“Everything is different, I don’t know where to begin.”
We were in Trumbull, CT sitting with a Mother and Father, who had just lost their only child.
Sitting at their kitchen table, my heart ached for them.
Italian immigrants who could not have children, but miraculously were blessed to find out in their mid 40’s, they were pregnant with a son.
Their only son, named Leonard. A gift from the Lord to a couple in 1966, who many thought were beyond the, “child bearing” years.
Leonard Massa was his name. His personality, and his being were, larger than life in every single way imaginable.
Leonard “Lenny” Massa showed up on campus driving a blue Jeep. Top down, even when the temperature was below freezing. He would blast from his car stereo songs like “Takin’ Care of Business” – or perhaps, a Donna Summer song – each encounter would shock you in some small way with his uniqueness. You never knew what was coming with Lenny, or from Lenny.
He played bass in a band called, The Social Convention. The Social Convention played originals, and hits from the 70’s --- and frequently got gigs playing bowling alleys, and local bars around Connecticut.
We started a fraternity from scratch. Lenny was a founding member, but one who stood up at the first meeting, and blurted out to all the attended, “I may not come to any meetings, or I might. I may participate, or I may not, but whatever I do end up doing for this fraternity --- I’m excited to have brothers, as I’ve always wanted one brother– and now I have 25 of you.”
He meant it.
I truly believe the only reason he joined the fraternity, was perhaps to be closer – and perhaps gain many brothers that he never had.
He became the lifeblood of our fraternity. Organizing events, writing the newsletter – and most of all being the power participant, of a brand new fraternity on campus. Lenny was the energizer and member who kept it all together – and got us all together consistently.
Lenny Massa was the anti-fraternity person at the time. Of all the likely people you would think that would shine/stand out in a fraternity – LENNY WAS NOT THE ONE.
But, he did.
And, he stood out because he was the ultimate contrarian.
He came with us across the country, going to Grateful Dead shows – even though when I first asked him to go with me, he said --- “I can’t stand the Grateful Dead – but I’ll go to be with you – and try something new out.”
That’s the kind of unique person he was. Every experience was a new opportunity to say yes, to embrace a different challenge -- to learn, and get outside of his destiny.
Incidentally, he came to love and adore the music of the Dead. As soon as we got into a venue to see the band – he darted on his own, and managed to get as close (sometimes front row) in front of the bass player Phil Lesh, to watch him play his 5 string bass.
“Did you hear that bass line in Shakedown – it was sickkkkk!” – as he ran up to us in the parking lot after a show…..
“That was the BEST show EVER…..hands down, hall of fame concert, I gotta get that tape asap.”
Everything was the best – every experience, every new taste, every new connection was as he described it, THE BEST.
He loved life, and lived every minute of it.
Unfortunately, for him – and for us, it was cut short by a murderers bullet on a Friday night at one of the seemingly fun – but in retrospect, utterly meaningless fraternity parties during college.
And, it changed many lives.
None more than a hardworking barber, and his nurse wife – Lenny’s parents.
We were at their kitchen table. A week has passed.
The funeral was held in the pouring rain – the overcrowded church with hundreds standing outside of the service…… overflowed on the church’s front lawn. Hundreds of people standing in the mud…..
Mrs. Massa was deeply religious woman, who had such strong faith – that her house was filled with ornaments, and genuine affection for what she believed so strongly in.
She expressed how she felt betrayal from a Lord whom she dedicated her life in service to.
I sat at her kitchen table, and listened to her.
I grew up that day. It was early October in 1989.
Mrs. Massa was a volunteer nurse at the local hospital in Bridgeport. She spent her time volunteering in the burn unit at the hospital.
Mrs. Massa was a special individual, as she volunteered her time to many institutions --- but the hospital’s burn ward was the place, where she was needed most. Her nursing skills involved treating victims with intensive burn injuries, as they struggled to recover – and perhaps avoid infection.
“They caught the boy that murdered my Lenny yesterday.” She said, almost speaking to herself – as we all already knew he had been captured, a week after the murder. It was plastered on the front page of every newspaper in CT.
“What was his name?” she asked, just trying to fill the void of silence that had overtaken the house…..
Someone picked up the paper and told her the name of the man senselessly pumped the bullets into her son.
“His name is Keith C.”
She dropped to the floor, one of her nieces came to pick her up and help her off the floor.
“Should we call 911, she is short of breath…..”
I thought Mrs. Massa would surely die, right there on her kitchen floor – a week after her only child.
The next thing out of her mouth, floored her – and all the people in the house that day – barely a week after losing her son.
“The boy that murdered my Lenny. His name is Keith. I know him well. He was in prison, and last year he came in with tremendous burns across his body. Someone in prison had doused him with cleaning fluid, and set him on fire – he had burns over 80% of his body --- and I took care of him for weeks on end. His roommate in prison thought that he had snitched – and he suffered prison justice by being burned nearly to death. I changed his bandages, I read to him – and I prayed with him, every day while he was in the burn unit, recovering. I cared for him – and helped him recover.”
The room was silent.
No one knew what to say.
But, her husband did.
Mr. Massa in his seventies, got up from his chair – and walked over to his wife, to give her a hug – and tell her that in broken English -- that Lenny wanted it this way.
“Lenny is with us, Lenny will guide us – and all of this is no accident. Our boy is here.”
It was a real Lenny Massa moment. Mr. Massa was right – true to form, a riddle just like Lenny – a contrarian – a pioneer, Lenny’s mother caring for his murderer. It was pure Lenny Massa.
There was not a dry eye in the house that night. The pain of losing a child, is pain that I cannot imagine --- but, being in the Massa house that night, it stung and stayed with me like a lifelong tattoo, of memorable emotions and pain.
“Andy, Lenny would have wanted you to have these.”
Mrs. Massa went to Lenny’s bedroom and walked back with 2 or 3 boxes filled with cassette tapes, a bartender kit (who knew Lenny was a bartender, he never told us he went to bartender school?) – and, some miscellaneous items of importance to Lenny. They quickly became very important to me.
She also handed me an envelope.
Mrs. Massa said to me --- “These came the day Lenny was killed on the 29th – he was going to surprise you and take you to the shows next month. “
Lenny purchased 5 pairs of concert tickets from Ticketron for upcoming Grateful Dead concerts in NJ and Philadelphia. Pre-internet, he had called in and secured some VERY HARD to acquire tickets.
I went to all the concerts – and at each one, celebrating Lenny – and his life. I went with a good friend, Andrew Fidelman.
The envelope with the tickets that Mrs. Massa handed me in October of 1989, in her kitchen is a momento that I proudly carry with me everywhere, to this day. The envelope has been across the world with me, and every mile, on this journey through life – Lenny has been with me in some small way.
It’s worn, and fully shows its 24 years of wear and tear.
The envelope means so much to me, and it is one small way I can honor – and celebrate the life of my friend, Lenny Massa.
And, remember what I learned in that kitchen.
In the kitchen of both life…… and death.