February 29th, 2004

the globe

Bashful Billy

During the first few months of our relationship, I couldn’t understand half of what Billy said. Literally. I was swoony-in-love and when he spoke in his halted mumble, I happily nodded and hoped I was agreeing to something that made any kind of sense. Sometimes I didn’t and he would repeat his statement with heightened diction. Much of our conversations consisted of me asking him to repeat himself and when he did, his words took on more clarity and ended with what would become his trademark exclamation point. We were too far down the road, though, to let this continue and one night I said, “Honey, do you know I can’t understand most of what you’re saying?”

He looked embarrassed when I said it and mumbled something about how he always had “lazy speech.”

“Well, if you don’t mind repeating yourself over and over again…” I said. But I minded and grew increasingly frustrated at our communication. Over the following months, I began to call him on it more often.

The fact is Billy was bashful. Bashful would be a key word to describe him across the board, a word I unfortunately forgot to have engraved on his bench. It was an endearing trait, really, one that would ride across his face at a second’s notice and something I playfully encouraged.

Going into the Navy instead of heading for college was a done deal for Billy whose family didn’t have the resources to send him off to school. He joined believing he could gain a higher education after he served his time but once he was discharged, some convenient factors steered him into the limousine business and he never pursued his dream of studying to be a teacher. He would have made a great teacher, too, that Billy. But he found other outlets to work with children like the Big Brother program in NYC and when he donated his time to the local youth center in Venice.

“I’m smart, you know,” he’d say when he was proud of a particular accomplishment or just a random declaration, and I never once doubted that fact. He was smart, far smarter than I in so many ways, but he wasn’t learned in a traditional sense and I could see his frustration many times, as he struggled to keep up with me, a man who negotiates for a living, during our arguments.

It was a sore spot for him and I never once traded on it to make a point or highlight it. I always knew how tender the subject was and while I may have thought it at times when I was going on some political rant and he’d say, “Whatever,” and start dancing in circles around me, pretending to punch me in the nose, but I never said a word about it. Sometimes it was annoying not to be able to finish my thought or engage him in world politics but, honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He gave me the balance in knowing all of those things aren’t all that important. If I wanted to talk about weighty stuff like that, I had ten other friends who were more than happy to spar with me.

“God, Terry, you take everything so seriously,” he said many times and he was right. I wish I had his gift of fun, his ability to grab silliness by the arm and dance with it all night long. I had it, in fact, with him by my side, and now I draw from it to keep him alive and well inside of me. I’m lucky to have his fun gene implanted, especially in these times when the clouds have never been darker.