Good Bye Aaron


“Okay Marty, again thanks. I really appreciate it.”—Aaron

That was the last thing I received from Aaron, one of my youth reps, before he was gunned down in the Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s Near-West side.

Aaron was a smart kid. A funny kid. A generous, kind, loving kid. He was at most 22. He leaves behind a little boy, just over a year old, friends, family, and a hole in the program I run at the Juvenile Court.

I found out about a half hour ago that today—his birthday—he was shot and killed while with another young person. I do not know what happened. I do not know why he was shot, who shot him, who the other young person was, or what happens next. All I know is that the world is a much darker place with-out Aaron.

Aaron would laugh at the dumbest, stupidest jokes. Whenever he walked into a room, he would shake everyone’s hand—everyone, I mean it—and look them in the eye to introduce himself. He was short, about 5’7 or so, but he could fill a room if he wanted to. He would call and say if he was running late, he would call when he would make it home.

He always said please and thank you.

He wanted to go into the FBI to make the world a better place for his son. But college is expensive, and he was not sure it was for him. And yet. And. Yet. He was always looking on how to learn to do more.

Aaron was eager to do more for JAC. When he took a break in June of this year, I knew it was because he was picking more hours at one of his two jobs. When I saw him last, another youth rep and I dropped off his pay check AND he was committing to applying to the court scholarship program. He had made up his mind. College, in fact, was for him.

That was the last I heard from him until August. He sent me a text message and said he missed the program, missed the staff and that he was going to be back once he handled some problems he was going through. I offered to help. That’s when he said thanks, and that he appreciated it. That was the last I heard from him.

I was lucky—or blessed if you prefer—to know Aaron. He was amazing. Proof that young people can change. His loss does not mean that he failed. It means that we failed. The city, the county, the system. We failed him.

My grief is palpable, measurable. I know from experience with grief that there will come a point where I will be able to deal with it. But that is not what I focus on. I am worried for Aaron’s son. I mourn for his parents. I mourn for his neighborhood. I mourn with the young people I work with. I mourn with the community agency that worked with him. My grief is so small by comparison, but it is still there. It connects me to all the people Aaron was connected to. And that is some small degree of comfort.

Good by Aaron. I still miss you.

VonDad, Meet MartyDad. He’ll Show You Around


On occasion, I like to indulge in a fantasy about how my mom and dad would react to the parents of my friends.  For instance, in between servings of amazing gravy (that’s pasta sauce to most of you), great beer and even better company, I wondered how my dad would get along with Falconesse’s family. First, I know they would have hit it of right away.  I know Falcondad and I did five years ago when we first me, so its pretty easy to guess that my dad would have done the same.

Where as I listened to Falcondad tell stories, my dad would have come back with insanely great stories of his own.  With each story, and with each beer, my dad’s accent would have returned.  Pretty damn soon, it would become who is more Irish:  The guy from Boston or the South Sider.  I would expect them both to talk about cars they had (legally and illegal), battle scars they earned (like the lump on my dad’s head from being hit with a lead pipe) and who had the worse neighbors.  I could see my dad calling falcondad an asshole, laughing it off, and producing a fine bottle of scotch.  Failing intervention from a spouse, they’d probably finish that bottle together.

My mom would have been too busy with Falconmom to stop my dad from swapping stories.  This is not to say there would have been a separation of the sexes.  I think my mom would just want to talk with Falconmom instead of trying to show off for Falcondad.  I can also guarantee that my mom would have indulged in as much wine as Falconmom.  The four of them would have a party that people a third their age would be jealous of.

This is an easy scenario to imagine. It’s as easy as it is to imagine my parents and my in-laws.  In all fairness, I would expect my mom and my mother in law to quickly turn their conversation towards embarrassing their respective children; however, my mom would avoid mother in law’s tequila.

This may come as a shock, but I don’t just imagine how it would be if my parents were still alive.  Despite my difficult relationship with religion, I cannot help but imagine my parents in Heaven.  This is what I want more than anything in the world, and I still struggle with trying to place this core belief of my parents within my own understanding of how the world works.

To be fair, I don’t think of it often.  I only think of it when someone I care for loses someone they care for.

