Joey Vennari was born in 1964 in Baltimore. His family would eventually move to Columbia, Maryland after opening a local pizza shop. I discovered Vennari's Pizza in high school, when many of my friends lived in Columbia. I can still remember seeing Joey in the shop--not necessarily working--but in the oblique sense of the word, that particular day he brought out a pizza to a table full of his buddies.
Making pizza in 1996 for friends.
We went to different high schools. By his teen years, Joey was an accomplished and titled golfer; I on the other hand was a choir and drama nerd, took ballet/tap and jazz--so in other words, I was a Gleek (a term that didn't exist then but is now part of our vernacular, thanks to a little TV show). While I was away at college my sister started talking about Joey's younger brother who was her age. They were friends, but as often happens in high school the lines blurred between liking and "liking"--although they never dated. I graduated from college as she entered, and our lives moved forward.
I met Joey in the winter of 1994, on the heels of my bitter and particularly acrimonious break up with a man 6 years my senior. I dated this person for 4 years, and in all honesty, it was 3 years too long. Hindsight has taught me that relationship held me in place and prepared me to meet, fall in love with, and eventually lose Joey.
Manteo, North Carolina, September 1994 celebrating Joey's 30th birthday
Of course at the time I met him I had no idea how life would unfold. I didn't fully understand what addiction meant, and certainly was not versed in the notion of multiple addictions. No one could have guided me away from the mistakes I made, the lessons I had to learn the hard way. There was no escaping the pain of watching him relapse and recover, only to watch the cycle repeat itself. Each time with a little more strength and desperation. Truth be told, the straight-laced me of the high school years would have rejected the notion that I ever would have fallen in love with someone who used drugs of any kind. Never say never.
Then I was introduced to Joey. And when two people are destined to be in each other's lives, regardless of the labels and the baggage and the heartache, they will be. Don't judge. We can not be sure where life's lessons reside.
November 1994, Camden Club in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey's favorite picture of us. Check out my super-short hair!
I wish that I had heeded the advice given to me by several people, including my therapist, to write in the days and weeks following Joey's death in May of 2002. I did try. The only thing I could manage to put on the paper was "I miss you." And I did. Beyond measure. I didn't sleep. Eating was something I actually had to remind myself to do, just like taking a shower and putting on shoes. Things were never, ever going to be the same.
"...we learned the lessons of grief, like music or medicine or art or parenting or marriage, must be lived fully to be understood. And so began our journey through the 'awful grace of God'. ...were it not for our friends and family--who flung themselves into the our brokeness, to hold our heads above the water--we may well have drowned in our sorrow." -Elizabeth Lesser
There are many stories I can and will share about Joey. Beyond the addictions, and the confounding behavior that accompanied his diseases was a beautiful soul. We loved to do ordinary things together--seeing movies, singing in the car, going to dinner, spending time with my family or his family. Hanging out with friends. Talking about anything. Reciting moving lines and challenging each other on song lyrics. Living with him was easy (unless the addictions were in high gear). I even liked to watch golf tournaments with him because he taught me about the game and didn't insist on watching every stroke. And I loved to be in the kitchen with him when he made pizza.
See below for links to previous posts about Joey. Our story, his story, will emerge over time. When I started this blog I believed it would be to write about him, and perhaps give hope to others. Somehow, each day, by helping a friend through a trying situation, that goal is accomplished. My journey Into the Country of Grief gives me a deep empathy for a variety of life's complications. I know Joey is happy that I share the part of me he so deeply loved with others. He would be simultaneously entertained by the cats. He loved animals. One of our last outings together was to the Baltimore Zoo....
There's no way to easily summarize my experiences with Joey. I hope that those who choose to read will find the goodness of his life. His request of me two months before he passed was to make sure that people didn't see him as "the guy who could have had so much," or really not to take pity on him. If telling any part of his story helps someone, then I'm answering that request.
Joey on the fishing boat, Wireless, Delaware Tuna Tournament, with Doug and Wade,1999. Not pictured: John G and John M.
Love everlasting doesn't need to be explained or described. I'll always love you, Joey V. I'm now in a place where I can be grateful for the time I shared together with you.
Previous Posts about Joey:
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Easy Does It
The Comedy and the Tragedy of Eleven
The Dirty Dozen