A Family’s Tragic Loss Felt From Afar

I don’t know where the tears came from; from a faraway collection of broken hearts, I suppose.

But they came this morning, uninvited, when I learned Deven Lee Scott had passed away.

She was beautiful. She was 27. She was family. And now she’s gone.

Like I said, broken hearts feeling the pain of losing a daughter, a mother, a friend; it travels over time and space and, if you let it, it’ll hit you hard.

This morning it hit me as a few tears rolled down my face as I learned the news.

If I’m being honest, though, I never had the pleasure of meeting Deven.

She is my cousin’s husband’s brother’s daughter, so technically there is no direct connection to me, no shared bloodlines that run from me to her.

I never had the chance to meet her, to talk to her, or learn about her, though she is, no doubt, somebody who seemed so special to those who loved her.

I never had the chance to look directly into those sky blue eyes, or see her infectious, radiating smile.

And, I never had the chance to meet her children—Aleigha, Jayce, Natalie—just another limb off a branch on the other side of the extended family tree.

Deven was my cousin’s niece, my second cousins’ cousin. So, as far as I’m concerned, she is part of my family and I mourn her death along with all of them.

Growing up, my cousins were my first closest friends.

So many weeks we would travel from our home in the small town of Orrington, Maine, driving 30 miles over hill and dale, to an even smaller town called Garland.

It was there where my cousin Debbie, the oldest sibling in her family of four children, fell in love with Mike Scott.

Mike Scott had a bevy of brothers—Brent, Reggie, Cecil.

Cecil Scott is Deven’s father.

I don’t remember how old I was when I was asked to be the ring bearer at Mike and Debbie’s wedding. As such, I was in the wedding party along with the Scott brothers.

What I do remember, though, is the band of brothers the Scott family had; many of whom would always be around every time we visited over the years.

Cecil’s pain is immense, unfathomable. To lose a child? As parents, we can’t even think of it.

I know this week, those brothers stand beside him, strong for him, as he buries his daughter.

I haven’t seen Cecil in probably 25 years, perhaps at my aunt’s funeral, but I can’t honestly remember if he was there that day.

But, as distant family members are apt to do, we follow each other on Facebook, so we both know what is going on in each other’s lives.

It wasn’t too long ago that Cecil lost the love of his life, his wife, Bonnie. October 2, 2016, to be exact.

And now Deven, gone at 27, far too soon.

Perhaps the only comfort in this, as many people have pointed out, is that Deven is back in the loving arms of her mother.

We can only hope so.

So who was Deven Lee Scott, my cousin’s husband’s brother’s daughter?

I don’t know. I can’t tell you, though I wish I could.

Instead, I have to let other’s speak for her.

Deven was “a thrill seeker and loved the excitement of life. There was never a dull moment when she was around. She loved her family and children endlessly. She had an enormous heart with so much love to give.”

Those are just some of the words that appeared in her obituary this morning.

But those words are not enough.

Online, the place where so many of us are connected, the tributes began rolling in.

“RIP Deven Lee you will be greatly missed,” wrote one friend, in a Facebook post. “You were a wonderful kind hearted person that would do anything for anyone….You are a mother to three beautiful children. I just can’t believe you are gone. Gone but never forgotten.”

“May you rest at peace Deven Lee Scott and may a smile on your face and peace in your heart be with you always,” wrote another. “What a beautiful smile you had and the biggest heart.”

“I can’t believe my best friend Deven Lee Scott passed away,” was yet one more. “My heart is breaking in millions of pieces.”

Many hearts are broken this week, and as of this morning so is mine.

I send out my love and prayers to my cousins for the loss of their cousin and niece, and to Cecil and his other children, Stephanie and Cecil, two others I also haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.

At least, not yet.

May you forever rest in peace, Deven Lee Scott.

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Literally broken-hearted, I wait for what’s next

I always thought I’d die of a broken heart.

