Discovering John

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


[The Absolutely True, Unaltered Story of a Soul Dying to be discovered]



Between 1998 and 2017, October 31st will only fall on a Saturday three times. Saturday, 1998, is when I first discovered John. He had been dead for fifty-seven years. John has been coming to me
regularly since then but his presence is most intense as All Hallows Eve rolls around. He wants me to tell his story. More than anything, he wants the truth of his life and untimely death to be
known. Now is the right time.

Submitted: October 09, 2017

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Submitted: October 09, 2017

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Discovering John

 

From the Short Story Collection

 

Bone Yard Vestiges

 

[True Stories from the Other World]

 

By Gio Iannotti

 

Discovering John

 

[The Absolutely True, Unaltered Story of a Soul Dying to be discovered]

 

Between 1998 and 2017, October 31st will only fall on a Saturday three times. Saturday, 1998, is when I first discovered John. He had been dead for fifty-seven years. John has been coming to me regularly since then but his presence is most intense as All Hallows Eve rolls around. He wants me to tell his story. More than anything, he wants the truth of his life and untimely death to be known. Now is the right time.

<<<>>> 

Saturday, October 31st, 1998: Florida, Pinellas County.

My girlfriend called out of the blue. “Gio,” she said, in her distinct Brooklyn accent, “What’cha doin’ today?”

“Not much.” What else can you say when you have no plans? 

“Ya gotta come wit’ Marty and me. Dere’s dis party. It’s my friend Ellen’s birthday.”

“I don’t know Ellen.”

“Ya, so ya know me and Marty.”

“But, I don’t know Ellen.”

“Shut up. Be at our house at two sharp. We gotta go help set up stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“Decorations, like spider webs wit’ fake spiders on ‘em. Get here on time. I don’t wanna half-ta-get mad at you.”

“But Lu . . .”

“No buts. Get your akxxx over here by two.”

I love Lu and Marty. I had no other plans. “I’ll be there.” I wasn’t late.

When we arrived at Ellen’s, there were three other ‘helpers’ in attendance: A woman named Laura and her husband, and Laura’s friend Steve.

The seven of us got to work. After the house passed our joint ‘creepiness test,’ we retired to the back yard to get to know each other a little before the rest of the crowd arrived.

Ellen said, “Laura and Lu are my best girlfriends.” She went on to confirm that she was in fact born on October 31st.

Laura was up from Miami. She told us she used to work on the set of Miami Vice. Steve, she explained, was her good friend of many years.

Steve who lived in Colorado explained he was visiting “on a lark.”

When it was Lu’s turn she said. “Me and Marty’s from Brooklyn. I met Gio da first week we got here. She moved here da same time we did from Connecticut. Ain’t dat a small world?”

Steve perked up. “Connecticut, whereabouts? I used to spend every summer there after my parents divorced.”

“Wow,” I replied, “that’s interesting. I grew up in Bridgeport. Ever heard of it?”

“Sure,” Steve replied but I only drove through there. Spent most of the time visiting my father in Clinton.”

Now I’m thinking this is very weird. Steve looks to be about my age. That would mean his father would be close to my mother’s age. The goose bumps on my arms started to rise. “My mom grew up in Clinton,” I managed.

“Really,” Steve said, “It is a small world.”

“Gio, ya look all kinda strange. What’s goin’ on in dat head?” Lu asked.

“If ya gotta know,” I adopted her accent for as long as I could do it justice, which wasn’t long at all, “I’m betting Steve’s family and my family know each other.”

“No way,” Lu looked me over like I had two heads.

“My mom was one of eleven. If Steve’s dad didn’t know her, he had to know someone else in her family. Clinton is a very small, sustenance farm town!”

“That’s freaky,” Ellen agreed.

“Steve, what’s your dad’s name, and how many siblings did he have? My mom’s gonna be blown away if it does turn out she knows you guys.”

“My dad’s name is Burton. He had two brothers, John and Richard. My Uncle Richard, the youngest, is still alive. John, who I never knew, shot himself at sixteen over some girl.”

“What?” Now the goose bumps on my arms were joined by a nervous twitch in my eye. I jumped up from my chair. “Holy shit,” came out involuntarily.

