Monday, February 11, 2008

It's hardly fair.

There are moments in life where we are given to whining and carrying on about how we got the short end of the stick; a raw deal; screwed. But frequently, those moments are really just the result of our imaginations conjuring a dramatic coda for some ultimately innocuous event... "Oh! I got a speeding ticket today! The gods are colluding against me! That cop was profiling me because I have a blue car! He never showed me the radar! He wasn't even wearing a uniform! That bag of weed wasn't even mine! What the hell!"

But every once in a while, someone gets what they don't deserve while the person who deserves it walks away.

As I stood stranded last week in the Minneapolis airport, my homeward journey dashed by a blizzard, all flights to Milwaukee cancelled, my companion's luggage MIA, I get a phone call from my mother inquiring as to my whereabouts, condition and Doppler Radar coordinates.

I'm stuck here for a while, I say. Okay, she says. We're coming home early from our trip, she adds. I'm waiting for the punch, because I know my mother well enough to know that the tone in her voice indicates not just an early return, but a reason for it. Not a good one.

Before I continue, let me paint you a picture: An ex-con in his late thirties, having lost years earlier both his driver's license and his father to lung cancer, has cleaned up his act. Living on the righteous path free of drugs, alcohol and prison food, he likes to visit his mother, a kind woman who tells things like they are. One recent night, not wanting to bother the friend who would normally give him a ride to Mom's house, this man mounts his trusty bicycle and pedals himself to see her. In February. In Wisconsin. On dark country roads. For the three-hour bike ride between his place and hers.

Fast forward to my mother on the phone, me standing like a hapless tourist next to a baggage carousel.

"Your cousin Vince was killed by a drunk driver," she says.

I'm thinking, shit, that's horrible. And I'm also thinking about what she might be thinking. See, my mother was nine years old when a man knocked on the door of her family home and said that he had hit a man walking on the side of the road about a mile away. The man who knocked was drunk, and the man he hit and killed was her father.

The man who killed Vince, bundled against the weather and pedaling south to see his mother, was 23 years old. The guy was on his way to a friend's house when he hit Vince. He fled the scene. Upon arriving at the friend's house, he takes the friend aside and out of earshot of the lady of the house, to relate what happened. While this useless fucking bastard is having his crisis of conscience, the woman - apparently the only one with any sense - dials 911. When the paramedics arrive, Vince's body is still warm despite the cold. They declare him brain dead almost immediately.

I couldn't help but think that at least the guy who killed my grandfather had the balls to own up to what he did. The guy who killed my cousin had to be ratted out by a friend. No wonder we're all on the brink of losing faith in humanity. Not to turn this little soliloquy political, but people wonder why a guy like Barack Obama is an attractive candidate to lead the free world? Look around you. We're at war and spiraling toward recession, oil we invaded a country to get is above $100 a barrel, global warming is fucking up weather all over the globe and innocent people are getting shot in shopping malls, classrooms and courthouses. Hope is all we have. Glass half full. Better tomorrows.

I wasn't close to Vince. I can only recall seeing him a few times in my life and chatting about nothing in particular. We greeted each other at my cousin's wedding last summer and exchanged pleasantries. We called him "cousin Vinny" and shook our collective heads at his past. But family is family. When history repeats itself in such heinous fashion, you can't help but notice.

Not to get all soap-boxy, but that's kind of what blogs are for: don't drink and drive. I don't want to have to write this story about my wife or brother or parents or cousins or friends or the guy who works down the hall. If you think it can't happen to you, think about Elmer and Vincent Greuel.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you made it back safely. And I'm very sorry to hear about your cousin. This world keeps getting crazier and crazier; I agree that accountability is a rarely practiced art these days. What scares me most of all are the kids coming up through elementary & middle school now. I'm sure Lauren has at least as many stories as Jenn. How do we save these kids? Maybe not save them, but teach them, reshape doubt a topic for a long conversation.

David J. said...

I'm sorry for your loss. No one deserves something like that to happen to them.

I can't imagine anyone being that stupid, even when drunk. What can you really say? People just don't think. It's horrible that someone's random lack of thought and responsibility had to directly affect you this way.

My thoughts are with you and your family.