In December of 1997, I moved into the Queens apartment of my girlfriend, the beautiful and wonderful woman who would eventually become my wife. But even though we would not be married until June of 1999, we were essentially already husband and wife in all but name. As an added bonus, since I worked in Manhattan, I would no longer have to take the Long Island Rail Road in to work anymore. I also found it ironic that my parents grew up in Queens and moved to Nassau County and I grew up in Nassau County and moved to Queens. I would still go out to Hicksville on weekends to visit my parents or stop by Bobby’s place on Sunday afternoons, but my visits were less frequent.
During the summer of 1998, Bobby celebrated his fourth year of sobriety. As for me, 1998 was proving to be the best year of my life to date. I had achieved my most important goals, meeting the woman that I would marry and becoming engaged, getting a job in the field that I wanted, and finally moving out of my parents’ house and having the greater freedom that went with it. I was pondering these things late afternoon on New Years’ Eve of 1998 when I collided with another car at an intersection on the Grand Central Parkway service road as I was driving out to Hicksville to meet my parents for dinner. When the air bag deployed and smothered my face, for a brief moment there was darkness and I thought that I had died. My car spun around and backed into a fire alarm pull box at the south-east corner of the intersection. I was not terribly injured by the accident, I suffered really nasty whiplash pain the next morning that lasted for several days, and it took a while for my back to recover. But my car, a 1991 white Ford Taurus, was totaled, and I was without transportation.
A couple of months later, February or March, I can’t remember which, my fiancée and I went to a Honda dealership to shop for a new car. I called my brother Bobby and we had made plans for him to pick us up and my fiancée and I agreed to watch his kids so that he and Chris could go out to dinner for the evening. When he pulled up and we got into his car, I sensed something was wrong with Bobby. While I could not smell it on his breath, by the way he was talking, I could tell he had been drinking. He was spouting about how when his son Sean turned 18 Sean was going to have to get a job and stand on his own just like he had when he was 18. I could barely keep myself from laughing at such revisionist bullshit. This was a guy who perpetually had a beggar’s cup in his hand, figuratively speaking. But what really angered me was that what I thought was just going to be two or three hours of staying with Sean, Krystal and Bobby Jr. turned into an all night affair. It was not until 1 a.m. that Bobby and Chris finally walked through the front door, and it was obvious they were both feeling happy, if you know what I mean. Not only was I upset about how late they made us stay there, but it was now quite clear that both of them had fallen off the wagon and that things were going to change for the worst again.
Things did indeed start to fall apart for Bobby and Chris as my wedding in June drew near. Before Bobby had started drinking again, I had asked him to be my best man. The night before the wedding at the rehearsal dinner he was drinking heavily and I feared he would do something stupid to ruin my wedding. But he managed to fulfill his ceremonial role and as the wedding night came to an end, I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief. It is not clear to me to this day what went wrong for Bobby and Chris. Maybe it was the strain of having three kids and struggling to make ends meet. My late father told me that their vacation to Jamaica during the winter break in 1998 was the catalyst, meaning that they started drinking again while they were there. Whatever the cause, within a few months after my wedding, Bobby and Chris had split up again. Chris retained custody of the kids and remained in the house on Prince Street in Hicksville, while Bobby ended up renting a furnished room in another part of town.
At some point, as my memory is foggy about certain dates and events, Bobby did start attending AA meetings again. As he had during past crises in his life, Bobby went into a born again religious mode, carrying around with him a paperback copy of the New Testament. I distinctly remember him once at my parents’ house telling me that it was too bad he would not get to see me in heaven, with the clear implication that he believed he would be going to heaven and I, because of my atheism, would not. All I could do in response was to guffaw with laughter. Of course, his born again phase and his commitment to sobriety did not last. Like an old house with termite ridden and rotten timbers, the structure of Bobby’s life continued to collapse, save for brief pauses when he would take a stab at getting things back on track. Chris and the kids got evicted from the house on Prince Street and in another moment of irony, ended up renting in a house in Babylon that was directly across the street from the house where she lived when she was on welfare after her first separation from Bobby. What was becoming painfully evident was that their three kids were becoming collateral damage in the destruction of their lives.
To be continued...