I never posted this although I wrote it more than two years ago. Not sure why. Maybe because I wanted to respect his privacy. It seemed so personal. I suppose it still is.
Since the time of this writing I reconnected with Billy. He joined Facebook and sent me a request. I accepted.
There once was a boy in the neighborhood where I was raised. His family belonged to the same parish. We attended the same Catholic school. He was good friends with my older brother. He was quick witted and funny. Kept the nuns on their toes.
I always liked him. Some of my memories include him wearing his signature polka dotted hat, making crank calls to Monsignor (bless his heart- I think Monsignor was starting to think he actually did order the pizza) and singing the words to a Frankie Valli song, at the top of his lungs, in the middle of the football field near my house. “I love you, baby. And if it’s quite all right, I need you baby……”
He was one of the few kids in our neighborhood that went out of state for college. Sort of a big deal.
The last time I saw Billy was more than thirty years ago. We went downtown to an Irish pub together. I didn’t usually hang out with him since he was my older brother’s friend and I cannot recall how we got thrown together that night. But we had a great time. And he was a gentleman.
My brother worked for his father’s company for years. And they remained friends. But Billy ended up taking a wrong turn and he got lost. Everyone takes detours. But he couldn’t seem to find his way back.
Whenever I visited home I always asked my brother, “How’s Billy?”
Hoping that I would hear, “He’s doing fine.”
But they were out of touch.
And I never got the answer I was seeking. That he was getting well. That it was only temporary. That he would get it together and live a happy life.
He is now in a place that no one would want to be.
His father’s death this week prompted this posting. I was actually going to write about his dad but I got sidetracked.
I didn’t know his dad that well since most of his kids were older than me. But I do know he was an amazing man. Someone I would want to be like. He was a man of faith who demonstrated it every day by helping others. Visiting sick neighbors. Mentoring young people. Taking young guys under his wing. Many a young lad sought him out, instead of their own dads, when they needed help. He was a man of compassion. He helped people change their lives.
Anyway, I remember saying to my brother, “It’s heartbreaking. His dad touched so many but he couldn’t reach him.”
My brother looked at me and said, “It wasn’t for lack of trying.”
I thought about that. We always tell our kids to keep trying. Our employees. And so many others.
We need to keep trying to help others. It is not just about us. It is about living life, making mistakes, learning from them and then helping others. We need to be compassionate.
I hope the clever boy who once had an impish grin will one day find his way. I know it will require some help and some compassion. Until then, whenever I hear this song, I will remember him standing in the middle of a football field singing at the top of his lungs.
Billy found his way. On a good and healthy path. Recently celebrated a year of clean living. In Facebook messages he told me that the worst of his experiences led him to turn his life around and in retrospect he was grateful. I was happy for him and his family. He said that my obvious happiness in life made him smile. And called me “kiddo” in one message. Made me chuckle because even when we are in our 50s we still consider the people we grew up with as “kids.”
I received a message yesterday morning that Billy had been killed. Was stabbed outside a convenience store late Tuesday afternoon. I have no details other than that. They didn’t catch the guy who did it yet.
It’s just such a shame. It’s a shame that his father didn’t have the chance to see Billy trying. And it’s a shame he won’t have the opportunity to enjoy years of healthy and happy living. It’s a shame that his mom and family have to go through this heartbreak.
Every time I hear the song, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” I will think of Billy Mc Kenna standing in the middle of the football field -just singing at the top of his lungs.
Rest in peace.