worked out.

You don’t believe in karma? Go to your reunion.

You’re not the success you hoped to be? So what? We’re Generation X. There are books dedicated to our underachieving. Downplay it if you’ve got it, commiserate if you don’t. We don’t care. Are you healthy? Kids good? Sox win today? Great. Let’s get a drink.

You’re fat. I’m bald and farsighted. She lost her job. I got cancer. He didn’t make it on Wall Street. That guy? You don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter. We’re here. Our kids? It’s their time now. Their graduation pictures are on Facebook, and they look young and pretty and perfect. We’re soft and wrinkling. We’re carrying the weight of the world, a mortgage, tuition payments, fantastic and failing relationships, and nearly two decades of Dunkin’ Donuts.

I’m fine with that. You should be, too. Let’s get a drink.

Happy 30th Reunion.

safran