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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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Image Source: stephendun

The pain wasn’t explosive at first. It was more warm and beckoning. Passionate, even. Much more carmine red than cardinal. It wasn’t until I realized the pain and pulled my finger away from the burner that the hurt burst forth in fierce, angry agony. Lesson learned: the initial contact isn’t nearly as painful as subsequent or repeated contact.

It was the night of the All Star Game, 1982, and I was at my grandparent’s farm making Jiffy Pop for the Midsummer Classic. I was nine, and I remember staring at the orange/red coils and thinking, “what would happen if I put a finger on the burner?”

Not three years earlier, I was at the farm, on the back of our trailer with our Christmas tree, which we had just cut down from our own woods. I was sitting on the back of the trailer, by the right rear tire, while my grandpa drove the tractor and my parents walked behind. I was wearing my moon boots, and I remember staring at the tire and thinking, “what would happen if I put my boot on the tire?”

Broken collarbone.

I remember feeling the thud of hitting the ground, the wind hurtling from my body and a warm ache just under my neck. And then I was screaming and my mom and dad were running for me. Carmine to crimson.

My first sips of beer came from cans thrown away on Jacksonville Beach. You could always find an empty on the beach, and occasionally I would pick one up and take a pull. I showed one to my mom once, and she was horrified.

From there, I went undercover and graduated to sips of Jack at my friend’s parents’ house. These raids reversed the lesson. The first taste was explosive: pure tongue-tingling medicinal fire. But then, once you swallowed, the warmth spread. It was like swallowing the sun and feeling the beams slowly reach all over my body. Crimson to carmine. I liked this carmine.

I liked it a lot.

Most of my life has been spent, I now realize, in search of the inverse carmine. The pain becomes too much and I run for the beckoning warmth. I do it again and again, realizing that the warmth deceives, that warmth is also pain, and will lead to more and escalated pain.

Still, the lure of warmth holds the greatest sway. I seek warmth like the winter sunsets at the farm, and my parents and grandparents and their loving spirits.

Warmth like endless summer days when all I had to worry about was if we’d end up at Pizza Hut or McDonald’s after Tee-ball. Warmth like jumping in the hay in the barn and dreaming about girls and real electric guitars.

Who doesn’t want to be warm and safe?

Who cares that safety is a lie?

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