Today I’m imagining my dad showing VonDad around.  I’m sure that VonDad, being the amazing human being that he was, would have his own entourage of brilliant people.  But knowing my dad, I think he would approach VonDad with a perfect Rob Roy–yes, my dad would sling drinks in Heaven–and show him around the place.  My dad would play pool with VonDad and loose terribly.  They would swap embarrassing stories of their children.  My mom would gush over Von to VonDad. I like to think that, even though VonDad might have heard it all before, hearing it from my mom would make it all the more meaningful.

Seriously, my mom would have adopted Von.  So would my dad, for that matter.  They’d both have to fight VonDad though, and I’m not sure my folks would have won.

All these years later, I still miss my folks.  I can cope now by remembering who they were and thinking on who they would be today.  I can even think–and hope–that what I imagine is true.

Von, I don’t know what you’re going through.  The pain is similar to the one I still have, and the circumstances are familiar as well.  But your grief is yours.  I am so privileged to share it with you.  I hope to be able to help ease your burden.  If these fantasies help, great.  If not, I’ll shut up.  I’m good like that.

I know when I think on the full life my parents led, this song brings me comfort.  I saw the briefest glimpse of how amazing your own dad was, and I thought of this song as well.  While the world has lost so much with his passing, he has made his mark on the world and on you.  For that, I am grateful.

7 Years

Listen to the song as you read the post…

Today marks the 7 year anniversary of my mother’s passing. If I don’t acknowledge this, I’ll get nothing done. I know that now. I’ve actually known it for years…

Anyway. My mother would have become a huge Decemberists Fan. How do I know this? By the time I moved out, after she had recovered from my dad’s passing and her own relapse, she wanted a copy of everything I had, “except for the Led Zepplin you listened to in High School.”

I left her with all the music I had, except the Zepplin.

Seven years later, I still do not know how to put everything I feel into words.  I can cry about it.  I can laugh at the stories she tried to tell (she wasn’t the story teller, my dad was).  I can think of how she would react to the life that I have made with Shannon (she’d be thrilled) and with how to make the world a better place (she’d be busier than ever).  Hell, I could even tell you what she’d be doing (taking the train to visit Tony and I for the Supper Club/Graduation Party we are throwing for my brother).  But ask me to describe how I feel, and the best I can do is blubber.

I don’t know if I’ll get around to doing another Judy post, but I can promise you, dear reader, that I’ll be thinking about her all day.  And if you ever knew her, I bet you’d think of her too.

If there is a heaven, this is what it looks like:

I like to think my dad is just off-screen, making irish coffee and mocking dead republicans.




Lost and Rediscovered Treasures


My father passed away before he could share some of our family’s most prized treasures. Two of these treasures are frequently mentioned and missed recipes. The first is his famous Caesar’s Salad. I don’t know what he did differently with his salad–more anchovy paste? More Egg? Did he let the dressing stew longer?–but I have not had a caesar salad that could hold a candle to his. For a few years after his passing I would try a number of salads just to see if it could compare. I eventually decided to save my money and swear of Caesar’s salad. Why bother trying to copy what has never been copied?

The other lost recipe was more of my mother’s work than his. My parents combined their culinary powers to produce one of the most delicious barbecue sauces known to humanity. My mother would make the sauce to my dad’s specifications. I know they used Open Pit as a base instead of ketchup, but it was a day long affair of sautéing, stewing and grilling. Both of my parents promised to teach me the secret of the Award Winning Sauce (16th out of 600+ at the Mike Royko Ribfest) but they never got around to teaching us.

Both are gone forever. There is no way to recreate the Casear’s Salad Dressing. There is chance at rebuilding my mom’s BBQ sauce… But then I would be stuck recreating their legacy instead of working on my own. My parents did not want me to dwell on what was. They wanted my brother and I to excel beyond their wildest dreams. We can’t do that if we are stuck trying to recreate the lost sauce.

If either Tony or I stuck to the past, neither of us would have learned to grill. Our father promised to fill us in on his secrets, but we had to relearn them. And we did. That’s why this Sunday, Tony and I will be trying a new sauce. We will also tap in to our recently discovered Grilling Skills and slow cook our the ribs we intend to serve as we celebrate my parents. Our new sauce may not be as awesome as what we lost, but given time, we will learn.