Monday, August 15, 2011
The last summer of Joey Martin...
To the locals it was a big deal. To friends it was a puzzling, and bigger deal. To the family, it was a heartbreak, and to make it worse, it was unsolved. Biggest deal of all: find out what happened to Joey. As someone posted on Facebook today, a blurb from a television show about the case:
"In 1996, teenaged Joey Martin sneaks out of his bedroom window to watch a comet from a cabin in the woods-and disappears. Despite multiple leads, there is no sign of Joey until 2008 when a young detective uncovers the shocking story of Joey's fate."
And so it was, back in 1996, that Joseph Patrick Martin, fifteen years old then, and I guess one could say still fifteen years old, left the planet and entered into the collective consciousness of thousands of people who never met him in the flesh.
I lived in Joey’s town, then. I was just beginning a teaching career, working in the Hudson Valley’s Rondout Valley School system, the very district that Joey (and myself had, years earlier) attended. A small, farming and industrial community in the beginnings of its own death throes as big employers closed their doors and fled town. A small town with not a lot to do if you were a teenager with a wild hair.
Several comets had passed over in the years prior to Joey’s disappearance: Kohoutek, Halley’s, and, in 1996, Hale-Bopp, were all very interesting and visible, and when Joey left his house on that cold evening to go look at the comet with “friends” it would have not been an unusual event, given the dearth of entertainment available in Kerhonkson, New York.
So he left. Originally the people he was supposed to meet said that he never arrived, and the search began. For over a decade the search continued on some level, but family, friends and the law were stymied, and other than a few posters, annual vigils and other more or less symbolic acts, the trail went cold.
Then, in 2008, a cop revisits the case and talks to one of the two people that Joey was supposed to meet that night. An adult, this guy now lived in Brooklyn. He unexpectedly opened up the cold dead organ he called his heart and spilled his conscience all over the table. A few court appearances and trials later and the case was solved. Two scumbags, supposed “friends” who murdered a kid as revenge for a small weed rip-off, or something trivial. It doesn’t seem like the punishment fit the crime for Joey. But it did for the miscreants who killed him, and then shared a table and prayers with his family in the days and months after his “disappearance” and who got to live lives of their own for a while. They got to laugh, date, work at a job, make money, go fishing, get laid, all the things that young men do, while Joey’s bones lay crammed under a big rock in the woods, and later scattered in trash bins all over New York City. Their punishment is apt: prison sentences---loooong ones, and a life sentence with the label of “murderer” in front of their names. They will never be free of that, and every day that they look at their situation, they know how and why they are there.
When I was teaching I often got to substitute for an 8th grade English teacher named Buddy Clark. On his desk, neatly and forever tucked in a corner, was a vocabulary textbook, with the plain paper bag book cover still on it from the last student to use it. Written on that cover was a small note: To Mr. Clark: Have a good summer! Your friend, Joey Martin.”
Im guessing that Mr Clark still has that book somewhere, and that it still has that cover with its message.
We still have our memories of a nice kid, forever fifteen, as well. Rest in Peace , Joey, if you can.