He, Peter Paul Markin, had returned, while on some unrelated business in the area, to the neighborhood where he grew up, old time North Adamsville just outside of Boston. The neighborhood is one of those old working-class neighborhoods, the old inner suburbs long gone to seed, long past its industrial- centered usefulness in its losing battle (ship-building) to the “race to the bottom” global economy. Also filled with every kind of cheap jack strip mall and excess fast food joint, and where the houses are small, cramped and seedy, the leavings of those who have moved on to bigger and better things. The neighborhood nevertheless back in the day reflected, and still reflected a certain shabby gentility, humbly displaying the desire of the working poor in the 1950's, his parents and others, to own their own homes and not be shunted off to decrepit apartments or dilapidated housing projects, the fate of those just below them on the social ladder. The fate of the cross-town denizens of the Adamsville Housing Authority apartment (“the project”) that his family had, just barely, escaped from as he came of age.
While there in the old neighborhood he happened upon an old neighbor who recognized him despite the fact that he had not seen her, Maude Brady to give her a proper name, for at least thirty years. Since she had grown up and had lived there continuously, marrying and raising three children there, then taking over sole ownership of the family house upon the death of her parents , he inquired about the fate of various people that he had grown up with. She, as is usually the case in such circumstances, had a wealth of information about how Billy, a boy she had prudently turned down for a date, was serving a twenty strength for armed robbery, about how Lannie, a girl that he, Peter Paul, had more than a passing interest in, had had a couple of kids out of wedlock with a married man who would not divorce his wife. A couple of good reports as well about how her Johnny had made the grade and was now on the North Adamsville Police Department and how her Susan worked nights at the Medical Center as a nurse-practitioner. The usual proud parent stuff, harmless,
But one story in particular cut him to the quick. He had asked about a boy named Kenny who was a couple of years younger than him was but who he was very close to until his teenage years. Kenny, who lived down at the bottom of Glover Street kitty-corner from his own street, used to tag along with his crowd until, as teenagers will do, he made it clear that Kenny was no longer welcome being ‘too young’ to hang around with the older boys, the corner boys, led by one pinball wizard Frankie Larkin, the king hell king of the North Adamsville High School night. And “owner” of the coveted Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner spot all through high school. But the details of that story are for another day as this is Kenny’s story, not Frankie’s.
The long and the short of it was that Kenny found other friends of his own age to hang with, one in particular from down my street, Maple Street, named Jimmy. He had only a nodding acquaintance with both thereafter. As happened more often than not during the 1960’s in working class neighborhoods all over the country, especially with kids who were not academically inclined, when Jimmy came of age he faced the draft or the alternative of ‘volunteering’ for military service. He enlisted. Kenny, for a number of valid medical reasons, was 4-F (unqualified for military service). Of course, you know what is coming. Jimmy was sent to Vietnam where he was killed in 1968 at the age of 20. His name is one of the 58,000 plus that are etched on that Vietnam Memorial Wall down in Washington. His story ends there. Unfortunately, Kenny’s just begins.
Kenny took Jimmy’s death hard. Harder, as Maude related some of the more public details, than one can possibly imagine. The early details are rather sketchy but they may have involved illegal drug use. Hell, they, including Peter Paul, all knew about drugs, had at least experienced and experimented with some of them, along with almost all the other member of “youth nation,” circa the 1960s. But Kenny went overboard apparently, way overboard.
The overt manifestations were reflected in a flare –up of acts of petty crime and then anti-social acts like pulling fire alarms and walking naked down the street. At some point he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Peter Paul, when he later checked up on that particular mental illness and its causes, said he made no pretense of having adequate knowledge about the causes of mental illnesses but someone he trusted has told him that such a traumatic event as Jimmy’s death could trigger the condition in young adults.
In any case, the institutionalizations inevitably began. And later the halfway houses, and all the other forms of social control for those who cannot survive on the mean streets of this wicked old world on their own. Apparently, with drugs and therapy, there were periods of calm but for over three decades poor Kenny struggled with his inner demons. In the end the demons won and he died a few years ago while in a mental hospital.
Certainly this is not a happy story, and Maude rather steely in talking about Billy and some other local desperadoes, was always on the edge of tears in relating this story. Perhaps, Peter Paul thought later, aside from the specific details, not this was even an unusual one in modern times. Nevertheless he now counted Kenny, Kenny Callahan, to finally give him a name, as one of the uncounted casualties of war. Along with those physically wounded soldiers who can back from Vietnam service unable to cope with their own demons and sought solace in drugs and alcohol. And those, who for other reasons, could no adjust and found themselves on the streets, in the half way shelters or the V. A. hospitals. And also those grieving parents and other loved ones whose lives were shattered and broken by the loss of their children. There is no wall in Washington for Kenny or them. But, maybe there should be. As for poor childhood Kenny, Kenny Callahan, from the old neighborhood- Rest in Peace.