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Two Boys Who Went Missing

December 21, 2018

 

It’s always intriguing to search a name and subject in YahooMail and see what happens. Just a few days ago, I plugged in “Milt Goldman” and “Kenny Goldman League” and what came up on my Yahoo email history was “Hi Arn & Judy, We just wanted you to know that we saw Bruce Wineman at Kenny’s league after attending a performance at the JCC. Love Dad & Mom (March 25, 2012)”, a single piece of evidence that my parents visited the Kenny Goldman League. I then searched the last message that my dad emailed me. “Last night I was constipated & given a suppository which did not work than but did over night. I am well now. Love Dad” This was exactly 5 days before he died at Beaumont Hospital, in a room with Judy, Leslie, my mom, and me, the same day as the massive flood throughout Detroit, the same day that Robin Williams took his own life.

Memories play tricks and games with our minds. I searched these emails before walking into the Detroit JCC to visit the Kenny Goldman League, the first time I had been there in a few years. I do remember going to the league a few times with my dad, a time or two with both my parents, once or twice with Judy, as well as a few times by myself. Do I remember when I went? My memories, as usual, are spotty and foggy and become even fuzzier as the years accumulate, so the answer is no.

It had been a long time since I walked into the JCC to witness the league my parents started some 35 years ago in memory of my brother. I am not sure but I think the last time I went was with my parents. I took my dad there a few times, especially during the playoffs and championships and once or twice went with both my parents. I clearly remember sitting in the stands with them both when one of the Kenny Goldman League parents asked if my mom and dad were there to see their grandchild play basketball. I will never forget when they told this mother that they were Kenny Goldman’s parents and they started the league in his memory. The woman’s eyes welled up with tears and she could barely speak, as they started a conversation. What exactly did they say to each other? I don’t remember but I do remember the looks on their faces and the tears.

Judy and I walked into the Detroit JCC in the early afternoon on Sunday, December 2, 2018, the first time we visited since my parents’ deaths. We watched a couple of games which featured mostly 9 and 10 year olds. The league had players from 7 years old up to 24 years of age and many of these teams were playing in the semi-finals that day (the finals took place the next Sunday.) We saw Bruce Wineman, who has been the Kenny Goldman League Director for the last 20 years and his assistant, Leah, who had been with the league for the last 15 years. Bruce told me a month earlier on Facebook that MSU star forward, Miles Bridges, played 4 years in the Kenny Goldman League and now was a standout in the NBA, a player featured a few times on ESPN with an array of impressive dunk shots.

Leah told us that the Kenny Goldman League was still successful, still bringing lots of kids, and that there were 4 seasons of the league throughout the year. (This was the fall Semi-Finals.) We have met and known many parents and their kids who have played in the league in the last 35 years and this Sunday, we saw Adat Shalom’s Cantor Gross (the cantor at our daughter’s wedding three years ago) and his son (Number 27). The cantor said he and his son loved the league as it gave his son a physical outlet and a chance to play, learn about basketball and teamwork. Before we left, Leah gave us two championship shirts and medals to take home. I felt thankful that the league my parents started was still going strong 35 years later but I also felt guilty that I hadn’t gone enough, hadn’t seen enough games with my parents, hadn’t brought them more often and hadn’t had enough strong memories with them.

The truth is that now I cannot remember enough of my visits at all. I wish I had video recordings or some method of going back in time to search emails, videos, some recordings to remember exactly what happened and when. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that I was so drawn to the Richard Beard memoir, The Day That Went Missing. Maybe it was also because I know that December 23, 2018 would have been my brother’s 50th birthday if he was still here. But all I have in my mind is Kenny at 13, at 10, 8, 5, 3 and during his first year, because I still have photographs from those years. Besides searching through photos, all I can do now is dream…imagine making him a party in his honor, celebrating his life, possibly joined by his wife and kids, my sister and her husband and daughter, and my wife and kids and my 10-month-old granddaughter to laugh and tell stories about the accumulated escapades of my brother, Kenny.

All I know now is that what could be and the reality that is are two completely different stories.

Comparing memories and fantasies to reality is what makes The Day That Went Missing so extraordinary. The author who swam along his brother who “went missing” (he finds out the day that was forgotten was August 18, 1978) goes back in time to find out as much as he can about his brother and the accident. He begins to recreate everything that he, his father, and family chose to forget. Beard’s haunting memoir tells the tragic story of his family’s 1978 vacation and the subsequent 40 years. His memory from the day is fuzzy: he was 11 and his little brother, Nicky, was nine when they decided to play in the waves one last time before heading back to the cottage their family was renting in Cornwall, England. Nicholas drowned, and the rest is blank. His family never spoke about what happened—something he calls “an epic level of denial.” Now a novelist with kids of his own, Beard attempts to piece together what happened that day and hunt down all the artifacts left of his younger brother’s short life. He travels across England, visiting the important places from Nicky’s life and interviewing everyone who knew him—family members, school officials, the man who pulled him out of the water that terrible day. But the memories are fuzzy and, after years of silence, some have vanished entirely. By collecting all of Nicky’s school records, photographs, clothing, and stories, Beard reimagines the brother he lost. His beautifully written story is heartbreaking and unforgettable as he struggles with the grief he chose to forget and, now, attempts to remember again.