“What’s wrong wit’ you, Gio, ya look like ya just seen a ghost.”

“When I say Clinton is small, what I’m saying is that in the 30’s and 40’s if the population capped a thousand, I’d be shocked. Today it might be all the way up to twelve thousand.”

“I get dat’s not much people.”

“Lu, when you left Brooklyn how many folks lived in that borough alone?”

Marty answered, “Almost 2 and a half million. I know. I sold insurance.”

“Steve,” I redirected my attention to him again. “Everybody knew everybody back in the day. Suicide was rare but I remember mom telling me when her younger sister was just fourteen, a teen-aged boy killed himself over her.”

The doorbell began to ring. Ellen and the rest of the backyard troupe, minus Steve and I went to meet and greet.

“Any idea what high school your family attended,” Steve looked nonplussed. I guessed he had a hard time coming to terms with the surreal.

“I know my mom graduated from Morgan.”

“My family all went to Madison, so I’m betting you’re wrong.”

“Madison High is just in the next town over.”

“Ya, but the girl my uncle was crazy over attended Madison.”

Didn’t matter. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding.

“I’m gonna talk to my dad tomorrow,” Steve continued, “You talk to your mom. Give me your number. I’ll phone you after and we can trade notes.”

I called my mom the next day in the afternoon. We began with all the formalities. “How’s dad?  How are you feeling? What’s the weather like up there?” My hands were sweating, my stomach was in knots when I finally said, “Mom, I might have met someone yesterday . . .”

[Hesitation.]

“Yes?”

“His father might know your family.”

“Really? What’s his name?”

When I repeated Steve’s fathers’ name there was a long pause. “Gio, I need you to promise me you will never speak to that person again!”

“Why? Mom, did this man’s brother John kill himself over Aunt Lois?”

“What did you say? How did you . . . You can’t know about that!”

“I was twenty-one. You and I were driving to Clinton. We went past a white house and you got flustered. You told me that was where the boy lived that killed himself over your sister.”

“I did not ever tell you that!”

“Yes you did, how else would I have remembered?”

“Swear right now, on a stack of bibles, you will never mention this to your Aunt. She was traumatized and ostracized for years. She’s never gotten over it.”

“Aunt Lo and I phone each other what, three times a year? If you think it will upset her, I won’t ever mention it. But you have to admit, mom, that it’s more than strange to be at a Halloween party I never planned on going to . . . to find out about something that happened decades ago in a place thirteen-hundred miles away. Any idea what year this happened?”

“Lois was fourteen, I was nineteen. I was away in cadet nursing school so I never got the full story. Lo wouldn’t speak about it. I picked up bits and pieces from my other siblings.”

“Then it would be sometime in 1941 since you were born in ’22.”

“Sounds right. Promise me you won’t speak to that Steve guy again and double down promise you will never breathe a word of this to your aunt. It would kill her.” 

When my phone began to ring a few hours later, I had another out of body feeling as I reached to pick up the handset. I knew it was going to be Aunt Lois before I heard her familiar “helloooo.” That was creepy in its’ own right. Truthfully, we only talked to each other a few times a year and normally I was the person initiating the call.

After the pleasantries Auntie said, “I hear something in your voice. What’s wrong darling?”

“Nothing.”

“I know you better than that.”

[Pause.]

“Gio?”

“Can’t tell you Aunt Lo.”

“Why is that?”

“Been sworn to secrecy.”

“By who?”

“Mom.”

“There should be no secrets between us. What’s going on?”

“Did you graduate from Morgan high school?”

“Yes. Went there in my junior and senior years.”

“And before that?”

“I was bussed to Madison.”

I slumped down. I just made a solemn promise I couldn’t keep. “Oh my God!”

“What’s going on?”

“Went to a Halloween party here in Florida yesterday. Got a last minute, unexpected invite.”

“So?”

“I met the son of someone you might know. Mom threatened to strangle me if I ever told you about it.”

“I’m seventy-one years old. Shocks don’t rattle me much anymore. Who did you meet?”

“A man about my age. His name is Steve. He’s from Colorado.”

