A year gone by already. Too quickly and not fast enough. Rest in Musical Peace dear AJ. We love you and miss you every day. It was because of you, I started this blog. I thank you for that and a hundred other things along the way this year. For you, with tears and laughter.
Fun and Funeral are not two words we often find in the same sentence or even in the same paragraph, but the February 28th Celebration of Life for our dear friends’ and neighborhoods’ 23 year old son recently killed in a tragic car accident is about as close any anyone will ever get. A musician at heart, what a fantastic display of the best music has to offer. Playing his favorite songs in tribute by his sister (first time ever on stage and she does it here in front of all these people- a rock star by anyone’s definition) and then friends, cousins and co-workers all taking the time and the stage to honor him musically!! I loved the enthusiasm by Kate of “Angel from Montgomery” fame who got the crowd on their feet whether they knew the song or not!
Andy and Renee pulled off a masterful organization of speeches and music and kept the whole thing running beautifully. My two sons who grew up with AJ wept from start to until yours truly got up to say a few words in remembrance. I was glad and honored to do so. Dave T and his band Dry September gave a stunning performance of his very own “Free Me”, one of the best songs ever written! So much great music and capped with all of AJ’s family on the stage for a rousing finale of American Pie! And here is an expanded version of my few words honoring a boy I have known since he was 9 months old.
I have had the pleasure and the privilege of a front row seat in watching AJ grow from a 9 month old baby to a wonderful young man. Andy, Craig and I moved in to the house next door to them in April of 1993. My Mom and Dad were out here from New York helping us to move in. My Dad struck up a conversation with Tony’s Dad, Ray in the driveway. Next thing I know, my mother is telling me I have to go out and meet the neighbors. Eyes rolling in annoyance, I said, “ What are you doing? This is LA not the Bronx, we don’t talk to our neighbors”! But out I went and there was Kim holding this beautiful blond baby boy. Heads nodded perfunctorily, cute a baby, nice! My next recollection of AJ and probably the time we truly became good friends for life was a few years later when he was about 2, I guess. The four of us and AJ went to the Orange County Fair. This was Craig and I’s first time there. Late in the day we went and sat in the chairs at the stage area where the bands performed. I remember Craig and I playing with AJ and just having the best time. His smile was something else. We played peekaboo and hide and seek and all those silly games you do with a baby. He just laughed and laughed and ran around and was absolutely adorable.
My next strong memory is his debut at one of our Dylan parties. He got up there in his blue choir robe with about another 10 to 15 adults and just wailed away on Stuck Inside of Mobile, harmonica and all. AJ didn’t go to the back of the row or off to the side. No, he was right there next to Fuzzy, the lead singer on this, front and center and just sang his little heart out with such concentration. Wow I was amazed at the courage of this little one to get up there like it was the most natural thing in the world. And then came the other three- Marco, Alexa and Max. AJ became our oldest and Max our baby and “MarcoandAlexa” was just one word for many years. We raised these four kids together as neighbors and friends often do. I couldn’t possibly mention all the school events, the plays, the sports, the birthday parties, and the rest of the things that make up childhoods shared! We made quite a team Kim and I. I taught her kids how to make mud soup and she taught mine how to do a surgical scrub. They truly got the best of both worlds I like to think. When Marco was about 5 or 6 and AJ about 10 or 11, he invited Marco to the big boy table- to play video games. Now back then when I was a good mother, I was horrified. O no, my baby playing video games, how bad for him. Well Marco wanted to do nothing else but play Video games… to this day. Now often when you have family or friends and kids in common, you do lots of hand me downs, usually clothes, things like that. Not with these neighbors!! We got hand me down electronics! The day AJ got his Playstation 2, Marco got handed down his PS 1.
Running around with a bat. That’s what I see next. We used to have this yellow whiffle ball bat that the kids loved to play with in my yard. Marco and Alexa used to tease AJ and he would playfully run around the backyard chasing them with it. Now the normal thing would be to worry about an 11 year old doing some bodily harm, but that was the furthest from my mind watching this and laughing. AJ was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest kid you could imagine and you never had to worry about anything like that with him.
Helpful above and beyond: that’s another memory of AJ I hold. AJ came to help when he was in middle school and high school at all the book fairs, family picnics, winter festivals, and holiday programs we had at the elementary school for the younger ones. You could always count on him to be there for us no matter what kind of PTA help we needed. He was such a great, great kid and teenager.
