April 29th: Forever a bitter-sweet day
Today, April 29th 2020, my Dad, Tommy Kelly, turns 60. During the whole Covid-19 pandemic/lockdown situation this was always going to be a strange birthday for him but, to be honest, April 29th will forever be a bitter-sweet day for my Dad and for our whole family because, not only is it my Dad's birthday but, it's my Uncle Billy's anniversary. So, as we at least try to celebrate Dad's big birthday, we also continue to mourn Billy's absence.
On April 29th 2016 I woke up early (unusual and uncomfortable for me) I was on my way to a personal training session in preparation for a project I was filming. I left my Dad's present and card out for him. I'd gotten him something that I thought was extra special that year, you see it was his first birthday as a Grandad so, I got a custom photo album made up for him celebrating the year. It was full of photos of our whole family with Nathan, the baby. I knew he'd love it but by the time I got back from the gym he was gone to work and I never got to see his reaction to it, I never will.
When I arrived back home I decided I'd get a nap in because, up early or not, I can never seem to get enough sleep through bouts of overthinking and/or insomnia, but that's another story! My phone started ringing some time around early lunchtime, I can never remember the time, I probably don't want to. It was Dad. "Ah what does he want? I'm trying to have a rest sure!" and I silenced the ringer. I knew I could ring him back but something told me to answer the phone - and not common courtesy for me Father! Something else. An instinct?
"I don't want to alarm you, but your Uncle Billy is missing."
I started roaring laughing. Like, proper belly laughing. If you knew Billy you'd know why. He was very much an independent man, I modelled myself after him. Independently world travelled, he could disappear at the drop of a hat with a day's notice to Greece, Thailand, anywhere. The thing was, there was no day's notice this time. "He wouldn't go anywhere without telling your Nanny."
OK, I had to concede that one to my Dad. He asked me to go out to Billy's house with him to check on Billy and see was he there, his neighbours hadn't seen him since Wednesday (this was a Friday) when he called in to tell them he was going on "a course" for the day on Thursday. The car hadn't moved since, the blinds remained closed.
As I searched for an answer in my head there was only one thing I could come up with, "Well, look, I can tell you one thing, he won't have done something stupid anyway, I mean, it's Billy."
See, Billy was my Uncle and Godfather and as I said, an incredibly private, independent and closed-off man but, having no children of his own maybe, I don't know, we had a bond. Something special. What made it more special was, during my years living in New York City, he always visited, every year. We'd go for meals and drinks and walks and I was given a very unique gift, a glimpse inside the privacy. That was where my Uncle became my friend. There must have been something about the City because we'd go for little man-dates all the time at home (like out for lunch where he'd pretend I had a choice but it would always be "Geoffs, T!") but only during these trips did the walls seem to come down. Walls that I actually envied and wanted to emulate.
Billy lived in Tramore, about 13kms from our house (I looked it up on Google Maps) and that 13km drive with Dad that day felt like forever. The conversation was structured and transitioned like a movie script, starting off with what I could tell was reassurance from my Dad that everything was grand, to a few little stories about Billy (already remembering), to silence. When we got there, we must have both realised what was happening, if we didn't already, because I don't think any of us have ever gotten out of a car as fast.
They're saying when these Covid-19 restrictions are lifted we'll never forget these times, well I'll never forget that day. As we stood at the back door of Billy's house, about to break down the door something happened in my head. I got a flash, an image of what was waiting inside for us. I don't know how, I know what I believe but I can't explain it through the realm of what we know to be real. But, as we stood there waiting to go into the house, I saw it in my mind. Exactly what was waiting inside.
I remember saying to Dad that we shouldn't go in, that we should get the Guards to check, he said that if Billy was in the house that he didn't want to stranger to find him, that it should be one of us. How could I argue? Unfortunately, my Dad didn't get that forewarning of an almost psychic image that I had gotten to change his mind.
"Well, look, I can tell you one thing, he won't have done something stupid anyway, I mean, it's Billy!" I've never been more unhappy to have been wrong, and I HATE being wrong.
It's a blur from there, a blur of anger and other emotions being masked by anger. A broken hand, scarred to this day, a complete questioning of those "walls" I'd envied and mimicked. When the guards had done their duties and were about to leave I followed one of them to the squad car and pulled her aside, "Is there any chance this can be proven that this wasn't done today? Maybe yesterday? Wednesday? It's just, today is my Dad's birthday and that can't be the date that Billy dies."
But it is, April 29th, forever a bitter-sweet day.
The reason I'm writing this, I suppose is to ease my own weight I carry around about it, I dunno, a Facebook status or a hashtag didn't seem to cover it this year. But, mainly, as the years go on there is a fear within me that we stop talking about Billy. That can't happen, for the man or the legacy, on either side of his coin. We must always keep telling the stories, like when he would come home from work in the Glass Factory and take my Nannies television remote control from me to put on Star Trek: The Next Generation and silence my moaning with "we have to watch this T, it's a True Story!" As a child I would always bite, "how can it be a true story? It's set in space!" Everything was a "true story" between us from then on, it's tattooed on my arm now.
Music that became such a huge part of my life, professional wrestling that has wrapped itself around my life in so many ways, all things given to me by Uncle Billy.
There's enough stories to fill a book, if you're reading this and knew him, you'd have your own book to write, but the most important thing to not forget is to keep talking. Not just about Billy but, just keep talking. Advice I need to learn to follow myself. Because those "walls", that "independence", they weren't all they cracked up to be. Maybe if his walls were a little lower and that independence was a little more "dependence" then.....