Steve Palmer died in the mid-Seventies when, while bending down to pick up a joint he dropped while driving a truck for Garrett’s Produce, he swerved into the middle of the road and ran head-on into a school bus. I never knew him, but my parents knew him intimately. Wayne Martin still talks about the heists they would pull off local businesses after he got out of prison. My mother was obviously in love with him, though they never to my knowledge dated. She still speaks of riding with him on his motorcycle as late as 1974, as if imagining riding off with him away from her family, her addictions, her life. His death marked a certain loss of hope for her. Palmer is one of the two links I can find remaining between my mother and my father after he left us. The other is Palmer’s half-brother, Buster Wisdom. Buster is still Wayne Martin’s best friend. I call him Uncle Buster. After my mother divorced in 1990, she dated Buster. After my mother’s sister Marti’s husband died in 2005, Marti dated Buster. In 2008, in the month I was married, Buster was almost killed in a single-car accident. Wayne Martin took a call from him while walking with me along the Hudson River the day after my wedding reception. I sat next to him on a bench as Buster confided that he wished he’d died in that accident, that he’d lost hope that life held anything for him. Looking at my father—who had existed to me in the Eighties only as a phantom, in the Nineties as an enigma, and in the Aughts as a periodic phone call—as he talked his oldest friend down from the ledge, I thought of Steve Palmer, and the burden he was spared dying young.
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