Now you all may know AJ the musician and the audio engineer, but I’d like to tell you about his short stint as a football coach. If you know AJ, you know he has spent exactly zero hours ever watching Monday Night or any other night football. When he was 16 though and Max was 7 and starting to play flag football, I needed some assistant coaches. Uncle Kenny was going to be the head coach and I called AJ and said I got a great idea! You need volunteer hours and I need a football coach. It’s a win-win. AJ didn’t even bat an eye. Yeah sure, I’ll do it! Ok I said, pick a friend to do it with you and ah maybe you should pick one that knows the game. And he did it for two seasons. He picked his friend Jake who actually played the game. We had so much fun and laughs. AJ went at it with his usual full on enthusiasm. He went big on this one. He would run the kids and make then do drills. Max would come home whining that “AJ is being mean, he makes us run a lot” . Hilarious! When the Panthers gave the staff banquet that year, AJ was the only one who would come with me. They served this hideous lasagna from some type of can and boy did we laugh our asses off that night over it!!
My next project for AJ was babysitter to our dog Moe Moe when AJ was 17 years old. We turned over our house to him during Spring break each year when we went to visit Grandma Anita or as Kim liked to call her “Grandma Margaret”. A master class in politeness, my mother in law is. She used to come visit us every year and even several times a year when all our kids were small. Kim called her Grandma Margaret for the longest time and Grandma never corrected her in all that time. Finally one day Kim asked me something about Grandma Margaret. “Who the hell is that I asked?” We laughed over that for years and Kim and I still refer to her as Grandma Margaret to each other. I digress as usual. I know of no other teenager on this planet who you can turn over a house to and find it still standing when you return in even better shape than when you left it. My 18 year old certainly wouldn’t do that. In fact, I asked AJ to babysit not only Moe Moe but Marco too last year. What a testament to what a great kid AJ is. And this he did for me right up until last year when we went to Italy and New York. And then they graduate high school and go out into the world and you don’t see them as often. A ‘hello’ in the driveway, a Hi, how you doin’? But nothing more really and that’s as it should be. Nothing like being in your 20s and discovering all the world has to offer.
Christmas of 2014 before AJ got his dream job he was working two jobs in Bevmo and Gamestop. Wow AJ I said to him before Christmas you can get me discounts on alcohol and video games- you pretty much got my life sewed up. The boys were getting new XBOX Ones that year and AJ took my list of games and bought them for me at Gamestop with his discount. He would come over every few days excited about the great deal he got on this game or the other one. He was relentless at making sure he got me the best price. I love that kid!!
For years Tony was our go to guy for any computer or TV or tech type problems but in recent years, Kim started telling me to call AJ especially for any MAC problems as we were all APPLES by then. I remember early 2015, I had just spent a ridiculous amount of time on the phone with Apple only to have nothing accomplished. I called AJ and he and Rian came right over and in like 5 minutes fixed the problem. “Damn, I said I am calling Apple and telling them to hire you two as you are way better than those morons they have working for them.” They laughed and AJ used to love my stories of fighting with some customer service group or other.
My last conversation with AJ was on the same subject actually. I could not find a way to burn DVDs anymore on my MAC. I knew it was there when I bought the damn computer four years ago but for the life of me I couldn’t find it today. So I texted AJ as he was at work and asked if when he had time he could help me with this. He called me back in like ten minutes from work. And he walked me through all sorts of steps to find it and we were both baffled that we didn’t. Uh oh, his bosses are out there maybe I shouldn’t have told you he was doing this from work. On second thought, not a whole lot you can do about it now. Anyway we found out that it was the stupid Apple upgrades that got rid of it and we were each working off a different version so that’s why he had the capability and I didn’t. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you- stay away from those pesky upgrades.
A few days after AJ died, I went out to my MAC and wanted to look for some pictures. I clicked on the IPHOTO icon and nothing happened. I got a pop up box that said no such application. That’s crazy I said, nothing happens to IPHOTO, I have 4500 pictures in there and I was in there just recently. I clicked it again and same thing. I looked down at where the icon is supposed to be and it was a white triangle with a darker white circle in it. Weird huh. Stop messing with me AJ was the first thought that popped into my head. I restored it back with Time Machine that I only recently started using cause AJ insisted on it last time I had a problem and on we went. To throw a pretty, plate of platitudes at you now would just be a waste of time I think. There is no reason for this but a tragic accident. There is no way to live with this other than finding a new way to breathe. I love you kid!
One comment on “To AJ..Again”
Maddie, what a beautiful tribute to A.J. I love how you capture his kindness in your speech. I know how much you loved him. “New way to breathe” is right.