“Been to Colorado a few times but I don’t know any Steve’s who live there.”

“Steve’s father grew up in Clinton. He used to visit there every summer.”

“I see. His father’s name is?”

“Aunt Lo.”

“What’s his name, honey?”

“Burton H-----.”

[Silence.]

“Aunt Lo?”

She cleared her throat. “Everyone thought Burton’s brother John killed himself over me. He didn’t. Not many people knew the truth but those that did never wanted it to come out. I was ostracized for years over poor John’s death.”

“Mom asked me to never bring this up. She’s going to shoot me.”

“Gio, honey, I’m glad you did. I actually feel relieved. Today is All Saint’s Day. What better day to purge myself of John’s ghost? I need to tell you the true story. You have time?”

“Of course.”

“My grade school teachers thought I was talented musically. Tried out for the band in Madison and got accepted. Morgan didn’t have that kind of program so Clinton paid to bus me across town. John’s father, Turton was the school administrator.”

“Turton is an actual real name?”

“An unusual one perhaps.”

“Is a school administrator the same thing as a principal?”

“It is. I was a naïve farm girl. John and I became friends. I was too young for a beau, but John needed a sounding board. He had a secret that he didn’t trust with anyone except me.”

Aunt Lo paused to collect her thoughts.

“It was a Sunday in November. We had a school function that day. When John showed up, he was distraught. I could tell he’d gotten into Turton’s liquor cabinet. I scolded him firmly. That’s when he signaled me to follow him. When we got where no one else could see, John showed me his back. It was raw from the flogging he’d taken. His father beat him to a pulp quite regularly.”

“Oh my God, why?”

“Burton was two years older than John and a straight-A student. John held solid B’s and he was also athletically talented. Everyone except Turton loved his out going personality. His father took everything out on John while holding Burton up on a pedestal.”

“How awful.”

“John was a sweet soul who wanted to be loved and respected. He didn’t get it at home.”

“So what happened next?”

“I had permission to sleep over my girlfriend’s house that night. After dark I heard a rap on the back window. When I looked out, I saw John’s big blue eyes staring in at me. He waved for me to come outside. I shook my head, no.

I’d always been taught if a boy came calling he should come to the front door and announce himself properly.

John rapped again and I shook my head again. Then he went away.

A few hours later we heard ‘pop, pop.’ We didn’t know what it was. My girlfriend’s dad wasn’t home. Her mom was afraid to go outside.

The next day we went to school as normal. Around ten in the morning, the teacher’s gathered in the hallway. They were crying. My girlfriend’s mom had gone out back to hang clothes and found John’s body. He had shot himself out of desperation and depression.”

“Aunt Lois, I am so sorry.”

“You wouldn’t believe how many nights those blue eyes have come rapping on the window in my dreams. If only I had . . .”

“You can’t blame yourself, Aunt Lo.”

“I know, but it’s such a shame. John had so much going for him. Who knows what kind of punishment he might have been subjected to when he got home from school after the social.”

“Now I understand why he came to me here in Florida. John is a powerful soul. He wanted you to know he’s in good hands. He wanted to finally give you peace of mind. He wanted others to know he was once alive . . . his spirit still existed. I was the first available conduit he came in contact with after all of these years.”

“You are right and thank you honey for trusting me with this knowledge.”

After we hung up Steve called. He was curt. He told me his father did know my family but that any further communication would be off limits. Then he hung up.

Angels came to collect Aunt Lo’s soul on 21 September 2017. It never seemed right to tell John’s story until now and it certainly would not be appropriate to mention his last name while members of his family are still alive.

Discovering John has been a journey. With the little I knew about him I did search the archives. It took some time but I found John William H----- listed in the 1940 census while he was still alive. He was 15 at the time. I did not find him in the next census.

John died in the early morning hours of 17 November 1941 at the age of 16. He is buried in Beaverdale Memorial Park in New Haven.

“Rest in Peace John. You have your constant friend, my dear Aunt Lois to lean on again.”

Much love and respect to all Hallowed Souls . . . Gio


© Copyright 2018 Gio Iannotti. All rights reserved.

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