He went missing on a Friday night, and then came the waiting.
I remember the waiting because it was mind numbing. It was like knowing too much without knowing anything at all. In the morning, the glimmer of hope we all held to felt like the kind of lie you tell yourself when faced with the ugly truth. By the afternoon, there was no glimmer or lies left to hold to. All that was left was to stop pretending there was a miracle to be had.
We spent those desperate hours holding hands with the voices on the other end of the line. Because there were a lot of phone calls being made the day after. It was as if John was a part of our own families. We cursed and we drank and we cried just that very way. We wanted it back, we wanted all of it back.
Camelot was long gone by the time I was a boy, but I read and learned and knew enough about that magical idea to know the theft that had been perpetrated. Two brothers lost to assassins’ bullets, two men’s lives cut short with decades worth of legacy yet to be written. It was Shakespearean in its lonesome destiny, the idea that brilliant men could be silenced so damned easily.
The kid was going to introduce a final chapter to this hard wrought tale, and while it was no certainty he would assume the family mantel, there was always that whisper of anticipation. He was never inevitable, but neither was he blind to the responsibilities he had been born into. He wasn’t John or Bobby, and in a lot of ways, that was a very good thing. His soft spoken tone and his ability to get along with everyone seemed the kind of difference that was going to serve him well in the next chapters of his life.
And we dreamed what those next chapters would look like. Man, did we ever. We imagined a marriage of history and nostalgia because his was the family seal that came closest to American royalty. It was okay that he kept such talk at arm’s length while we embraced such a thing fully. He had time. He had all the time in the world. And dammit if I really did believe it would be different with him. All of it.
And then, just like that, it was late Saturday afternoon and all the time in the world had run out. The final act was playing out in the same way as the two which had preceded it. Only this time, it was all happening in slow motion. It was the cruelest of flourishes sent down from that cursed star that had taken a father, an uncle, and now a son.
It was the day after John went missing and the day before the news became official that I still remember most distinctly. That long Saturday, the in between, from one forever to the next. It’s where we mourned the prince of a city who had so much left to write. It’s where we said goodbye to an idea like Camelot one final time.
I’m always going to want it back.