Saying Good-Bye

[Originally written on this date in 2006]

The late morning was already warm when I rolled out of bed, but of course that was not going to stop me from dressing in black from head to toe, as respectfully as possible with the limited wardrobe I have.  After all, it was important to be comfortable but still myself, as I know that is what Jon would have wanted.  Makeup was kept minimal, as most of it was likely going to wind up running down my cheeks.  Styled my hair well enough that it was not a complete mess and topped it off with a veiled hat.  Wore a simple black skirt, button down short-sleeved blouse and polished up a pair of black leather pumps.  Satisfied with the end result, I packed a few items into my purse and walked a couple of blocks to where I had been informed someone would be along to pick me up.

A short while later, a white 1954 Cadillac pulled up to the corner where I waited, and out stepped a rather imposing figure dressed in what can only be described as a hobo clown suit.  The years had been long but his face was still familiar and I was more than relieved to see the only other surviving member of Outlaw Cirkus.  With a sad smile he embraced me for a moment, a strong cologne coming off his soft skin, then opened the door for me to get in.  It was the two of us in the back seat with a third party behind the wheel and we were off.

Was glad the air-conditioning in the vehicle was on, as it provided the right amount of comfort for what would be a long drive.  Not certain if conversation would be appropriate, I distracted myself by gazing out the window and watched Philly give way to Jersey as we crossed the border.  The silence was finally broken, though Augustine did not speak to me directly – I feel it is safe to use his name since there is no longer a threat to what is left of our Family.  He knew Jon as well as I did, possibly even on a deeper level since they had known each other for several years before I came along.  At least I was slowly relaxing as we talked softly about what we had been doing to pass the time as the Cadillac cruised through the Garden State.

When we finally drew close to the ocean, the air was shut off and the windows were rolled down, inviting a salty aroma into the car along with a cooling breeze.  It had been far too long since I had last laid my sights upon the Shore, and while I would have liked to paid a visit under different circumstances, just being there again put me at ease.  We rolled along for a while longer, and in the distance was a collection of cars that were gathered for the service.  The destination was a remote section of beach, far away from the hordes of Memorial Day weekend travelers that had migrated to the Shore.  Thus the reason the location was chosen, and while not at liberty to disclose that information, it was much farther South than I have ever been in Jersey, giving those who had gathered to honor the departed the ability to do so in privacy.

My stomach bubbled with nervousness when the car stopped, but Augustine assured me that he was there to escort me to the service, providing comfort if I happened to need any.  It should be noted here that he had filled the role of father figure to me during the Outlaw Cirkus years, and even though it had been far too long since we last saw each other, I felt entirely safe with him.

He linked his arm with mine when we exited the car and made our way to the beach.  Those that had assembled were a motley crew of individuals; punks, skins, greasers, crusties – the labels don’t really matter since we were all there for the same reason.  They had come from cities across the country; people who may have had differences that were able to set those aside for one day.  While I had been concerned about feeling out-of-place among them, having a warm hand in mine reminded me I was not alone.

Jon’s prized Chevy Nova was the centerpiece of the ceremony, covered with candles and flowers with the urn sitting up on its roof, and my heart sank at that moment.  Granted it was far better than having to see him lying in a box, on account that would have surely caused me much greater pain.  That doesn’t mean knowing he rested inside the simple bronze vessel didn’t have an effect on me, and the same can be said about the collection of photos that were taped to the windows.  That is what really got the tears flowing,but I wanted to get up and look at them a.  How happy Jon was, pictured with that car, the Mercury and various groups of people.   There were a couple of us which were taken at a party he had a few years back, as well as some candid shots of random drunken and drug-induced debauchery.  Becoming a bit overwhelmed, I found myself in Augustine’s arms as he assisted me in taking a seat, holding on to me as we settled into the white plastic chairs.

There was no priest or minister or anyone of that sort to conduct the ceremony, as Jon was not a religious man.  Instead, the only other Carny present stepped up to get the whole thing under way, thanking everyone who had come to pay their respects.  Augustine gave a moving speech about what it meant to lose such a great man and was visually distraught [as we all were] though able to keep his composure.  Being the youngest present was still a little weird, but I put that out of my mind when called upon to say a few words.  Standing in front of all those people did not make me nervous, as they looked upon me with reverence.  Took my time reading the eulogy [a slightly modified version of what I wrote a few days ago], slowly going from word to word so they were clearly pronounced despite the tears that constantly interrupted me.  Caught a few of the most stone-faced men wiping salty discharge from their own eyes.