I know her name, but never got her number. But she’s the one who told me in that special, emotionless way only doctors can.

“Incomplete right bundle branch block and left axis-anterior fascicular block … ABNORMAL … Have a nice day.”

Let me catch you up.

On Wednesday morning, I had a physical. Just the usual yearly exam because I’m old and I’m fat, and by the law of doctors who buy boats – lots of boats – we should have a yearly physical exam.

So I did. I slapped down my donation to the SS Stupid Patient and walked into the exam room.

I said “ahhh” and went through the usual rigmarole. Temperature was good, blood pressure was good enough. Eyes. Ears. Reflexes. Finger up the butt (My mother always wanted me to date a doctor!) Everything was fine.

The EKG was the one that did me in. For now.

It came back abnormal. Another word for broken, as far as I’m concerned.

My sense of humor? That’s abnormal!

My devotion to my work life over my social life? That’s abnormal!

The fact I listen to Lorde and think Niall Horan’s “This Town” is a good song. That’s abnormal, too.

But my heart?

Oh boy.

The end is near.

Maybe. (Or not really.)

I don’t know.

Like I said it’s hard to tell with these doctors, many of whom come off as if they don’t really give a shit if you live or die because, well, let’s face it… the next sick person – ka-ching, ka-ching — is sitting out in the waiting room.

I turned to Dr. Google for my second opinion and found the medical words that were on my EKG are also known as Bifascicular Blocks.

After that, it’s a whole bunch of medical jargon about the electrical system of the heart. It might as well have been geometry to me, that’s how far it was over my head.

But I did learn, it could be very serious.

Or it may not be.

But since it’s heart related it is definitely kind of important.

After all, there are 525,600 minutes in a year. And if my average resting heart beat is 75 beats per minute … well, you do the math.

Like I said, it’s pretty important.

The one thing the doctor did say to me that shocked me was that it showed up on my last EKG, only that doctor – a different doctor – never said anything to me about it.

That was more than three years ago.

I’ve been walking around with a broken heart for more than three years and a doctor knew about it and refused to tell me?

I want to be so angry, I’d explode, but I’m trying to keep my heart rate down … you know, just in case.

So I’m getting referred to a cardiologist.

That’s the next step.

Broken-hearted, I’ll try to get through another day until I learn more.

 

The Uninspired Version of Me

So I’m on vacation. Well, not really.

When you’re working two jobs whose hours total 57.5 hours a week — and one of those jobs is journalism-based — you’re never really on vacation.

At least I’m not.

I’m old school and I’m a firm believer in the fact that because I chose this profession, I’m on call 24 hours a day when needed, as needed. Period. No questions asked.

I’ve already checked my e-mail and set up a photo/story to be sent in to us for use this week. I reached out to a freelancer yesterday — Christmas Day — to make sure coverage would be set up this week, so I can work less than normal.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It dawned on me this morning that I’m at an uninspired point of my life.

I came here to blog this morning — about what, I didn’t know — and I realized my last three posts were all based on the death of somebody — one person close to me, another just a random teammate, one a teacher from my days as a school boy.

That’s my inspiration when I’m in my 50s? Death.

Yikes.

This place a been a potpourri of my words. Some have been read a lot, some have been ready quite little. I feel pride when a lot of people read my words, and I really don’t care when people don’t take the time.

In my very first post in this space, I wrote, “If you’re bored, and wondering what the hell you’re doing here? Well, frankly, I don’t care. I’m writing this one for me, not for anybody else.”

What bugs me, though, is when I don’t write.

What bugs me is when I feel uninspired.

Maybe it’s the exhaustion. The two jobs things is tough at this age. My heart is in one place, my health insurance is another.

Maybe it’s the season. From Thanksgiving through the New Year has never been a time when I shined. Or thrived.

So maybe it’s that.

I don’t feel the tank is on empty. I’m just too uninspired to head to the gas pumps to fill myself up.

