Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us

Cristina Alger



His desire to set a new beginning to the chain of events to which he belonged encountered the same difficulty that it always does: the fact that everybody has a father, that nothing comes first and of itself, its own cause, but that everybody is begotten and points backward, deeper into the depths of beginnings, the bottoms and abysses of the well of the past.

—THOMAS MANN





1.



On the last Tuesday in September, we scatter my father’s ashes off the coast of Long Island.

Four of us board Glenn Dorsey’s fishing boat with a cooler of Guinness and an urn. We head east, toward Orient Point, where Dad and Dorsey spent their Saturdays fishing for albacore and sea bass. When we reach a quiet spot in Orient Shoal, we drop anchor. Dorsey says a few words about Dad’s loyalty: to his country, his community, his friends, his family. He asks me if I want to say anything. I shake my head no. I can tell the guys think I’m about to cry. The truth is, I don’t have anything to say. I hadn’t seen my father in years. I’m not sad. I’m just numb.

After Dorsey finishes his speech, we bow our heads for a minute of respectful silence. Ron Anastas, a homicide detective with the Suffolk County Police Department, fights back tears. Vince DaSilva, Dad’s first partner, crosses himself, muttering something about the Holy Spirit under his breath. All three men go to Mass every Sunday at St. Agnes in Yaphank. At least, they used to. We did, too. Except for a small handful of weddings, I haven’t stepped inside a church since I left the island ten years ago. I’m grateful to be outside today. The air inside St. Agnes was always stagnant and suffocating, even after the summer heat subsided. I can still hear the whir of the ancient fan in the back. I can feel the edge of the scrunched-up dollar bill pressed against my sweaty palm, bound for the collection plate. The thought of it makes me squirm.

It’s a calm day. They say a storm is coming, but for now, the sky is cloudless. Dorsey holds the silence longer than necessary. He clasps his hands in front of him and his lips move as if in prayer. The guys start to get antsy. Vince clears his throat. Ron shifts from one foot to the other. It’s time to get on with it. Dorsey glances up, hands me the urn. I open it. The men look on as my father’s ashes blow away on the wind.

The burial is, I believe, what my father would have wanted. Short and sweet. No standing on ceremony. He is out on the water, the only place he ever seemed at peace. Dad always fidgeted like a schoolboy during Mass. We sat in the back so we could duck out before Communion. Dad claimed to hate the taste of the stale wafers and bad wine. Even then, I knew he was lying. He just didn’t want to confess.

After it’s over, Dorsey hands us each a Guinness and we toast. To the too-short life of Martin Daniel Flynn. Dad had just turned fifty-two when his motorcycle skidded off the Montauk Highway. It was two in the morning. I imagine he’d been drinking heavily, though no one dared say as much. No sense in pointing fingers now. According to Dorsey, Dad’s tires were worn, the road was wet, the fog clouded his visibility. End of story.

With these guys, what Dorsey says goes. Of the four, Dorsey went up the ranks the fastest. He got his gold shield first, then quickly pulled Dad and Ron Anastas out of plainclothes and put them into homicide. When he became chief of detectives, Dorsey made sure that Vince DaSilva got elevated to inspector of the Third. The Third Precinct of Suffolk County covers some of the island’s rougher parts: Bay Shore, Brentwood, Brightwaters, Islip. It’s where the four men spent their early years together as patrolmen. It’s also where my father met my mother, Marisol Reyes Flynn. Dad always called the Third a war zone. For him especially, it was.

Dorsey and Dad went way back. Our families have been in Suffolk County for three generations. Before that, we hailed from Schull, a small village on Ireland’s rugged southwest coast. They used to joke that we were all probably related somewhere down the line. The men certainly looked it. Both were tall and dark-haired, with green eyes and sharp, inquisitive faces. My father wore his hair in a military crop his whole life. Dorsey, over the years, has had a mustache, sideburns, a shag. But when Dorsey’s hair is short, as it is now, you might mistake him for my father from a distance.

We put out some lines and the guys tell stories about their early days in the Third Precinct. As plainclothes officers, they would show up to work wearing Vans and Led Zeppelin T-shirts. Glory days stuff. They didn’t shave. If they had too much to drink the night before, they didn’t shower. Just rolled out of bed and cruised around in unmarked beater cars, looking for trouble. They never had to look far. In the Third, gangs were—and are still—prevalent. Violent crime is high; drugs are everywhere. For all the wealth in Suffolk County, nearly half of the Third Precinct lives at or just above the poverty line. Dad used to say that there was no better training ground for a cop than the Third Precinct. Most of the top brass of the Suffolk County PD came up from the Third.

Dorsey remarks that Dad was the toughest cop in the Third, and the best teacher a young patrolman could ask for. The guys nod in ascent. Maybe that’s true. Dad had an unshakable, almost evangelical sense of right and wrong. But there were contradictions. He loathed drugs but felt comfortable pickling his liver in scotch. He routinely busted gamblers but hosted a monthly poker game that drew district attorneys and a few well-known judges from around the island. The criminals he most despised were abusers of women and children, but I once saw him strike my mother so hard across the face that a red outline of his hand was imprinted on her skin. Dad had his own code. I learned early not to second-guess it. At least, not out loud.

Dad’s was a rough sort of justice. He taught lessons you wouldn’t soon forget. Dorsey’s favorite story about Dad was the time he made Anastas lie down on a gurney under a sheet at the medical examiner’s office. There was a rookie fresh out of the academy named Rossi. His dad was a judge and Rossi thought that made him a big shot. He liked to wear designer clothes to work—Armani and Hugo Boss—and that rubbed Dad the wrong way. Dad took Rossi down to the ME’s and had him pull back the sheet. Anastas sat up screaming and Rossi pissed himself, all over his six-hundred-dollar pants. After that, he shopped at JCPenney like everybody else.

Dorsey’s told that story a hundred times, but he tells it again, and we all laugh like we’ve never heard it before. It feels good to remember my father as funny because he was, he really could be. He’d be quiet all night and then pipe up with one perfect, cutting remark. Dorsey and I exchange smiles. I nod, grateful. This is the way I want to remember Dad today. Not for his temper. Not for his sadness. And not for the alcohol, which had finally taken him out on a quiet stretch of wet highway in the early hours of the morning.

Eventually, the sun dips low on the horizon. The sky turns an electric plum-toned blue. Dorsey decides it is time to head home. We’re carrying well more than our quota of sea bass, but with three cops on board—especially these three cops, who, like my father, were all born and raised and will probably die inside county lines—no one’s going to say squat about fishing limits. These men, Dorsey especially, are the closest thing Hampton Bays has to hometown heroes.

The guys are good and sauced. They talk loudly and repeat themselves; they hug me hard in the parking lot, not once but twice, three times. Anastas invites me home for dinner. I beg off, saying I’m tired, I need some time alone to decompress. He seems relieved. Ron has a wife, Shelley, and three kids. He doesn’t need a dour-faced twenty-eight-year-old hanging around his house. DaSilva is in the middle of a divorce. My guess is he’ll head to a bar once we’re done here.

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