Memory of crash victims lives through survivors, Camp Anchor (cont.)
And down in Rockaway, where the sea air comes at you from both sides, you can't even get the remotest whiff of the men he calls the mutts.
"Yeah, mutts. There are many mutts out there," he says, with a laugh that isn't a laugh. We're sitting on his porch. The anniversary of the crash is three days away. He is doing his absolute best not to lose it.
"The mutts -- the glad-handing of the basketball dirt bags of the universe," he says. "There are many mutts in the landscape of New York basketball. Oy, yey, yey ... I've seen such a change in the last 20 years of the whole landscape of New York basketball: The emergence of the summer programs and the summer teams and the money they take in and the perks they can give the kids. And the sneakers and the suits and the jockeying. Flying some kid in from Wisconsin for a summer league in a dinky gym in Queens? What the hell is that about?"
He knows the answer: it's about small men pretending to have big power. Malone doesn't have to pretend, because he doesn't want any power. He just wants to do what he can. If he can get a kid into Monroe Community College in upstate Rochester, whose academics he admires, that's a victory.
If he can lighten a kid's day, that's good, too. Tomorrow he's going to visit a former Beach player upstate in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. At his trial, the kid pleaded to murder. Maybe he did it. Maybe he didn't. But here's the thing that Malone still can't understand: it took five years for the case to come to trial. Five years for a kid to wait for his day in court ... all of those years sent in prison.
What kind if system is that? Why can't any of the damned systems work for the kids? Malone would sooner leave Beach to find fame and fortune than Paige or Jamie would have stopped going to Anchor to take a job at a fancy New England summer camp. He's had it with the system.
"Kids in junior college in Kansas? It kills me, that old network of having to have control. "We're going to send you to Tyler, Texas? We're going to send you to Hutchinson, Kansas?"
Frankly, it makes him sick. And he's not afraid to say so, now that he has nothing to lose.
Now that whatever happens doesn't matter anymore.
"I didn't realize it was going to be so difficult," he says. How were he and his wife to know what the grief counselor later told them -- that they never should have gone to any of the memorials? Who knows such a thing in advance? That memorial services just keep the wounds open and raw?
"This week ..." he says. "I didn't realize ... it's only a day, it's only a date. What difference should it make if it's six months? A year?"
Anchor was planning a memorial for next week. Malone won't go. They mean well, of course, they all do. He understands this. But this week, as everyone wants to honor by remembering, with the game a few weeks off, all it does is make it harder for him to forget. He never imagined that the empty spaces would linger, over there on the periphery, for so long.
The mailman walks up to the porch and delivers a bulging stack of mail. Malone glances at the pile, sees several handwritten envelopes. "The cards start now," he says. He casts the whole thing aside.
There's been one good thing, though. The police report has finally been issued. Of course, Malone has no idea why it took a year, but at least it finally absolved Justine Mulhall of all blame, a finding for which Jim is particularly grateful: "There's no one purer than Justine."
I try and point out that though his daughters' lives were short, they were pure.
"I'm not ready to take on any of those kind world views yet," he says. "There's a lot of anger there that you just sit on .... because there's nobody to be angry at."
I want to say something else, anything to make it easier on him, but now know better; everything I say to try comes out wrong.
So I let him talk, if he wants to talk. Every 30 seconds or so he does, gazing off into the verdant neighborhood, but not seeing
"They were very, very wonderful kids. Good, good girls."
Then, not hearing the soothing hum of the train, or the birdsong all around us: "It's ... tough."
The thing that strikes Neil Mulhall now is how he and his wife thought that they knew their only son, but in a way, they didn't. When they met some 1,200 people who knew Mike in the days following the accident, leading up to the funeral, they realized that the wake he left was broad and wide.
"It was an amazing journey to get to know our son in death, unfortunately, better than we thought we knew him in life," says the father of the lost son, as well as the father of the daughter spared.
"At home he was this man-child who, we thought, didn't want to grow up. But to the rest of the world he was a leader, and a friend, and a partner, and a pal, and a teacher. It was quite an amazing learning experience. Not that I wanted to find out so much under these circumstances. But I'm glad I did.
"What made Michael different from other people was that he just liked everybody. He didn't judge people, like most of us do. And it didn't matter where you came from or what you were good at or not good at. He was open-minded and willing to let anyone enter his world."
Including the children at Anchor. Especially the children at Anchor. He'd been a history major at Scranton, but Neil Mulhall thinks that Michael's vocation would have connected to Anchor, in one way or another. "It was his calling," he said. "I'd see how comfortable he was down there. With everyone. With five year old kids. It's an amazing place. Think about it: half of the staff are volunteers. They get up every morning, ride school buses down, spend the day in the hot sun, then, at the end of the day, get back on the school buses to go home, day in, day out.
"It shows you that there's hope for all of us."
I ask about his daughter. The driver. He pauses for a few seconds. Then he says, "Justine's bravery over the last 12 months is inspiring to not just those of us who get the privilege of living with her, but anyone who knows her, and I would extend that to her friend Kelly. The two of them are real role models now, for all of us. On how to live our lives and pick ourselves up after a huge setback."
He and his wife have twin 18-year-old daughters, Grace and Carey. They work at the camp.
I ask Neil Mulhall how he and his wife are doing. "We're OK," he says, as if almost surprised to hear himself saying it.
I follow a group of Anchor campers -- the group Paige Malone would have been working with -- past the dance tent, toward their next activity: the slip 'n slide. The campers like sliding, but they like it even better when one of the counselors sprays each of them in the face with his hose.
A young man named Kevin Richman, a group leader, wanders over. He used to spend his summers teaching school, for actual pay. But he gave it up to return to Anchor. He tells me that the most underappreciated thing about Anchor is how the family connects year-round. How when the campers meet other special kids like themselves, all from the Town of Hempstead, it gives them a year-round social network.
I ask Kevin how Justine is doing.
"Justine?" he says. "Justine's found peace here."
Joe Lentini wants me to see the memorial that greets all visitors to the camp, a stone from a nearby quarry with an anchor embedded in it, and the names of Paige, Jamie and Michael.
Then he nods to a large tent in the distance. Within a few years, if they can raise the six million dollars, it will be The Malone-Mulhall Recreation Center at Camp Anchor.
And now we turn to see two young women awaiting us, a few feet away, smiling tanned. They both started as volunteers in 2004, and were both given staff positions in 2007. I approach, notebook open, to ask them, what it's like to be on staff at Anchor, to work at something that does so much good.
"It's not work," says Justine Mulhall. "It's going to camp."
"It's not what we do," says Kelly Murphy. "It's what we love."
It must be amazing, I say, to come in from your own everyday world to this one.
"This is our real world," says Kelly Murphy, and her friend smiles in agreement.
I thank them for their time, and they turn to hurry back to their group, where they're needed. Well, where they belong.
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