I haven’t run out of words. I’m at 360 as of this sentence.

The inspiration to find the best of those words is what is missing.

The spark.

The muse.

As the Moody Blue’s once sang:

“I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know I’ll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
And somehow I’ll return again to you”

 

Oh Danny Boy: Hoping an old friend finally finds peace

Danny Paul Carroll. (1963-2017)

He was sitting in a hot tub, buck naked with two women, dressed like-wise, or so he said, and even though Danny Paul Carroll was all about having fun, something was missing.

So sometime after midnight – the drinks having flowed freely all evening, no doubt – he picked up the telephone and made a call.

I answered almost immediately.

When you’re single and living in party mode, phone calls after midnight are either really bad news, or truly great opportunities.

Plus, they didn’t sell home safety systems via telemarketers after the sun went down in the early ought’s of the 21st century, so I knew answering wouldn’t be a waste of time.

And when Danny called it was never a waste of time.

I won’t lie. I entertained the idea of driving the 20-or-so minutes down to the New Hampshire seacoast to frolic the night away with my roommate and his two new friends in a Portsmouth hotel room.

But, in the end, after working all night, and finding the couch simply a little too inviting and far too comfortable, I never left the house.

An hour later, Danny walked through the door, a devilish grin on his face and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. He made himself another drink, sat down and finished his story.

One of the women’s husbands had figured out where she was, he explained. He showed up, obviously upset, pounding on the door, demanding to see her.

Danny barely escaped with his boxers and socks on, the rest of his clothes in his arms and a story for the ages.

And that, in just one brief story, was Danny in a nutshell.

A man for the ages, full of stories for the ages. He lived them (probably embellished a few for comic effect), loved them, told them and retold them to anybody who would listen.

Sadly, on Wednesday afternoon, one last story was told.

The headline simply read: “Dead Man Found In Cocheco River.”

As they pulled his lifeless body from the Cocheco’s cold, unforgiving waters, Danny’s story was over.

He was 52 years old.

The end.

• • •

I met Danny sometime in 1998, shortly after I moved from Maine to Dover, New Hampshire.

He wound up dating my first New Hampshire roommate, Monique, when the two of us started being regular customers at the pub where Danny worked.

As I often joked back in the day, when the two of them finally broke up, he got me in the divorce.

I moved in with him and we were roommates for close to three years, living in a house just off Route 108 in Somersworth.

Living with a bartender meant one thing.

The parties didn’t stop at last call, and I can’t tell you how many times I would be rustled from sleep by the noise of an after-hours party going on in the pool room, the living room and the kitchen.

And I never got mad, angry or frustrated.

How could I?

Circling around us during this time – at the pub, at our home, at other houses and apartments – was a tight circle of friends who cared about each other despite our eclectic idiosyncrasies.

We were all vastly different people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, but we were tight-knit and loved each other dearly.

I’ll never forget any of those people which is why I’ll never forget Danny, the man who in a way helped bring us all together beer by beer, story by story.

He was a bartender to many, but a friend it seemed to many more. For a while, when we lived as roommates, he was one of my best friends.

Even as his demons started to rise up from inside him, you could still count on him.

Until you couldn’t.

More and more nights he would disappear into his room and I wouldn’t see him again.

One night I was finally invited in and immediately felt the draw of the slide he knew all too well.

In the end, that’s the reason I moved out of the house, taking a step to distance myself from him. I had to get away from Danny and his demons and in a heart-felt and brutally honest face-to-face I explained that to him.

He never held my decision against me and we remained friends even as he continued his struggles, as he switched jobs, changed apartments.

His world was being snatched away from him one small bag of white powder at a time, but Danny was Danny and it seemed as though he could charm the devil himself to find a way out of it.

Until he couldn’t, I suppose.

• • •

When I left New Hampshire, I left a lot of people and the past behind me. I cut the cord as a way to survive, or at least that’s what I told myself.

