[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