BASEBALL & BRIDGES
The Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series since 1918 when Chris Mulligan and I stood outside Fenway Park on October 17, 2004 for the American League Championship Series. It was Game 4. The Red Sox had come close in the past several decades, but had lost in the decisive seventh game of the World Series on three occasions: to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967, to the Cincinnati Reds in 1975, and to the New York Mets in 1986. The Sox came close in 1946, too, but lost to the pesky Cardinals in another seven-game series.
And there were the disappointments of 1978 and 2003 at the hands of their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees. The former was a one-game playoff loss marked by the famous Bucky Dent home run over the Green Monster (with left fielder Carl Yastrzemski’s sullen dismay at the famed wall’s base), the latter was a seventh game ALCS loss at Yankee Stadium on a walk-off
home run by Aaron Boone in the bottom of the eleventh inning.
Now, in 2004, the Red Sox were trailing the Yankees in the series three games to zero and losing 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth. They were in danger of being swept by the Yankees, but Chris and I were resigned to stay until the bitter end. That’s what Marines do.
It was said that the curse of the Bambino was to blame. And what was that? Allegedly, it was an omen placed upon the team after the trade of pitcher George Herman “Babe” Ruth to theYankees in 1919. Ruth changed positions and, with his 714 home runs, changed baseball history: the Yankees became the most dominant franchise and the Red Sox became the lovable losers.
But on this October night, we were on Landsdowne Street with a million drunk Red Sox fans listening to the game on speakers airing the local radio broadcast with a nine-second delay; the roars of the crowd inside would serve as anticipatory guides that something exciting was about to happen, maybe even a ball hit over the Green Monster into our midst.
It was chilly, crisp. The thermometer measured 46 degrees, but we had our sweatshirts wrapped around our waists. Landsdowne Street smelled of beer and urine, steam from sausage vendor carts, mustard, and sweat. There were no Covid-19 protocols in 2004. We took shots from the flasks of college kids and high-fived the filthy hands of bums. Not a single fan of the Yankees
was to be found in this mosh pit of Boston supporters. It would have been too dangerous after 86 years of disappointment punctuated by the Boone shot just a season before and on the precipice of a sweep.
Then, suddenly, the Red Sox tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. They won it on a two-run shot by David Ortiz in the bottom of the twelfth inning. And bedlam ensued.
I don’t know how many people we hugged or kissed, or how many times we screamed out loud that we had a chance to come back and win the series. At least we had a chance now. And less than a year later Chris Mulligan would take his own life.
Austin was not the world capital for hipsters and millennials and techies or anything else in the mid ‘90s. It was on the cusp of that, but it wasn’t there yet. You could park your car downtown on a side street and leave it there for a month without getting a ticket or being towed. There was little to no traffic. The skyline along Lake Austin (the Colorado River) was not littered with tall buildings that block the views of the wondrous hill country. You could walk around and recognize a lot of faces. There was the familiarity of a small town. It was perfect.
And Roe Lynch was perfect, too.
Like me, he was a Marine veteran. Like Chris Mulligan, he would be my first good friend in a new city that wasn’t a family member or previous acquaintance. And like Chris, he would take his own life under similar circumstances.
We met as directionless, twenty-something, post-college veterans who were doing what everyone else in our group of buddies seemed to be doing at the time in Central Texas: interviewing for jobs at emerging high tech companies while bartending or waiting tables at night. Roe was handsome, baby-faced. His tender pale skin turned red when he laughed, his piercing blue eyes drove women crazy. He was strong, Marine strong. We bonded over beers, boot camp stories, and tales about some of the crazy jarheads that we knew. It’s all so similar, regardless of one’s branch of service, is it not?
He worked at a restaurant called Sfuzzi on Sixth Street; I worked at District Bar & Grill on the corner of Guadalupe Street next door. We would shut down for the night at 2AM, lock the doors, then play pool in the back room of District until five in the morning with fellow bartenders and waiters from a variety of Austin haunts. The jukebox played songs by Smashing Pumpkins, Van Morrison, and Eric Clapton. We would sing along, all of us, and we would drink a lot of booze. Together. Like the city of Austin
itself, we felt that we were all on the precipice of greatness, too.
On many occasions, when we were not working, I’d meet up with Roe and we would take walks across the Congress Street Bridge to hit a few of the bars south of town. The tamales at Guero’s Taco Bar were always a favorite. We’d down them with copious amounts of cerveza. We’d flirt with bachelorette parties and happy hour yuppies. Give a Marine a few dollars in his pocket and situations like those and anything can happen. It usually did.