That slide – the one Danny couldn’t control, or stop – was too scary for me, no matter how great it felt. Getting away from all of it was my only option to escape.

I relocated and came out the other side.

I don’t know if Danny ever did.

I’ve reconnected with many of my friends from my New Hampshire days through the magic of Facebook, and I’m grateful.

In times like this we can mourn together and remember what was great in all of us, as individual people and as a group.

Jennifer England, who worked as a bartender with Danny and is now a school teacher, changing lives for the better wrote, “I loved Danny. I hated his addiction, but I always loved him.”

Her husband, Marty – who had made such beautiful music his whole life, including for a time with Danny – wrote, “Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Danny in at least 8 years. It doesn’t lessen the love at all.”

Both statements are so true.

Danny was a guy who once he tugged at your heart, you could never let him go. Even when you had to.

It’s been more than 13 years since I’ve seen Danny, but I’ve thought of him a lot over that time.

Memories would pop up out of nowhere. Songs would trigger a smile (I can’t listen to Alice in Chains without thinking of him and his Jeep.) Dreams would make a life lived long ago seem so current.

On random trips back to New Hampshire, I’ve reached out to people who knew him, looking for updates on my old friend.

But nobody seemed to know anything.

I heard things had gotten so bad for him that he was homeless for a while, really struggling with the demons that dragged him down.

But, the most recent messages popping up on Facebook, following Danny’s death, paint a less bleak picture.

He was doing better, it seemed. Somebody had seen him out in the last year and wrote, “We had a good hang.”

It’s what makes the news so much harder.

What happened on the shores of the Cocheco earlier this week? Nobody knows for sure. Two people walking along a path saw a body floating in the water and called police.

According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has said the cause of death was drowning.

“At this time, there does not appear to be any indication that Carroll’s death was the result of a crime,” the release stated.

Danny’s obituary reads simply he had passed away “after losing a long battle with addiction.”

Just like that Danny’s last story was told.

Another of my closest friends talked about all the positive messages and wondered aloud if Danny knew so many people loved him.

I hope so. Because I did. He was a good guy, so good-hearted to the people who knew him the best.

Rest in peace, Danny.

And I truly hope you have found the peace you so deserve.

Remembering Walter: A long-lost weekend’s lesson remains true

Walter Crabtree, left, touched the author’s life more than 30 years ago. It hasn’t been forgotten. (Photo stolen from Walter Crabtree’s Facebook Page.)

I didn’t know Walter Crabtree well, but it’s safe to say he taught me one of life’s most important athletic lessons.

Play your role 100 percent and you’ll be successful.

After a life full of teaching those around him, Walter passed away two days after Thanksgiving Day at the age of 60.

Personally, I’m thankful I got to know Walter over a couple of weekends, far too many moons ago.

I actually knew of Walter before I met him.

As a young cub sports writer at the Bangor Daily News, his athletic prowess in his native Maine was larger than life.

A graduate of tiny Sumner High School, in an even tinier town of East Sullivan, Walter was one hell of an athlete; or so said those who knew him.

I never saw Walter play in person, at least not to my knowledge.

My life-changing run-in with Walter came in Act 2 of our athletic careers.

I had just turned 21, was living in Bangor, and I was hand-picked (read invited) to play in a regional softball tournament with a team that was based out of the Ellsworth.

Walter Crabtree was a member of the team and, perhaps, the one closest to my age, though he was likely pushing 30 at the time.

Being 21, I had a cockiness about me – probably one not as deserved as I thought. I thought I was pretty good.

In truth, looking back on it with hindsight, I wasn’t that good.

I was average, which in slow-pitch softball isn’t saying much.

But I digress.

During that regional tournament, I mostly played catcher – which, to be honest, I didn’t mind doing.

Sure, at the end of a long six-game weekend, my knees would be worn out, but I was playing and plays at the plate were always fun.

If my mind, I believe we finished as regional runners-up, which meant we qualified for the state tournament in division.