Near the end of his journey into the past, Beard wrote, “Once, just the once while writing this book, after a dream about waterboarding my mum, I dreamed him. He was standing beside a bus. He hadn’t grown up, and may have been eight, anyway younger than nine. He smiled at me; we were immensely pleased to see each other. I went up to him, I made the move, and we were thrilled to be reunited. We started running. We sprinted side by side up an English street, away from the bus and from other dreams. I was so happy I cried. I miss him as an adult, the Nicky who never became a Nick….The paper and cloth remnants of his short life are scattered across the floor of my room, fragments of Nicky stopping at 1978. (He looks back at a letter written to his family after the accident, “I only hope that you will come to believe that there must be a reason for the little chap being taken. He must have brought great happiness during his short life which can never be lost.) Beard answers to the reader, “I’ve been through the evidence and haven’t found a reason.”

Beard ends his incredibly powerful memoir, “As a final constructive gesture, I buy a red Mossman thirty-six-inch steamer trunk, an expensive piece of secure luggage in which to store the balance of Nicky’s lifetime. The box is 36 × 20 × 16 inches, taller but shorter than a small coffin, with space to spare, should further items of Nicky’s come to light. I put in the stack of card-covered schoolbooks, about a foot high; I find room for box-files containing the correspondence, the school reports, and the newspaper cuttings. cuttings. I put in the cricket scorebook and the unused name tapes, the photos and boxes of slides. I cover Nicky’s belongings with his blazer and the tracksuit top, then his school cap and his blue cricket hat. Finally, I put in the manuscript of this book, and close the lid. This is Nicky, his life and his death, as far as we can know.”

If I collected Kenny’s remains as Richard Beard had, it would include photos, Kenny’s bowling trophies, his baseball treasures, his coin collection, all his baseball, basketball, hockey, and football cards, his albums, his clothes we kept, and his bowling ball, all scattered around our house and Leslie’s.

Even 36 years after his death, all the remnants of Kenny’s death are too painful to collect and think about.

Kenny and Nicky were almost the same age, Nicky 9 at the time of his death, Kenny 13 at the time of his. Both would be turning 50 years old soon. And all I can admit to myself is that: Boys should not be drowned on a beach while swimming. Boys should not be thrown through the windshield of a car, after a baseball game enjoyed with one’s dad, a half mile from their home. Boys should be able to grow and graduate high school, college, have girl friends, get married, and have kids themselves. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

A series of deadly accidents that could have been altered in virtually any instance conspired to take these two boys’ lives instead. I don’t believe that God planned to take their lives. I do not believe that these tragedies were meant to be.

Yet, I do believe that some good comes out of all tragedies and I hope and pray that their short lives are not the end of their existences.

After many years of questioning and disbelief, I now believe that Nicky and Kenny are still around somewhere in the universe, in some form or another. How do I know this? I don’t but there have been scatterings of what I believe is real over the last 36 years. One of those instances is when I attended a group reading of 11 people by psychic medium Lori Lipten on the 3rd anniversary of my mother’s death. I taped the parts of the 2 ½ hour session which pertained to me, which totaled about 12 minutes.

Lori started by saying that someone was with her all day and that she would mention it shortly. Then, she turned to me and asked if anyone knew a Rachel or the Hebrew pronunciation. Rachel is my mom’s Hebrew name, I said and also the name of my cousin’s daughter who died at 20 years of age (the two year anniversary of her death is a few weeks away.)  After turning to a few people and asking about certain names, she turned back my way and asked if anyone knew a Kenny. He was playing with a basketball. (“it’s a passion,” she said.) I said yes, he was my brother, and that there was a basketball league named in his memory. She said he was bouncing a basketball and had been following her all day, bouncing the ball. She said he would let others talk first and then come back to me.

