Antonio 1922-2012. / by Birdie Busch

People are always leaving. Everyone exits in different ways. When someone has been around for so long and their body lets go slowly, this is what we’ve come to see as the most natural way. These people seem to go as quietly amidst the expectedness as the closing of a flower.

My neighbor Antonio had been going for quite sometime now.  He left us a week ago. He was 89.  He had been in his bed for the last couple months, while his cat Cha-cha walked back and forth on top of him.  I would call him a lot when it got to the point that  he wasn’t able to come down and open the door and he’d say “no one is here right now Em-o-lee” in his thick Portuguese accent. It was like he was my Rapunzel. When I came home from working late or playing a show, I’d park and look up and see his popcorn ceiling sparkles twinkling through the cracks in his curtains and wonder how he was doing in the solitude that is inevitable towards the end.  He said he had been counting the sparkles and noticed that there were only so many blue ones amidst the gold. I squinted to locate those precious few.

His story is long. It involves being shanghaied onto a cruise ship as a peasant child selling fruit on the docks of Cape Verde and ends on 46th street in Southwest Philadelphia taking trolleys back and forth two blocks in each direction to exercise his last freedoms of movement.

I went to his funeral mass and received the xeroxed life story that mentioned workplaces, children and grandchildren. But what about how he kept a brown bag full of percussion instruments fashioned from wooden bedposts by his recliner to clank along to the radio with? Or how about his memories of the women in fields as a child, where he stood under their skirts and watched the sunlight shine through? Obituaries are not my story of choice. It seems like such a cruel succinct way to sum up our rides, why should we take comfort in such a strict form? 

My getting to know Antonio was a gift. It was and is part of my life that as a thirty year old woman I would meet this adventurer in the twilight of his life. I try to not sulk in the knowledge of how I couldn’t have been there with him when he was coasting on his bicycle as a young man. When he asked me to dance on his porch, awkwardly shuffling in the acutest of shifts, he did it with such bravado and thoughtlessness towards time that I fell right into rhythm. We would toast with some port wine tasting of grape juice and share what we could in the brightest of ways. While I’m usually quite modest when it comes to expletives, you know like, “geez louis!” , I’d like to say we  gave a big f*** you to circumstance. See look, even just then I had to star it out. Things are because that’s how they be. Get on with your life in the most celebratory fashion.