[Note: This was written on my first day of vacation, Aug. 6th.]
I call it survivor’s guilt, but that’s not quite right. I was never going to lapse into drug addiction. That’s not Joe Pelone. I’m a good soldier and I know what is right and I will not break and everyone can count on me forever. But there’s still that lingering, nagging, angry feeling that if I could trade places with Michael I would, that he was meant for something better than a drug overdose at 23.
It dawned on me today that, had Michael not asked me to join his band Emergency & I, I would never have met my friend Scott. And if I didn’t meet Scott, I wouldn’t have met his sister Michelle, my bride-to-be, my only true love, my best friend, my everything. Setting aside all the music Michael introduced me to (Weakerthans, Get Up Kids, Crime in Stereo), he set off a chain of events that led to my marriage. Without my cousin, my current life and all the events that led up to it do not exist.
Which is to say nothing of Michael’s DIY attitude. For a time, he was the heart of the Lansdale music scene, and he booked groups like The Ataris, Crime in Stereo, and Set Your Goals to play our stupid little piece of Pennsylvania. I like to think that, had he stayed clean, maybe Michael could’ve stayed with the music business. He always talked about launching a record store, but I think joining up with an indie company like R5 Productions would have been of interest to him.
But that’s never going to happen.
I went to visit Michael’s grave yesterday in Conshohocken. There was a funeral procession occurring maybe 10 yards from where he is buried, so I had to park a way’s away from him. As I stood there, dwelling on the year that separated me from his passing, with the earth pulsating beneath me, like every breath could bring him back, a large crowd of strangers flooded the area with their own sense of grief.|
I have no intention of ever crying in front of hundreds of strangers (again). But I was tempted.
Over the last year, I have tried to hurt myself. That’s how badly Michael messed me up. I went to therapy for while, but it wasn’t until I went to Europe on a mission to research Michelle’s family that I really began to take heed of the healing process. I’m no longer a threat to myself, and I guess I don’t feel the pain of Michael’s absence as much I used to, but I still miss him. Even though the last few years weren’t easy. Even though he could be an asshole. Even though his decisions were his own and nothing I could do could or would ever change them. I loved him then and I love him now.
There are still times when this situation doesn’t feel real, like he’s still out there. For a while, I was visiting his grave on an average of once per month because I couldn't stand him being forgotten. It helped me process my grief and to normalize the concept that he’s gone. I still get choked up sometimes – work on Monday was hard – but I need to remember that I am alive, that I still have time to live.
I carry Michael with me in everything that I do.