Only LIfe

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One thing about death: it really illuminates life.

Experiencing death far before its time really makes one realize how much life means – the life of the deceased, the impact they had, our lives and our place in it. The things that matter and the things that don’t. Death makes life completely relevant and meaningful, and all we can hope to do is heed the lessons and live our life like we mean it.

So, Tony and Rick Cimato. Tony and I were classmates from eight grade through high school. We were in band and jazz band together (see here and here for horror stories), and because my psychotic girlfriend-at-the-time dated him in fourth grade or something, she dumped me for Tony before dumping him for me. Rick was a few years behind.

Tony and I were friends, but not super close. Nothing personal at all; that’s just how it was. We hung out after school a few times, but we weren’t best friends for life. We graduated in 1991. I couldn’t get away from high school fast enough, so I settled into college and moved the hell on. Twenty years passed and I started reconsidering and reconnecting with old classmates on Facebook, including Tony.

As of 2011 at least, Tony was in the hospital with a degenerative neurological condition. I felt horrible about his situation, but it was great reconnecting with him over our virtual backyards, and I know that we both had some big laughs catching up and looking back.

I kind of remembered Rick, but I got to know him a bit better when he friended me a few months ago, and I was really happy to see that he had landed in a great place: tending bar in Manhattan, in a band that was getting some buzz, awesome looking girlfriend…Rick looked real happy, and that’s all you can hope for old friends.

On the Sunday before Christmas, Rick posted that he, his girlfriend Ashley and brother Nick were in Freeport sucking down oysters and bloodys and partaking in Christmas merriment. On the day after Christmas the news slowly spread like a horrible rumor over Facebook: in the early hours of that day, on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Connecticut – a road I know very well from my own childhood – a 22-year-old driving north in the southbound lane hit Rick head-on. Rick Cimato, age 37, was killed, as was the other driver. Ashley and Nick survived with injuries.

Somewhere in the background, like another horrible rumor, it was learned that Tony was in ICU. But it didn’t really register: the horror, pain and disbelief that overcame our town – our community – at the news of Rick’s senseless death was all-prevalent and all-consuming.

Two days after the passing of Rick Cimato, on the morning of Friday the 28th, the news slowly spread like a horrible rumor over Facebook: Tony Cimato, age 38, succumbed after his long battle.

Two brothers dead in two days. Two friends. Too much to handle.

In the aftermath, memories of Tony and Rick came in great loving floods. Both brothers had Facebook Memorial Pages set up (Tony and Rick), and our community came together to laugh, love and heal together. I was able to relive Tony’s Madonna obsession, his killer dance in the 1990 Spring Fling Talent Show and his infectious laugh and spirit. I got to see what a huge heart Rick had, how far he had come (his band, Thinning the Heard, had an album produced by Steve Albini! The same guy who produced The Pixies, The Breeders and Nirvana, fachrissakes!) and how far he had left to go. I went to the memorial service last Wednesday, and although it was brutally hard emotionally, it was also incredibly comforting and healing to see so many people and such an outpouring of love. Death illuminates life, and the lives of Tony and Rick Cimato left an incredible impression.

I never visited Tony: not because I was unwilling, but just because that’s how it ended up. Day job, commute, domestic maintenance, trying to find time to write…the vicissitudes of life and all. Still, they were both my friends, and their losses have shocked me to the core.

This isn’t supposed to happen.

Classmates – kids my age – aren’t supposed to die. Twenty years passed before I had any contact with anyone I went to high school with. All my old classmates are supposed to exist in a vacuum. We’re all supposed to have full 80s hair, bad acne, no kids or careers, and we’re all supposed to be interested in little beyond finding someone to buy a couple of 40s for us so we can head to the gravel pit. We’re not supposed to have bad backs, male-pattern baldness, kids in high school and positions of importance in the school administration.

And we’re NOT supposed to die in car accidents or have ultimately fatal neurological conditions.

I am well-versed in horribly premature death (as we’ve seen here and here). I understand the grieving and healing process all too well. But it’s entirely different when there is a quarter-century of collective history involved.

In the picture above of the 1989/1990 Lisbon ME High School Jazz Band, alto-sax player Tony Cimato, drummer Tarsha Ramich and myself are, for whatever reason, holding a rock in our mulletastic rocker glory. Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. Earlier this year, I got the word that Tarsha had passed away in Florida. I grieved and grappled with the same issues – we weren’t close and had only recently reconnected on Facebook as well, but I still mourned and grieved. Now Tony is gone, and I am the last one holding the rock.

I’m not quite channeling Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison and mumbling to myself how these things always come in threes. But I am more than a bit freaked out and much more aware of the fragility of life.

I ache for the Cimato family. I ache for life, and two lives ended far too early. And all I can do is carry on and live my life like I mean it. Because it’s all I have.

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11 comments
  1. Wow Brian that is a lot for anyone to deal with at one time. Looking at that photo, I just see a group of invincible kids ready to embark on all life has to give….as they should. Their ending wasn’t planned, but then again it never is. I love this sentence “live my life like I mean it.” Wise indeed.

    • It’s all we can do, right?

  2. The photo is magical. I’ll keep checking back for more. Just starting out in this world of blog-memoir and connecting with other writers. Thanks!

    • Welcome to it! Great to have you here. I’ve found an amazing sense of community around my page. Pull up a chair…

  3. It’s been a bit addictive so far, I fear. I don’t want to fall prey to the lusty, excitement of newness – followed by a disappearance, though. I’ll keep pacing and checking your site!

  4. So very sorry for your losses…it’s so hard to find out classmates have died. It forces us to face our own mortality. I’m a class of ’91 and we’ve lost far too many of our own, as well. Sending good thoughts your way…

    • Hey, thanks so much. ’91 Solidarity.

  5. This is super well written and I can see the pain and emotion coming through your writing. I can’t imagine what a hard hit this must be. I’ve had a few friends die while I was still in college whether it just be from freak car accidents or heart conditions. Recently the thing that has been freaking me out is old HS acquaintances getting married and/or moving in together.

    Keep on, keeping on. Live that life. Try to let these sad occurrences motivate you to better your own life as it seems you’ve already done.

    • Solidarity.

  6. Brian I am so very sorry. All I can advise is to do what you already seem to have managed : remember the good, the funny and the heights you and your friends attained. Bother together and on your own.

    The holidays, starting with Halloween and ending with January 7th (the date of my father’s totally unexpected death) are filled with anniversaries, birthday and holidays. The ghosts of the loved ones gone from these celebrations haunt and torture me.

    Your words have helped me today. Finding ways to manage and remembering the positive.

    By the way, laughed my ass off at the picture of jazz band. Looks a helluva a lot like my own. As it appears with your band there was also only one token girl. heh.

    Hope your friend has recordings left from his recent band. Truly wish I still lived in NYC and was able to hear them play.

    Be well my friend, Warm thoughts to the family and other friends of Tony and Rick.

    • As always, thanks for you, Ms. Black.

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