When I met Chris in Boston, and we would take our long walks late at night along the Charles River and over several different bridges to the Cambridge side and back, I would think about Roe. It was surreal to comprehend that—a decade removed from my heartfelt experiences with one Marine veteran—I would be feeling the same emotions of brotherhood and camaraderie with another. Roe killed himself by injecting a syringe full of heroin and cocaine into his arm. The lethal mixture is called a speedball. I had never even heard of it before. I had never even seen heroin before, either. We had taken a walk together in Austin on the previous night.
It was the Fall of 2005 and several of us were getting a softball team together in Boston for a coed adult league. Chris Mulligan had attended the University of Maine and played baseball there. We needed a ringer. He had been a standout athlete growing up south of Boston in Weymouth; his Irish-Catholic family was prominent in the local school system and I was fortunate to enjoy Thanksgiving at their home in 2004, just after the Red Sox won the World Series by sweeping the Cardinals. But Chris was not answering his phone. He wasn’t replying to emails. I knew that he had
been dating a nurse who lived in Charlestown, but we had both been so busy with work and relationships lately that we simply didn’t have any time for our late night walks and bonding sessions.
I called Mr. Mulligan and was told the news. Chris had overdosed three weeks earlier.
“We were trying to reach you, but couldn’t find your number,” Mr. Mulligan told me. “I’m sorry. Chris really loved you because you understood him, being a Marine and all.”
Those were not Mr. Mulligan’s exact words. Those are just the words I remember slightly, the ones I’m paraphrasing, the ones I’m having to compartmentalize to deflect the anguish that still exists eighteen years later.
I missed the funeral.
Like Roe, Chris killed himself over a woman. He overdosed.
The circumstances were similar. They don’t need to be repeated. The relationship circumstances were similar, too. Heartbreak. Betrayal. Treachery. It’s not for me to judge the other parties and their actions of the times, just as I would never judge the two friends who chose suicide. But I understand their desperation.
In 2015, I stood on a cliff in Carlsbad, California contemplating a jump into the rocks below. My heart was broken and it was my own doing. I had no one else to blame. And it was an odd ten-year pattern: Roe in 1995, Chris in 2005, and now me in 2015. Cyclical. Marine attention to detail. I was sober, too. I was lucid. Life had lost its meaning for me and my particular compartments of trauma and damage had overflowed.
And then I called a friend to say goodbye. I was sobbing. I was broken. And this particular friend, rather matter-of-factly upon recollection now, said this: “You’re way too curious to not find out what happens next.”
Those were his exact words. I’m not paraphrasing. It was the truth. He was correct. I am far too curious. It’s often been a blessing and at times it's been a curse, but that’s how I am wired. This time it was a blessing.
In boot camp, drill instructors demand that Marine recruits who do not know an answer to a question during an inspection or otherwise should not make up an incorrect answer. We were trained to say “This recruit does not know, but will find out.” That sticks.
I walked away from the cliff, went to my car, rolled down the windows, and blasted a Van Morrison album at the highest volume. I drove to Las Vegas, then I drove to Seattle. I spent a week there with another Marine veteran buddy—one with whom I actually served—and his family, and afterwards drove back down to San Diego.
And then I drove to Austin.
I thought about Roe and Chris on that road trip. They were actually all I really thought about on my journey out of the abyss. So many questions came to mind. Too many. It was that pesky curiosity trait again.
Why had they not been able to reach out to someone on those fateful nights?
And, if they had, did someone offer bad advice? Did someone not pick up the phone?
How did they get their heroin and cocaine?
How did they get syringes?
What were the odds that I would befriend two fellow Marine veterans ten years apart in two different cities who would both end up taking their own lives? Incalculable.
I did not know the answers and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find out.
Nearly ten years have passed since I stood on that Carlsbad cliff. I have threatened suicide on another occasion during that span. Maybe I’m not just too curious to miss out on finding out what happens next in life, but also too afraid. Maybe I don’t have the guts like my Marine buddies to actually do it. Maybe I don’t have the nerve. And that’s what survivor guilt often entails: the unrealistic, emotional yardsticks of comparison. Overcoming it requires a Herculean effort because of the affection we have for the departed, whether they be family members or veteran buddies or both.
How could I possibly honor my beloved memories of Roe Lynch and Chris Mulligan by taking my own life?
I will not tarnish their memories by replicating their actions.
Cumulatively, as of today, I knew Roe and Chris for about 3.5% of my life. That percentage drops with each passing moment. My love for them, however, will never wane. We walked the streets and crossed the bridges of two different cities, in two different decades, and created memories that are inextricably linked.
Marines, fearless. Marines, imperfect.
I can’t watch a Red Sox game and not think of Chris. I can’t be downtown in Austin and not think of Roe. Oftentimes, I’ll imagine what they would be like today. I’ll imagine that I got to introduce the two of them and that they became friends.
And I’ll continue to dream about that with an immeasurable curiosity that will never be quenched.
July 27, 2022