That meant an overnight weekend in Lewiston, playing softball.

Good times, right?

Not really.

It was one of the worst weekends of my athletic life.

I was no longer catching. Somebody else was added on to the roster from a team that didn’t qualify, so I was relegated to the bench.

Once a game, I might get an opportunity to pinch run for some fat guy in his 50s.

Life is funny, you know.

Today, I am one of those fat 50-something guys wishing I had a pinch runner that could run to the bathroom for me at two in the morning.

Walter knew I was having a miserable weekend, though.

I’ll admit it. I was pissed. I drove two hours to Lewiston to play softball, not collect splinters on my ass.

As Saturday became Sunday and we kept winning, I remember Walter sitting next to me before a game and it was then he gave me sage advice.

I might not have been the best softball player in the world – even though my 21-year-old mind would have fought that – but in those days I was fast.

“Why do you think you were picked for this team?” Walter asked me. “We all know how fast you are and we’re going to need that speed in one of these games.”

The message was obvious: Play your role. It’s going to help the team.

I had always heard coaches talking about playing your role through 13-plus years of my sports career.

It never truly sunk in until Walter Crabtree sat down next to me and taught me that important lesson.

In our last win of that tournament, late in the game, I was called on to pitch run during a rally. I was one of the runners who scored, helping to send us to the next round.

We would get blown out in that next game and the running joke on the bench during the final inning was whoever made the last out would buy a case of beer for everybody to indulge in.

With two outs, I was finally given an opportunity to pinch hit.

I laced a single into the outfield.

I got stranded on the bases, but after the final out was recorded, the first person to shake my hand was Walter Crabtree.

In his obituary, printed in the Bangor Daily News, it was written, “Walter dedicated his life to using his talents, abilities, and skills to help others succeed. Over the years, Walter filled a number of roles as he touched literally thousands of lives; teacher, coach, referee, mentor, colleague and friend.

“He was a role model for both his students and his peers. His wisdom, common sense, kindness, compassion and humor will be greatly missed.”

That sums him up quite nicely. I should know. I was one of those people whose life was touched just by knowing him.

Rest in Peace, Walter.

And, thank you.

Remembering my 13-mile long classroom

Many of my friends and former classmates are mourning the loss of a former teacher today.

The news of Jeffrey Johnson’s passing takes many of us back to our high school days, to our interactions with him and how he changed our lives.

I never had Mr. Johnson as a teacher, however.

Instead, he changed my world as a friend, and I realize now – suddenly, now that he’s gone — what a debt of gratitude I owe the man.

As the crow flies, my family home in Orrington, Maine, was just about two miles or so from Hampden Academy, the school from which I graduated.

It was directly across the Penobscot River and from certain points in Orrington you could look across the river and the see the school.

By car, however, it was 13 miles away … six-plus miles to Brewer, across the bridge to Bangor, and six-plus miles to Hampden on the other side of the river.

When I made the decision to transfer from John Bapst Memorial High School to Hampden Academy for my senior year, transportation was my biggest hurdle.

This is where Jeff Johnson changed my life.

I had known Jeff prior to my year at Hampden Academy. In fact, looking back on it, I had known him when I was in middle school.

He lived in Bucksport, the town south of my hometown, and was a regular visitor to the convenience store my mother and step-father owned.

As one of my stomping ground places where I spent much of my time, I got to know Jeff and his wife, Pam, also a teacher, enough to ask them a big-time question leading into my senior year.

Could I hitch a ride to school every day?

As far as I know, they never gave it a second thought.

So pretty much every morning from Labor Day of 1983 to graduation in 1984, I would walk a half mile from my house to the Main Road where Jeff and Pam would pick me up and allow me to attend Hampden Academy.

Every morning, we would talk about life and love, family and education.

