How does one properly write about loss? Over the years, I have kept the vigil for my friend, I have honored his memory on the day he died, and I have tried my best to celebrate his life on the day he was born. That date passed on Wednesday, and I could not gather enough courage to express myself. Even now it is somewhat difficult to find the right words. There is so much I have said in the past, with the most recent ode revealing things I had never quite said to the public world of the Internet. After all, it is rare that I allow things from real life to be displayed for all the world wide web to see. Only those who are considered friends and a few random selection of others have access to that sort of information.
Jon should have turned 33 two days ago, and there is a slight bitterness in knowing that my whole situation could be very different if he was still alive. Then again, there comes doubt because my best friend also had serious addictions and a bad heart. The latter was something he had no control over; coarctation of the Aorta and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In short, the defects themselves were detrimental to his health, and a part of him always knew that. He didn’t really like to talk about the issue, and the choice to use drugs came with a high cost. Watching your best friend strung out on dope or highly paranoid because he snorted too much coke really leaves a disturbing impression in a young mind. All those years of DARE education were pretty much nonexistent in moments where all I wanted was to make sure he was alright. It seemed like the right thing to do, because I wasn’t going to turn away from someone I cared about, even if it did mean seeing him at his worst moments.
That was the darkest part of our friendship, and in the lighter moments, it was always adventure time. We explored the concrete jungles of New York City, chrome diners of the Garden State and got lost in time on Coney Island. We caused chaos in Cherry Hill and haunted the woods of the Pine Barrens. There is no doubt that Jon made my life happier, and all he ever had to do was be my friend. Everything else was just a bonus to an already awesome dude. When I think about it now, I wish I hadn’t been so restricted by jealous issues that certain people had. Spending time with a friend was something I cherished, particularly when I felt completely safe, comfortable and the freedom to be myself.
There was one other thing which made me love Jon, and that was his inherited ability to hustle. He could charm a quarter out of just about anyone, and if that didn’t work, he would slip one out of their pocket. His sleight of hand was impeccable, and no one ever caught him stealing. It was the thrill of using this skill that caused him to do it, not the reward. Most assume that greed motivated any of the things he did, but he really just enjoyed fucking with people, as he would put it. Of course I was always amused by these antics, and certainly had no complaint when he would treat me to a meal or two. It was fun to see the way others looked at us when we walked into what would be considered a fine dining establishment. Everyone else was decked out in fancy suits and dresses, while we looked like dirty punks and get seated in the back. He said it was important to prove to society that they should not judge you on appearance, and despite a few side-splitting antics, we were usually on our best behavior. He always tipped well, which led to being treated kindly on the way out.
There are countless experiences such as this that are precious to my memory. The good comes with the bad, because Jon was only human despite the claim of Death Defying Daredevil. As I have recounted before, he was never the same following that accident on the Wall of Death. Not only did he lose the drive to continue performing, the injury he sustained effected his ability to flawlessly execute sleight of hand. It practically destroyed him. What does a Carny do when he cannot do what is in his blood? There is no retirement plan or Social Security or any sort of government assistance. Jon had spent his whole life doing and knowing one thing, so to change that when he was 27 seemed impossible, but he was willing to try. It didn’t take long for him to grow frustrated and constantly drift into the old lifestyle, which unfortunately included heavy drug use.
The longest we were separated without any form of contact was Summer ’05, when I packed up my life and rolled out to perform with a 10-in-1 sideshow that traveled the carnival circuit. There were many times I thought about Jon while I was on stage, knowing that if he had been in that audience, his smile would be one filled with pride. We found each other again after that, as we always did, and I left New Jersey at age 24. The Hostile City then became my new home, which seems appropriate since it is the birthplace of American Circus. Everything seemed to be falling into place, and I was thrilled that my best friend wanted to be by my side.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the good did not come without the bad. While there are a few reasons I moved, one of the main reasons was to protect myself. This is something that goes back to the Outlaw Cirkus days, and is one of those difficult points in the progression of a story. There was more to the performances than just the acts themselves. We wanted to send a message to the audiences, and on occasion, our opinions were not always appreciated. While one would like to think that a situation like this could be easily solved, unfortunately not everyone uses the same thought process. In short, due to the ignorance and malicious nature of some, several people lost their lives in a devastating fire, along with props and memorabilia from the shows. It was an act of cowardice, and one that took members of my Family away. Apparently, the person responsible meant to take us all out, but I had a migraine that nite, so Jon drove me back to his place. A few others were lucky and went on a beer run. Of course I have no idea where they are now, or if they are even still around.
To say Jon was a paranoid person is an understatement. However, this was also usually only something that came out when he had one too many lines of coke. Then again, there seemed to be a bit of truth to his ramblings. He was utterly convinced that people who had been wronged by his father would seek revenge through him. Not to mention there was always a reminder that we both could have died in the fire that claimed our Family, and that those people might want to come back to finish what they had started. Or the fact that he was an outspoken and active anarchist [as many of the Outlaw Cirkus Family were] could have very well rubbed people the wrong way, and they would stop at nothing to keep him quiet. While I cannot state for sure whether I ever saw evidence of these boogeymen, I was inclined to believe my friend. Of course when I found anonymous notes tucked under the windshield wiper of my car, which let’s just say were quite blunt in their messages, he insisted that I had to get out of Jersey. Shortly after I moved, I received a death threat via the Internet. To this day I have no idea what either of us have done that would encourage someone to act in such a manner, but I do know that it hasn’t happened since then.
Circumstances surrounding Jon’s death were vague at the time, and I am not sure if I fully understand what happened. He had been going through rehab to kick the drugs once and for all, then decided to come up to Jersey prior to Memorial Day Weekend. According to the friend he was staying with, Jon had planned to drive into Philly and come surprise me. He went out with a few people and had a couple drinks at some bar. All I know is that said friend went to wake him up the next day, only to find he was unresponsive. It is believed that someone slipped something into his drink. The exact cause of death was heart failure, but with his history of drug abuse combined with the defects which had sent him to the hospital on more than one occasion, it was hard to determine exactly why his heart finally gave out. There was a thought that perhaps he could not handle sobriety, or face the fact he could not perform the way he wanted to, and maybe [though it would be absurd] he had one last hurrah for himself, which was exactly what pushed him over the edge. It’s not the most pleasant thought, but I had to rule out the possibility. Knowing that his surprise was to fulfill the promise of eternal partnership, I highly doubt that he would let anything get in the way of being happy.
Here I am again, stuck on the right thing to say. Continuing to perform has meant more than I can possibly type, especially knowing I am the last of the troupe from Jersey. It is an honor to stand on stage and think of my Family right before I shove a sword into my stomach. Part of me knows that they will always be watching out for me. Part of me still wishes they were here. It’s hard to explain that you want to recreate things that happened in a moment where you either were a part of it or you missed it and could only listen to the stories. Even if I am the only one telling those stories, at least I am doing something to keep these memories alive. In the end, that is all you really have.
When I buried his ashes in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, I certainly left a part of myself behind. Everyone grieves differently, and so it is hard for me to accept that people understand what I have been through. There are a few who get it, but even still, I wonder if anyone really knows the heartache I have endured. It’s hard to deal with the fact that there will never be anyone like Jon, but I still yearn for that companionship again. Truly he was one-of-a-kind, and it’s the only thing I want the most, though I fear I may not find it again.