One by one, the mourners stood in front of his Chevy to say a few words; some chose to share their most memorable moment, and others expressed their grief in losing such a passionate individual.  We all sat there in silence for a long time after that, watching the colors change in the sky as the sun set behind us in a brilliant show of orange, yellow, pink and purple, reflecting on the ocean in a dancing electric pattern as the waves crashed on the beach.

Augustine carefully lifted up the urn, instructing us to collect the candles, flowers and photos to follow him down to the sea.  He resumed the role of my escort, and together we led the procession.  Comforting words were whispered, an understanding of just how much Jon loved me; that now he would be able to always watch over me and protect me; that while I lost a very dear friend, I had gained a guardian angel, and that made me smile a little.  Once we reached the ocean, he recited words that were respectfully reserved for those who truly were with it until the end.

Standing on giant rocks that disappeared into the ocean, the lid was removed from the urn and the wind picked up at that moment, carrying Jon’s ashes out into the churning sea along with the flowers we had thrown.  It is something that has happened in the past when the departed are laid to rest, and while I am not religiously devout myself, I do believe in that his soul was free to find its final reward.  We stood there and waited for the candles to burn out before heading back to the Cadillac.

Then it was onward to the…well, I’m not really sure what to call the post-service gathering other than just that.  Augustine was host to the feast of assorted foods and beer, but he remained by my side the entire time.  We ate and drank and shared fond memories, celebrating Jon’s life as he would want us to.  They came to me and offered their condolences, and while I had no idea who any of them were, they all called me by name.  I was a bit flattered to have them sit down and tell me how much they heard about me; information I was already aware of, but it felt good to know they trusted his judgment to treat me as a friend despite being strangers.  In fact, when I gazed around the room, I saw that everyone was sitting together.  The scene was by far a reflection of the ability of one man to unite them despite whatever differences may have separated them in their usual walk of life.

The numbers dwindled as the night progressed, and after a while only a handful of us remained, still knocking back a few brews and continuing to exchange stories.  They did a lot more talking than I did, but that was fine with me as I felt I had said enough.  Besides, I enjoyed hearing the way they talked about him, and it should be clear by now that this man had touched many lives.

We laid on the floor with the windows open, inviting the cool ocean breeze inside while we watched some movies and eventually passed out.

Breakfast was ready and waiting when we woke up, sitting together as one Family and just shooting the shit.  Wanted to stay there, but knew that wasn’t a possibility, what with the moving and everything I had to take care of.  Exchanged good-byes and was brought back to Philly a few hours ago, though while thanking Augustine he took me by surprise and said if I ever needed anything that he would do his best to provide.  Though I may not have mentioned him as much as Jon, he certainly has had a significant role in my life but always with the understanding he would not always be present.  At that moment, lost in the fabric of his plaid shirt, I could think of several things I wanted to ask for and instead walked away with the comfort of knowing I still had someone there for me.

Now I set out on that long road to healing, though I have the feeling it is going to be a long and treacherous one.

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Gone But Not Forgotten

[Originally written on this date in 2009]

Three years ago today, I received the most heart-shattering news that my dear friend Jon had passed away.   At the time, every emotion imaginable coursed through my body, and for the next few days I was in a state of shock to the point that I could not even think straight.

For six years we had been intimate friends, and during that time our bond only grew stronger despite the constant challenges we faced.   He was not the most perfect person, but at the same time he never tried to be anyone or anything other than himself, and perhaps that is what attracted me to him the most.  We met by chance one day in NYC at some underground party we both happen to be attending, where I was sharing my talent of being a Human Blockhead.  Someone made a rude comment, and I wound up outside sulking in the gutter.  Then a pair of snakeskin boots come into view, and I’m asked if I wanted a smoke, to which I replied that I wasn’t into cigarettes.   A tattooed hand reached towards me as I heard him laugh and explain what he was really offering.  When I looked up, my eyes met his and I was a bit distracted by the small tattoos on his face.