(As an athlete who always stayed after school for practices, I rarely if ever got a ride home. Instead, I hitchhiked the journey home … though that, too, became a regular journey of regulars who would pick me up and drop me off at certain spots).

The Johnson family decision to allow me to ride with them to school changed my life.

First and foremost it allowed me to avoid attending Brewer High School, a thought I dreaded.

It gave me a new set of friends I still care about to this day.

And, it opened my door to two new English courses, one of which was journalism, pushing me further down the path that would become my life’s career.

I’m sure I thanked Mr. Johnson for the rides back then, but only today – after hearing of his passing – did the magnitude of them hit me.

My heart hurts knowing he’s gone, but what an effect he had on so many lives, as a teacher … and as a friend.

Thanks again, JJ.

May you rest in peace.

Again in America

(Photo by John Locher/Associated Press)

I never wanted to go to Las Vegas. It was never on my bucket list of places to visit or things to do.

I had no interest in the bright lights, The Strip, the casinos, that silly sign that sits obnoxiously on the edge of the city as a photobomb for tourists who stand in line to pose for photos underneath it.

It was never a take it or leave it situation, either.

I was leaving it without ever being there.

Until I went.

I loved it and can’t wait to go back.

This Monday morning though, as the sun rises over the southern Nevada desert city, Las Vegas has changed.

Its lights won’t flicker as brightly. The bells and whistles of the casino slot machines won’t sound so musical as it plays as the city’s soundtrack.

Not with the echoes of all those gunshots still ringing out.

Late Sunday, from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, a 64-year-old man opened fire with an automatic weapon.

Photo by John Nash

He pointed his killing machine toward an outdoor concert venue across the street, a plot of land that had more than 30,000 people sardined in front of a stage to attend a country music festival.

More than 50 people were killed – children, daughters, sons, parents. That’s a number that’s likely to go even higher after this diatribe is published.

More than 200 people were injured, their bodies torn apart by flying bullets, or hurt during the stampede to escape with their lives.

A small part of Las Vegas died last night.

The rest of the country could only cry.

Another day in 21st century America, folks.

Less than two months ago, I was across the Mandalay Bay casino floor. I did one big loop and left the way I came, back to the Luxor, which is where I was staying while in town for an AAU Basketball Tournament.

Directly across the street from the Luxor was the open space that held the Route 91 Harvest Country Festival.

Maybe that’s why this latest American tragedy hits so close to home.

While I walked the Las Vegas Strip, from The Venetian south, I had spent four days living within a football field from the place where so many people would be innocently gunned down.

With my trip to Vegas almost 60 days behind me, I had gone to bed in the safety of my humble abode two hours before the shooting started.

I woke up at 3 a.m. local time, glanced at my cell phone and saw a long line of text message alerts telling me off the shooting.

I got out of bed and turned on CNN for more information. I tuned in to the Las Vegas Police Department’s online scanner. I turned to Twitter and saw the videos and heard the gunshots.

At that time, only two were confirmed dead and more than 20 were injured.

I was pretty sure those numbers would grow by morning.

Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.

More than 50 people dead.

More than 200 people injured.

By a man with a gun.

Again in America.

There are still many questions to be answered and the LVPD, FBI, ATF and all those other alphabet agencies will do its best to answer those.

And, this isn’t just about the guns, believe me. That’s part of the problem, certainly, but it’s a far bigger issue about the society we live in.

Sadly, because this is the – ahem – “United” States of America nothing will change.

You won’t work with us to do what’s truly right, so we won’t work with you.

Somewhere down the road, in another city of another state, another mass shooting will shock us and sadden us.

More of our children and parents will die in pools of blood, be it in a public venue like the one in Las Vegas, a movie theater in Colorado, a night club in Orlando, or schools located in Columbine, or just up the road in Connecticut.

To those lost on a suddenly violent Sunday night alongside the Vegas Strip, may their souls rest in peace.

To those of us once again left behind, may our souls dig deep to start finding the answers to change the world before it’s too late.