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Fighting the rip

A rip in Woods Hole, Mass. Photo courtesy of

A rip in Woods Hole, Mass. Photo courtesy of

A few weeks ago my wife and I were aboard a friend’s boat barreling against a strong current and the frothing eddies in Woods Hole. It’s a place that any mariner around Cape Cod worth his salt shows respect for, while only fools roll the dice.

Our boat ride coincides with a series of paradoxes that have recently surfaced in our life’s, butting from opposite directions like those rips.

One is an old friend returned to our circle, who continues to put off rather than confront the sources of his alcoholism and self pity. We enable him, enjoying our beers at cookouts while assuring ourselves that it’s his responsibility alone. Package that with another friend’s addiction, which if exposed would blow up his identity and expose someone perceived as gentle and giving to be a hypocrite.

Someone once advised me to beware of the confluence of torqued stuff like this. The point where they intersect is the most volatile space, and the ground you attempt to hold on to is the most vital.

A confluence of painful paradoxes tests our ability to cope.

For years I never quite got this. Until the clashes of pain and denial piled up so high I could no longer avoid them.

Paradoxes overflow all around us, and I see some within myself. Colliding contradictions and juxtapositions squealing metal-on-metal like spent brake pads on rotors. Ironies spit out like broken luck, with some seeping from survivor’s guilt, risk-taking, and compulsion.

We’ve entered another rip this summer, approaching thirteen years since my son was killed in a drunk driving crash.

The driver pled guilty to motor vehicle homicide and negligent driving and served two years. Cory Scanlon was a high school buddy of Mike’s, and they had just graduated a few months earlier. They went out drinking with two friends one night, and he was at the wheel speeding as much as 105 miles per hour before rolling over. Both Mike and another pal, P.J. Shaughnessy, died after being ejected from the Jeep. Somehow, since returning from prison in 2006, Scanlon has been welcomed back into the fold by many of their friends.

All of this resurfaced again a week ago. Scanlon is seeking to get a hardship driving license, a restricted license that allows one to drive for a set 12-hour period each day. Under Massachusetts law, he was expected to lose his license forever because prior to the fatal crash, Cory had been charged as a minor in possession of alcohol. Otherwise the license would have been restored after ten years.

Scanlon seems to feel entitled to get it back. As if he’s the one who endures a hardship getting to work. As if promises once made to not drink again were now negotiable.

As if he has somehow gone through enough.  

Cory is married and has a young son, with another child on the way, I believe. He works as a painter, a co-worker giving him rides each day, and he earned an associate’s degree in sociology and psychology. His goal is to work with high school students as an adjustment counselor. We know this in part because, remarkably–or certainly in an especially twisted irony–we’ve seen him a few times in recent years: at two of their friends‘ weddings, and at the same funeral home where Mike’s body was lain following the death of another of their pals. Our son surely would have been in those wedding parties.

“You can’t have it both ways.” — Lynne Cipullo

Neither Denise or I wanted to attend the license hearing. We don’t oppose it being restored some day, and I gave his appeal scant attention at first. We’ve both tried to forgive Cory over the years, following what we intuit our son would want: that he be able to live a full life, one that includes honoring the memory of his friends. For years Cory has spoken to high school students about the consequences of his decision, going well beyond the community service hours set as a condition of his parole.

When we’ve met, he’s been contrite and humble. He seemed earnest wanting to help teens avoid the mistakes and causing the devastation he brought upon two families. 

Yet to two observers at the hearing I spoke with, including P.J.’s oldest sister Mary, Cory’s attitude was that he had suffered long enough.

Asked whether he drank at all, he stalled, saying he had some champagne at his wedding. Then he was  asked about drinking more recently. Pausing again, he said, yes, he occasionally had a drink. Then he said something to the effect of: I would never drink again if I just had my license back.

Lynne Cipullo, a victim’s advocate for the Norfolk County District Attorney’s office, looked at P.J.’s sister.

Did you just hear what I did?

A decade ago, during a probation hearing Cory said he would never drink again.

“People make that statement, and it’s difficult to sustain,” Cipullo says. “But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say this is what you are committed to, and say, but it’s my wedding day.”

The years collide, swept away like a strong ebb tide.

Granted, things change. But Cipullo, who stood beside us back in 2002, noticed other backpedaling. The pledge was gone–and she wonders if Cory has since dropped that from his talks to students.

Several other statements made in a small conference room make us wonder if Scanlon is shifting from taking full responsibility. Once again. He said he “had agreed” to the license revocation, as if that was a concession. He said the only reason he had been driving was because his Jeep had a full tank of gas. There was more.

The years collide, swept away like a strong ebb tide.

As if twelve years were enough.

As if life just picks up where it left off.

As if we can just sail against the rip.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Thank you for this. Mike was a great guy with a beautiful soul. I had the pleasure of knowing him and befriending him while we were working at friendlies. He is someone that will never be forgotten, and someone that I think of often. I hope you and your family are doing well.

  2. Nora, thanks so much for reaching you, that means a lot to hear from someone who knew him whom (I believe) we have not met. I will share this with Denise. And of course, you’re welcome — a big part of my writing is anchored in how we remember Mike, and trying (like so many others) at various points to keep going forward over the years. Take care -Ken

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