It was the beginning of what would be one fantastic and at times unbelievable friendship.  Jon was a South Jersey boy working in NYC; by that I mean he was a hustler, and a damn good one at that.  We would spend endless hours wandering around the Village down to Canal Street and back again, all the while he was taking things out of people’s pockets and showing me how easy it was.  We talked for hours over cups of coffee and expensive pastries, and that was when he told me he was a Carny.

Jon had been literally born into the canvas world of American Circus; his daddy was a roustie and his momma was a burlesque queen.  They met and fell in love in what can only be described as a story-book romance.  She died giving birth to him and his father was murdered when he was only 13; from then on he learned to survive on his own, and I was not only impressed but entirely intrigued by his lifestyle.

We spent much time discussing things like circus, sideshow, vaudeville, burlesque [you know, when it actually meant something and wasn’t just a way for people to make a quick buck or soak up the spotlight]; as well as various body modifications – their historical, cultural and tribal significance; and all things kustom kulture, such as pin-ups, rat rods and drag racing.

After six months of getting to know each other, Jon introduced me to Outlaw Cirkus, an underground performance troupe who worked together towards becoming a non-profit organization that would continue the preservation and education of traditional American Circus.  Though I had to work my way up from being a greenhorn – a feat which took a year to complete – being accepted into this group of misfits and miscreants became an important part of my life.  Suddenly I was part of something that people often could only dream of, and I had been adopted into a Family who appreciated me for who I was.

To be honest, I could spend hours upon hours and many weeks detailing all of the adventures Jon and I had together.  It was not always fun and games though, as I discovered that he was also an addict.  However, that was only a small part of his personality which may have put others off, but he was my best friend and I would have rather stuck by him through better or worse than even think about ever turning my back on him.  Whatever it was that made our bond so strong, there were only a few things that could separate us.

No matter how many times he had to ‘go away’ or for whatever reason, every time I saw Jon it was like we hadn’t spent a single moment apart.  He was the most influential person of my young adulthood, and I owe a lot of who I am now to the things he taught me.  There are not even enough words for me to properly describe how awesome he really was, but hopefully the point comes across.

The day I had to bury my best friend was a solemn one to say the least.  While hundreds of other people were happy and carefree, celebrating their Memorial Day weekend in standard fashion by migrating to the Shore, I was dressed in black and on my way to the funeral I didn’t ever want to come.  There were plenty of tears, but we had gathered to celebrate Jon’s life, not mourn our loss.  Suffice to say that things were never the same and I set out on self-destruction for a few months while trying to grasp the fact he was gone.

It took me a long time to get over losing someone that was so important to me, and only now can I even write or think about him without crying too much, so I am unsure if it is ever something we come to terms with.  For a while, I kept expecting to see him one last time.  Perhaps I wanted to know that he wasn’t really dead and it was just one of those times he had to ‘disappear’.  There were a lot more things I lost than a best friend; things I don’t feel most people will ever understand.  To be honest, there was a part of myself that I left behind when I buried my friend at sea.  My whole life changed in that moment and no one was there to tell me how I was supposed to deal with it all.

Moments come where I still miss him along with the crazy things we used to do, and I feel that perhaps I appreciate them more now knowing I won’t ever get that time back.  However, he would not want me to desire what was, and instead focus on what can be once again.  If he taught me anything, it’s that you don’t ever give up because life gets too hard.  “No one ever said it was going to be easy, but you either fight your way through or just lay down and die.  If you’re going to die, do it now so the rest of us have a chance.”  Jon always had a way with words.

While others are having their BBQ’s and partying with their favorite alcoholic beverages of choice, I feel like taking some time to remember the days in South Jersey when we were the only people who gave a shit about sideshow, before it evolved into just another scene where it’s not what you can do but who you know – and apparently willing to get naked – that boosts a career.

Well fuck that noise, son.

My integrity cannot be purchased – I am proud of who I am and of everything I have accomplished, whether it was with Outlaw Cirkus, Jon or on my own.

To my dearest departed friend, brother and one damn fine showman: your memory will live as long as I am here and I will never forget you.

