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Always a Cardinal

What I remember most is the laughter.  We stayed up too late, singing Jimmy Buffett songs, and those tragic oldies, Neil Diamond, Bottle of Wine... I remember drinking, and smoking cigarettes, and laughing.

We-

I am feeling-

Maybe I should just state the facts, as if there are facts to state, as if I were capable of just stating them if there were.

I had a friend, and his name was Ben.

Ben died, recently; he was a relatively young man, when it comes to dying, not yet out of his sixties.

When I was sixteen or so, my friends and I would hang out at his house, and our band would play shows and practice in his garage.

He was my friend's dad.

I don't know what to say here, except my feelings are complicated and ever changing.

My friend is dead and I don't even know how to feel.

He was a veteran of the Vietnam War.

He was, and remains, a large part of my life.  He was a huge influence on me. And yeah, my adult self cringes at the idea of a kid drinking and smoking and laughing with an adult, but the truth was, I was going to make terrible decisions, shit, I had already made many of them before we even met.  He provided a save place, a safe haven for us to do what we were going to do anyway.

Am I being too generous?  I don't know.

There were never enough seats, and we all piled in on one another. It was hot and smoky and wild... and we laughed and listened to music, and we watched wrestling and we sang old songs.

We used to do this thing that we called The Carlton: the gag was to attempt to prompt someone into saying a thing, an actor or a movie or a band, and then when they correctly identified that thing, we would say no, that's not it, and then describe that thing in more and more obvious detail until the person was yelling in frustration, or until they caught on to what you were doing.

A classic Carlton:

"Hey, I just watched a movie by that one director, oh shit what is his name, the dude that did Goodfellas?"
"Are you talking about Martin Scorsese?"
"No, you know, he did a few of those gangster movies.  Oh yeah, he did Gangs of New York! Italian name. Jesus, what is it?"
"That's Martin Scorsese.  Gangs of New York was Martin Scorsese."
"Nooooooooo, close, maybe, but no.  You know what I'm talking about though, right?  Fuckin' DeNiro, 'You talking to me?'  Taxi Driver, right?"
"DUDE, that's Martin Scorsese, you're talking about Martin Scorsese."
"No, man, guy is legendary... What the hell is his name?  Shit, it's right on the tip of my tongue...Oh! He did the Departed!  With Marky Mark and Leo!"
"What the Hell? It's MARTIN FUCKING SCORSESE you goddamn asshole! M-A R-T-I-N SCOR-FUCKING-Say-ZEE, are you...Oh Sonofabitch, you shitheads! Hahahaha yeah that's right you jerks, laugh it up, super hilarious as always..."

It was infuriating if it happened to you, but it hysterical when it happened to someone else. 

I remember laughing, laughing until my stomach hurt, laughing until I coughed myself blue.

There is a secret brotherhood, called the Cardinals, which he initiated us into.
In order to be entered into the brotherhood, there is a procedure, a test of sorts, an initiation. At the end of the ritual, after he or she had proved themselves worthy, the initiate would stand and state, Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal.

It was a dumb drinking game, a silly little nothing, except it wasn't, it isn't.
Among the group, there were Cardinals, and there was everyone else.  It is nothing, but at the same time it is something.  Something real.

I, uh-

I sort of shut him out when he attempted to contact me recently.  I never accepted his friend request, never answered his messages.  And I swear, it wasn't personal, it wasn't anything other than a lack of space in my life for people from the past.  I hadn't talked with him in twenty years. What would I have to say?

This is a theme in my life, maybe.  Not having time for old friends.

And it never seemed urgent, right?  I could always say hello later, couldn't I?  I could always find some grace, some openness, some compassion?  I thought maybe later I would find the time to be a friend.

And maybe I wouldn't feel regret that I didn't except for this: I know he would have made time for me, if roles were reversed.

And now later has come and gone.

I am a Cardinal, have been since '95 or '96.  One day, I will die, and I will die as a Cardinal.

Ben died as a Cardinal, and he took with him an important part of my history, an influential part of my development as a storyteller, hell, as a person. 

I never took the opportunity to tell him any of this, I was never open enough, wasn't kind enough-

Fuck

Still, somehow I feel like he would forgive me, I really do.

Godspeed old friend.

Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal.

Still Writing,
RP
3-18-19

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