About 15 minutes later, she turned to me and said, “do you have a baby in your life? A Talia?” Yes, I said. “Chills,” she said. “They love this kid. Everybody is celebrating.” I told her that Judy put together a Meet and Greet party for Talia in July (July 8th specifically, which turned out to be our daughter in law’s sister’s date she tragically died. The party was held outside at our house with 75 family members and friends in our backyard.) “Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday”, she reiterated, it was like a birthday party. She said she was born around the first of year (it was 1/18/18). “Everybody is excited. Your mom and dad? Both have passed?” Yes, I said. “They wanted to let you know they’re right there, they’re celebrating.”

“Did someone also graduate from school?” Yes, I told her, my youngest graduated from U of M last year. “They’re very proud of her. They’re very happy because there’s happiness. They want you to know they’re celebrating with you. They feel very good. The kids are good. Everyone’s doing well. It makes them so happy.”

Then, she quieted and said “your mom needed to see your brother. I almost feel that she didn’t know what to do with that hole. She tried but I definitely feel like it weighed on her life. She said she tried to be a good mother but I feel like it’s always there and never quite lifted.”

Then, she said to me, “is your father part of the reason your brother passed?” Yes, I said. “It’s not really his fault, in the way that it would seem. Chills. But because he’s behind the wheel, he didn’t know what to do with it.” I told her that someone ran a red light and hit their car. She said, “it’s not his fault at all. He did nothing wrong. If I understand your dad, it seems that it made him question things, God, he didn’t get it, why? Is it Ken, your brother? He’s a little boy, sweet, a good boy. Why would you take a good boy? he asked. I feel your father had a survivor’s guilt. But your brother, with all due respect, could not be a happier kid. It’s like no suffering here, chills. He doesn’t want anyone feeling bad for him. He’s a happy kid. He feels like he had a good life. He loved your father. He loved baseball.” I told her they went to a Tiger’s baseball game that night and he died a half mile from their home. She said, “it was a fun day, good life, I don’t have complaints, he says.”

Lori then said, speaking through Kenny’s soul, “Look at my brother. This is a mensch, a good man, right there’s a good guy. I want you to know I’m proud that you’re my brother. He looks up to you, were you older than him?” Yes, I answered. She laughed and said, “I was young and good looking, you were old and smart” I was 12 years older than him, I told her, I also told her that this was the 3rd anniversary of my mom’s passing. Lori laughed as my mom said to Lori, “he didn’t need to come to you. He could ask me anytime and I can come to him directly” (without the middle man, she laughed. She said, my mom was bright but she said again about my dad, “he suffered. Who’s Milton?” I told her that it was his name, that she had gotten all the names exactly right. She said she’s not usually that accurate with names. She was tonight, I said. She laughed and said, she asked my dad for help and my dad told her, “you asked for help, I’m here to help. He’s kind, she said, “a little withdrawn.” I told her we had worked together and we sometimes fought. She said, “he says, since you brought it up, you have your own way of doing things and you’re very thick headed” (I knew that he would have said this exactly that way) “You have a different point of view. He actually respects your point of view. He likes the way you run things, he’s very proud of you and he loves your wife.” (Judy was supposed to come but had to be with her mom in the hospital.) She told me about my dad, “he just loves her, you could feel the love, your mom and dad love her like a daughter.”

Lori then asked if I had a sister and if I have anyone who lives in Chicago. I told her my sister lives in Columbus but my son, his wife, and my youngest daughter live in Chicago. “It’s not always easy for you to live in another city but you have to let your kids do what they want to do.” She also said she heard that my mother in law was going to be okay, she mentioned some details about an “irregular heart beat” (which she had) but that it was going to be okay. She heard from the other side that she was going to be okay.

I had seen a few mediums in the past and had moments that made me believe that our loved ones are never really gone. But I had never had such a direct, accurate, believable experience before. And the other people in the readings had similarly powerful and believable readings as well that even true skeptics would not be able to easily dismiss. On July 31st, 2018, 3 years exactly to the day my mother left her life to join my dad, which was exactly the same Hebrew day (Yahrzeit), one year after my father’s passing, I felt reunited. It was only for a few minutes but I was thankful. For one night (minus my sister, in Columbus), we were a family again. For one night, I truly believed I was with my mom, my dad, and Kenny.

If it’s all just coincidence, how does so much seem inextricably linked? My grandfather’s yahrzeit is on December 23rd, 2018, which is Kenny’s 50th birthday. Kenny was named for my grandfather. His middle name is Samuel. There are so many connections that I just don’t think are random. And if they are, I refuse to believe it.

I think of the Hebrew word for soul or spirit, Neshama, and I begin to wonder, is it possible that the “missing” are always found, in one way or another, in some form or another? I like to believe that the boys, Nicky and Kenny, who went missing, my parents who went missing, all my friends and all my relatives who went missing, are all waiting for us with open souls, to be felt, to be sensed, and eventually, to be joined, on the other side of this world.

 

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