The most important lesson in life is not learned until you are faced with death, and only then do you realize how precious your time is.  Wasting your life is an ultimate sin, and one you will have the rest of eternity to think about.  – Jonathan Aaron Ivylee Lovelace, 1977-2006

In Loving Memory

[Originally written on this date in 2006.]

This is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to write, and I guess I am thankful that I don’t have to say it out loud, as I am sure it would take a while, considering the fact I am overwhelmed with emotion.

Have just received the soul-crushing news that my dearest friend Jon passed away.  [Feel weird not referring to him by his birth name, but I suppose it’s easier to say ‘Jon’ for continuity sake.]  He had been staying with a friend in South Jersey, and I was told he had planned to come and see me this weekend.  Well, when his friend went to wake him, it was discovered that he was not breathing.  The cause of death [at this point] has been determined as heart failure.  A part of me is relieved that he went in peace as opposed to the ways he always thought he would die, but it certainly hurts just the same.

Jon made it no secret that he had a bad heart, but not once did he let it affect him.  In fact, he embraced life to the fullest extent and enjoyed every moment of it.  There were numerous times when he felt death’s icy grip upon his shoulder, such as overdosing several times and having his heart stop more than should be humanly possible.  No matter what the circumstances where or whether he was taking the risk to get high on thrills, Jon was not quite ready to give up, especially not without a fight.  He always showed great resiliency and determination, constantly cheating death for just one more round.  He always joked about it, stating:  “I have sat at death’s table many times, but he keeps telling me to go away.  One of these days I’m gonna piss that fucker off enough that he’ll come lookin’ for more, and I am ready for that rumble.”  There were many moments Jon wondered why those around him moved on to the great beyond while he remained, always questioning the reason it was them instead of him.  While I don’t know if he ever found the answer, I certainly hope he has it now.

Jon was many things to many people, and to me he was perhaps the single most influential presence in my life.  He was more than just a friend to me; he was a mentor who taught me all I know about what it means to be a Carny; a brother who was there to listen whenever I needed him and had just the right words to say in any situation.  There are plenty of people who he considered to be his friends and Family, but none who truly knew him as I did.  We shared our deepest thoughts and feelings with one another due to the enormous amount of trust we had for each other combined with an incredible bond as friends that could compare to none other.  A great amount of respect for this man will always have a place in my heart,  as he has made an impact on me more so than anyone I have ever met.

There is no doubt that I will mourn him alongside the others who were fortunate enough to have known him, but Jon would want us to celebrate his life just the same as he did.  Only time will be able to heal this wound I can already feel ripping me apart, and I know that it will be difficult to get over this.

The fact of the matter is that one can never be ‘prepared’ for this sort of thing.  Jon was 29 and in the prime of his life.  Having struggled for years to rid himself of personal demons and come to terms with the choices that he has made throughout the years, he was on his way to overcoming his addictions once and for all; it seemed that he had become a new man.

Every time he was absent from my life for one reason or another, I always knew that we would find ourselves together again and no amount of distance or days passed had the ability to deter us from wanting to remain side by side for eternity.  Now there is a huge void forming that will be hard to fill as I come to terms with the fact he is really gone.

My memories are the most valuable thing I have, all of those days and nights we spent in each other’s company becoming absolutely priceless and something I want to archive some day so that I can always reflect on them with fondness, especially since I will never have another chance for an unforgettable adventure with him.

Jon will be remembered for everything he taught me, passing on knowledge in a manner befitting an intellectual scholar, guiding me the best he could while encouraging me to be my own person and pursue my own path in life.  Even as I write this I can see the lettering tattooed on my wrists – FTW and DIY, a motto which he himself had lived by that was a gift from him.

For reasons I am finding it difficult to explain in words, whether it is being overwhelmed by all of the emotions currently coursing through my body or the fact I feel that none would do justice to define the feelings I had for him, I can honestly say that I cared for him greatly and yes, freely admit that through the years we knew each other I loved him just as much.

The last member of Outlaw Cirkus [besides myself and one other], the devil who dared to laugh in the face of death, has tragically expired.  The King is dead; long live the King.

Rest in peace my friend, for now you are free.

Aaron McLoughlin aka Jonathan Ivylee Lovelace || October 13, 1977 – May 23, 2006