The boy walked up the aisle of the grocery store and as our eyes met it was a classic case of the two-way, “Do I know you?” look flashing back and forth, from me to him and back again.
I knew I knew him, but how, why and where from were the questions I had. After all, just days earlier I had moved three hours south, from Maine to Connecticut to begin working a new job.
I didn’t know anybody outside of my boss at the paper who hired me and my landlords, who allowed me to move into the apartment behind their house, on the second floor of their barn, which doubled as a two-car garage and shed area below my living space.
Ah, the landlords. John and Julie Amoroso. Good people. Very good people. They had two boys. Johnny and Jake. Johnny was in eighth grade, Jake was in sixth. They were baseball players and right outside my window was a batting cage.
One of the reasons I moved in was because the thought of being awakened every morning by the ping of a baseball striking an aluminum bat was appealing to me. And, out in the driveway were two basketball hoops, and how many nights would the dribbling of a basketball and bodies crashing into the garage doors (Nope, that wasn’t a foul) lull me to sleep.
But I digress.
Back inside the grocery story nine years ago, it dawned on me. The boy in front of me that morning was Jake, the landlord’s youngest son.
Today, Jake is a 20-year-old college junior, a right-handed pitcher at Pace University. He’s no longer a boy. He’s all but a man and I’ve had both the privilege and the pleasure of watching him grow up, seeing him fall in love with a great girlfriend, Angela.
I watched them both pitch for St. Joseph High School, capturing them in action with my camera as they fired fastballs for strikes.
I watched them both go off to play in college, too.
My monthly rent no doubt helped pay their tuition over the years, and that’s a great feeling if it did.
But they’re gone now and so too are the landlords, their parents, John and Julie.
I’m reminded of that every time I leave my apartment and see their barren and empty house.
My Connecticut family is gone.
• • •
There has been a running joke over the past nine years … a couple of them actually.
The first was the fact I was denied pool rights after I moved in. And I was fine with that. I had asked matter-of-factly when I signed my lease if I could use the pool and was told, “Nope, pool access not included.”
As such, nine years later, I’ve never set foot in the pool. Not even a toe.
A few years ago, when Julie found out John had denied me, she had a good laugh and told me I could use it anytime. Thus the running joke became I would jump in buck naked and leave behind a pair of my boxers on the diving board so they knew I had finally used it.
I never did.
The second running joke was that I had stayed so long that I became the “Crazy Uncle Who Lives Above The Garage.”
But “Crazy Uncle” meant family and as odd as it sounds that’s kind of what the Amoroso clan became to me over the last nine years.
My Connecticut family.
I watched their boys grow up, literally going from boys to men. I mourned the loss of their family dog, Maya, when she passed. I felt their pain when one of them was laid off, or one of them had to have surgery.
When I had to have my surgery a few years back — just a minor walk-in procedure — it was Jake who got up at 5;30 in the morning to take me all the way to Norwalk Hospital.
When I was dealing with another health issue, Julie and John told me to call them anytime day or night if I needed anything.
How many nights did I come home from work and find the family sitting around the fire pit, spending quality time together and drinking beers with family and friends.
On special October evening they even set up a high-def, big-screen television in the back of John’s pick-up so we could watch the Red Sox play in the World Series as the burning embers of the fire snapped and crackled at our feet.
And last Thanksgiving Julie, knowing I was six hours away from my real family for the ninth straight year, hooked me up with a plate.
Like I said, Connecticut family.
• • •
A few years back, the family tried to sell their home. The boys were older, life’s circumstances had changed. It was time.
Fate kept them around a few more years, though. That’s something I appreciated more than they’ve ever known.
Then out of the blue, with the house off the market, a buyer appeared.
The property on Washington Parkway, in the Lordship Section of Stratford, was about to change hands.
The family promised to find me an apartment if the new owner didn’t want a tenant living on the property. They had my back in that regard.
The buyer, however, liked the fact I had lived here for nine years and would provide a steady income stream to help her pay for the house.
This new buyer is a professor at the University of Bridgeport. She has two dogs. And she wants me to sign a one-year lease at the same rent, which I’m willing to do.
But she’s not the Amoroso family.
I’ve lived in this space, with this roof over my head, for nine years, two months, and nine days.
I’ve never lived in a single place any longer than I’ve lived here.
The Amoroso family is a big reason why I’ve remained here.
They’re a very special family. They’ve raised two great boys, which in the 21st century is not an easy thing to do.
I’m still kind of numb over what has transpired over the last months. I don’t embrace change easily and I look ahead with great trepidation.
My Connecticut family is gone.
I miss them already.