Rest in Peace, Teddy Corwin

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Thaddeus “Teddy” Corwin.

It’s kind of surprising that that’s the only photo I have of Teddy, considering I’ve known him since, like, 1989. And he sent or gave me that one. Teddy was 35 and died of Leukemia on November 23rd. Leukemia and no health insurance.

I hadn’t seen him in a long while. Not since his little brother’s funeral. Some of you may remember I wrote one of these for Theo, too.

I’m all over the place with this one. That’s how it’s flowing, though, so it is what it is.

I just remembered how much he didn’t like his middle name. Haha. I don’t remember what it is but it begins with an “O”.

I didn’t realize that Teddy was in California. And Santa Cruz, at that. In my California days Teddy came out to visit for a while. It was an extended visit and we hung out in Santa Cruz a little. Main St., the beach, the Boardwalk, the hippies, the homeless teenagers begging for change for drugs. Kind of strange that he ended up there, much less ended up passing away there.

Teddy was kind of a knucklehead but he was still a good guy. I mean, people are multifaceted, right. He was smart and bright as they come but he dropped out of high school. He was kind of a thug for a while and talked about fighting. He went through various phases and even did some time behind bars. I could tell you stories that would seem inappropriate or disrespectful, especially considering that I just got back home from his funeral service. Too soon.

But that’s the thing. He was genuine. Despite the flaws and some questionable choices and paths, he had major charisma points. He could make you laugh and even when heavy stuff was going on in his life he had kind of a sunshine thing going on. He had so much bravado and machismo but still a self deprecating sense of humor. He was honest about his fears and shortcomings and reservations but in a way that would crack you up.

I first met him at the Dundalk soccer courts. One day during the Summer of ’89 I stumbled upon a soccer game at the basketball courts. In Turners, the black neighborhood where I grew up, basketball was the thing. In Dundalk proper where I went to school, the white and mostly segregated (at the time) areas where just about all my friends lived soccer was the thing.

I was a solitary person but would have dreams about all of my friends being somewhere playing outside and one day I kind of found it in real life. A lot of my high school friends were there playing or hanging out. There was the high school crowd, the graduated from high school crowd, the middle school crowd and the elementary school crowd all in one place playing an outdoor version of indoor soccer.

Those were some good times. That’s where I met Teddy, Theo and their sister, Linda. Teddy was 11 years old. Loud, talking trash, getting into fights, taking up for Theo or trying to goad him into being tough, cracking jokes, hated to lose at anything.

Some time before he died my father once told me — as we were getting to know each other as adults and friends — that I have a calming presence. I had a calming influence on some of my rowdy friends. I’m pretty straight-laced. A lot of those kids were dealing with a lot of drama at home and amongst their peers, but there I was going to college, occasionally showing up in a suit and tie and generally being a square. So the younger kids would try to act civilized around me. Sometimes.

Around 1996 or 1997 Teddy took a Greyhound bus from Dundalk, MD to San Jose, CA to get away from things and get his head straight. He spent his time looking around the neighborhood for pickup basketball games, writing in his journal, reading a lot, chillin’ and whatever else. He was on the straight and narrow. I took a trip back to Baltimore and he stayed at my place in San Jose (near the Cupertino border) and watched Leika for me, made some friends and took it easy for a while. He talked about how much he loved his girlfriend and how cool their relationship was.

There was a period when he did not like his father and told me he was thinking of changing his last name. To get a fresh start and define himself. But you know. You give your own name meaning. That’s up to us to make our monikers and namesakes mean something positive and worthwhile.

He took a Greyhound back home to Dundalk. Met a girl on the bus in the Midwest that he started a relationship with, if I remember correctly. Wait. That was around Ohio. I wonder if it’s the same woman.

Anyway, I couldn’t and still can’t get a date and he would hit it off with women in bars or on buses. He had game.

He continued home and went back into the same environment that he was taking a break from. I thought it was poetic how he lost the California basketball before he left, lost his journal that was full of months of writing and photos, and started back at square one.

He did alright for himself, though. Not without turmoil but still.

I didn’t see him often after I moved back to the east coast in 2003. Teddy, Theo and I went out to eat once and the conversation was fascinating. A lot of dynamics going on. I have never been to jail. It’s a strange thing to be in a group conversation about jail and its dynamics when you’re as square as I am.

“Yeh man. I don’t know how you guys handle that. I don’t think I’d last too long in jail.”

Theo nodded in agreement. “Yeh.”

Teddy said, “Nah man. You’d be alright. You’re smart. People don’t mess with you when you’re useful. You might get your squirrel poked but you’d be alright.”

I said, “Uh. Yeh. Like I said.”

That was his attitude, though. Indomitable. I remember way back in the day when he and Theo had some issues with their mom’s boyfriend and they ran away from home. I saw them in Old Dundalk on a Friday night and we talked briefly but they were antsy and said they had to go. I found out later that they had just left home. Later on I caught up with them. I don’t remember if someone called me and asked if I knew where they were. Memory’s kind of fuzzy. It must have been Linda. But eventually we met up and I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Teddy said, “Because if you knew that we had run away you would have taken us home.”

I would have tried to talk them into going back home, true. But when he was determined to do something he had no doubts that he could do it. No worries. Just, “Here’s what I’m going to do next while I figure out what to do after that.”

He loved his kids. I knew that he had two but I didn’t realize that he had two more in Ohio. News to me.

The last time I saw him was at Theo’s funeral. He was the only other person there in a suit and tie besides me. We were talking and he was telling me about his job as a traveling salesman. Perfect fit for him. He got to travel and see places a lot of us never will. He had the charm, charisma and personality to pull it off and he always bounced back. In fact, I think that the day or two after Theo’s funeral he was traveling to some place like Australia. Or was it Hawaii? Some place awesome and far away. He was on a good path.

It was tragic when Theo was killed. That was unexpected and was — it hurt. He was troubled and if you knew him you’d worry about him, y’know. He was such a thoughtful, talented dude. Teddy was the complement to that. Proud, outgoing, fun and outspoken. It’s so hard to imagine him in pain and suffering and alone. His sister and mom went out to be with him at the end but I hope he didn’t go through the diagnosis and decline by himself. I wish he hadn’t been too proud or stubborn to let everyone know sooner.

He always was a street soldier the way a lot of young men are who are determined to make a mark. He told his sister that he wouldn’t give up.

It was hard to see him in the casket. So still. He was never still in life, you know? He was full of nervous energy and always moving. Really. I’m haunted by thoughts of what he did and who he talked to when he realized that he was counting down the months, weeks and days. The moment he accepted the fact that he was at his end. He’d never see his kids again. His family. His friends on the east coast. Where did he go? To the beach? Did he have people he could talk to?

So … you know. Live your life. Cousin Doug’s funeral was this past Saturday. He was 88 years old and paraplegic. I don’t remember the exact cause of his death. Organs began to fail. Teddy was 35 and succumbed to Leukemia. Old and young. A World War II veteran and a street soldier, for lack of a better word.

It’s a very complementary picture. In every death there is a lesson. It’s a reminder to live and not be a bystander to your life. Find what’s meaningful to you. Create something. Express yourself. Take chances and step out of your comfort zone while showing other people respect and compassion. Listen. Love. Be when it’s time to be and do when it’s time for doing.

Wow. In that case, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Rest in peace, Teddy. Journey well.

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