Sad news a week ago in an email from a college friend. One of my fraternity brothers, Steve, had died of a heart attack. I had only seen Steve a few times since college but occasionally I would hear from him or hear of him. What he was doing with his life was always a mystery. We knew he had worked for many years in the beverage industry. And then somehow he didn’t. But did something similar. For an agency in San Francisco. Consulting. He wouldn’t discuss it. Did he work? No one seemed to know exactly. His parents had money. Maybe they sent him a check every month. Who knows.
Some details of his life are in his resume which is still online. Are they all true? Don’t know. His obituary would have the correct information, I’m certain. But where is it? Removed from the internet by the funeral home which posted it. No more information available.
Steve never owned a home to my knowledge. Always stayed with friends or lived with his many, many girlfriends or crashed at the home of his parents. He was still doing this at age 54, when he died, alone, at the home of a girlfriend. She was at work. I once thought he was in the Witness Protection Program, since he would never answer the most basic questions about himself up to and including where exactly he lived. In San Francisco with friends. But where? San Francisco is a big place. I think he never answered these basic questions about himself because they were no answers and that was far too painful for him to say.
Steve never got a grip on life. I don’t know why. No one does. He was smart and funny and had all the qualities needed for success except he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stick with anything. To compound the sadness, he was an only child and while he was engaged to marry a number of times, he never did and never had children. He is survived by his parents. Not something they, or any parents, would wish for.
The friend who emailed me about his death was in touch with his parents occasionally and that’s how she found out. She said something about Steve which was an appropriate if brief summation: “his entire adult life was a slow motion suicide.” And it was. Why? We will never know the answer but then again, he didn’t either.
When I saw him at a wedding eight years ago, he had to put his hand on my shoulder as we walked into the sanctuary because he was very weak. Had a hard time walking, he said because of a significant health problem which had almost killed him a year before. And what was that? Had been in Africa, he said, and had been bitten by a rare insect. Shortly after he had returned to the US he developed a mysterious illness and was admitted to the intensive care ward of a hospital, where he almost died from the mysterious illness. What was it? Well, the doctors never figured it out but it almost killed him. He was in intensive care for thirty days, he said. Thirty days! What went on? He didn’t remember anything. What was he doing in Africa? No answer.
In college, Steve was moody. When he was in a good mood, no one was more fun to be around. And when he was in a bad mood, no one was worse to be around. When I was Commander of the Chapter, there was a vacancy in the position of House Manager. The duties were to keep the fraternity house in good repair. Much of the job consisted of replacing broken window panes. Steve asked for the position so I appointed him. The first weekend he had the job, he and a few other guys got drunk on that Saturday night and smashed a lot of windows in the fraternity house. The next day he came by the chapter house and sheepishly fixed everything he had smashed up.
Afterwards we went for a walk and I said, “Steve, you can’t be the House Manager and smash up the fraternity house. You know that. For God’s sake, you’re supposed to set a good example, not a bad one. I’m sorry, but I won’t give you a second chance.” He agreed that what he had done was incompatible, to say the least, with his responsibilities, so he resigned. That weekend sums up Steve’s life: he achieved something, wrecked it, then fixed it, yet ruined his chances to continue.
But there was a time in college when Steve became a star for a brief time. Captured in the amber of memory, I will always see him as he was in that moment.
We are playing softball in the inter-fraternity championship. It is the last inning of the last game which we must win for the championship. Steve is at bat, the count is two strikes, three balls. He is a great softball player and the best clutch player we have. Emblazoned on the front of his baseball shirt our Greek letters — ΣΝ — the symbol of our fraternity: Sigma Nu. In fact, all of us are wearing Sigma Nu shirts or baseball caps. We are proud members of a proud organization.
I don’t know much about softball but I do know this: when your team is behind three to zero, and you are in the bottom of the last inning, and your team is at bat, and the bases are loaded, and the count is three and two, then something really important needs to happen. Like a miracle from the Almighty — or Steve hitting the home runs of all home runs.
It is the late afternoon of a beautiful spring day in New Orleans. At home plate stands Steve, in all the vitality of his blonde youth, with all of his great strength and all of his robust health. Around him are his fraternity brothers and the little sisters. He casually prepares for the next pitch by stretching. Then takes the bat and knocks the dirt off his cleated shoes. Swings it a few times to loosen up. Drops into batting position. Time stops. No one speaks. Here comes the pitch. And the swing. And the thud of the bat hitting the softball as hard as the laws of physics will allow.
And up into the sky it goes. Practically defying gravity. We cheer. And cheer. Loudly. Start clapping. Yelling. We follow the ball with our eyes as it sails over the UC quad and over McAlister Drive and bounces off a car. A grand-slam. Four runs. We win the championship. The runs all come in, Steve jogging around the bases as the last man in. The moment he crosses home plate he is surrounded by his fraternity brothers and the little sisters, all of us slapping him on the back, shaking his hand, the girls kissing him. For that moment he is a rock star — and deserves to be.
Brother Steve, after you crossed that River Jordan and joined the Chapter Eternal, we hope and pray you found the peace and love which eluded you in this life.
R. Stephen Triozzi
Requiescat In Pace
We will remember you.
Beta Phi Chapter, Sigma Nu Fraternity, Tulane University.