Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joseph Tanaka, August 15, 1948 to August 27, 1948

Comments on “The Dash” reminded me of Joe Tanaka.

Joe has been a good friend to me since I was very young. He’s buried across the way and facing the grave of my maternal grandfather, now grandmother too. The Catholic cemetery on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, across from the golf course. I was born on August 16, 1948 myself, so Joe’s gravestone always had great resonance for me.

It’s horrible when that stuff happens, that two weeks to live stuff. In the Seventies I worked with a girl about my age, twenty seven or eight at the time, in Los Angeles. She’d had it tough: at home there’d been abuse, physical, emotional and sexual; she ran away at fourteen and within two years she was working in a bar and married to the abusive fifty plus year old bartender. She’d been clear of that marriage for a couple of years and had just married a really nice guy her age. She was a great kid, still cheerful, kind of cute. We were really happy for her, we all knew her story, she wasn’t shy about telling it. She got pregnant, and there were no problems, perfectly normal birth, “you have a son!”

The next day the doc’s came in and told her some bad news. The baby had a genetic problem with his skin, it was brittle. Every little movement drew blood. The kid would die almost immediately. He lasted about a week, one terribly painful, bloody week. Talk about being crushed, the young mom’s eyes were permanently widened after that, her voice a little hysterical, she’d gone a little crazy. We lost track of her.

I don’t know Joe’s story, but it was a short one. He’d have turned sixty next month, like me, if he’d lived.

There but for fortune, my babies, join me in a silent prayer for the lucky, the living. So, in heaven, is Joe still an infant or does one in his situation become the heavenly representation of the man he might have become?


Anonymous said...

Since I don't believe in god and heaven, I have to find other rationalizations for the good the bad and the ugly in life and death.

Meaning. Purpose. As humans, we thrive on them, search for them in the world. We hate to think that everything maybe without purpose, meaningless. Why live if its all for nothing? We have to have reasons, to stay alive. To escape despair.

Asking "What was the meaning of Joe's brief existence?" is like asking "What is the meaning of a cat?" Well, Joe meant something to his parents. They buried him in a nice plot, they did not toss him in a dumpster. I'm sure they thought of Joe every single day of their lives. His life and death were probably the most life-changing event in their lives. Maybe he was named after his dad, or his dad's dad as was the custom in those days. Maybe he was a "premie" born too early for 1948-medicine to save. We can only guess at the horror and the sweetness of his two weeks...did he go suddenly, as in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?... Or did his mother have to rock him gently in the hospital until he drew his last labored breath? We'll never know.

Joe also meant something to any siblings he had, or might have had later. How could he not? They saw and visted his grave I'm sure. Our parents forced us to visit family member's graves in the 50's, right Fred? (My mom told me she miscarried twice before I was born...I think about my 2 never-were brothers/sisters a lot...if one or both had lived, would I ever have been born? Doubtful. Strange as it seems, I needed their deaths to exist.) I can speculate that Joe's death prompted his parents to produce a "replacement" happens a lot. That later Tanaka guy or girl owes Joe, big-time.

And lastly, Joe meant something to you, Fred. He had a purpose, which was to make you realize how fortunate you are. He was your graveyard friend. And now Joe has had his impact on another person--me, sixty years later--and maybe on someone who reads this. (Who will I affect 60 years after my death?)
Joe Tanaka's 2 weeks of life meant something, damn it. And on a cosmic scale, there really isn't much difference between 2 weeks and 60 years. They are both mere blinks in time.
Thanks, Joe. For being. Have a happy birthday. You too Fred. Let's throw a Big 6-0 party for both of you next month!

fred c said...

Thanks for the beautiful comment, Ed; I'm glad I met you finally.

The meaning thing is strange. Leonardo D V had an uncle who was kind of a fuck-up, but he was a good guy and he was interested in things. He'd do stuff like cut open a grasshopper so he and young Leo could check it out, see how it worked. If he contributed to Leonardo's great successes, his life had great meaning for all of us.

I'm with you on the god thing, and about being overly concerned with meaning in our lives. It's all ego, and worthless.