Speaking Ill Of The Dead

Well over a decade ago, I was part of a group of friends. One of them had a real punk little brother (teenager) who, I knew, was destined for trouble. He was a stereotypical punk, always in trouble at school and the law, involved in booze and drugs and crime and gangs and whatnot. The high point, I recall, was him being found passed-out drunk in a stolen car at the tende age of 15 or so. Within a year or two, he had his first child Let’s call him “Billy.”

There is one area where I have to give Billy credit for: he once inspired me to invent an ethnic slur. His father was deceased, but he insisted that his “real” father was a Colombian drug dealer to get some gang cred. One of our group said that he was desperately trying to be a “wigger.” I spontaneously corrected him: Billy was a “Wic.”

One day, after our little group had drifted apart, one guy I’d remained close to gave me some shocking news.

“Hey, Jay!”

“Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

“What?

“Billy’s in REAL jail!”

“Really?”

“Yup!”

A little while later, I interrupted our conversation.

“Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

“What?

“Billy’s in REAL jail!”

“I know. I told you.”

A little while later, I interrupted him again.

“Hey, Don!”

“Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

“What?

“Billy’s in REAL jail!”

“I know, Jay. I told you that half an hour ago.”

20 minutes later, I struck again.

“Hey, Don!”

“Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

“What?

“Billy’s in REAL jail!”

“Jay, I know you like to call me stupid, but I know Billy’s in REAL jail. I told YOU that.”

“Don, I’m not saying it over and over again because I think you’re stupid. I’m saying it over and over again because it feels so good to say it. You try it.”

“Hey, Jay!”

“Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

“What?

“Billy’s in REAL jail!”

And a big grin spread across his face. It WAS fun to say it. It became a running gag between us for years. And we never bothered to verify whether or not it was true at that particular moment — with Billy, it seemed a safe bet.

Last night, the joke developed a new twist. Don called me:

“Hey, Jay!”

Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“Billy’s NOT in real jail!”

“He’s not?”

“Nope. He’s dead.”

Not that I didn’t trust Don, but I poked around online to find out more details. (Don is still friends with Billy’s older brother.) It turns out that Billy was right around 30, a heavily-tattooed “tattoo artist” with a lengthy criminal record and three kids by two “baby mamas.” He was still a druggie, and a couple other members of his family had also gotten arrested on drug dealing charges, and it’s a better than fair chance that Billy’s death was tied to his history of recreational pharmacology.

There’s a part of me that’s a little freaked. Billy was about a decade younger than me, but he piled up a lot of living in those years. And while I know, intellectually, I should mourn the death of a fellow human being, that is dwarfed by the thoughts that he chose to be an utter dirtbag and so many of his choices led to his demise. And I can’t forget all the times he insulted and threatened me simply because he felt the need to show some dominance.

RIP, Billy. You left the world a better place.

But I think I’m going to miss the running gag Don and I had more.

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