With conflicting emotions I read the obituary of Timothy Mulhern that a friend sent me. Tim Mulhern was a nemesis of mine from my childhood and teen years. I haven’t thought of him in a long time, but neither am I likely to ever forget him.
We went to the same elementary school, St. Mark’s, in Buffalo, NY, where his funeral was held. He came from a large family—ten kids! One of those enormous Buffalo Catholic families. It seemed there were Mulherns in every grade, and to me, they were all brutes.
I remember Tim as a solid, bull-like presence with a large square face who intimidated other kids and pushed them around. I was one of those other kids. I stayed out of his way as best I could.
We didn’t go to the same high school, and I didn’t see him much, although the Mulherns were always a presence in the neighborhood. Then one night I saw him at a bar, the Park Meadow, where all of us underage drinkers hung out the summer after graduating from high school. He was with one group and I was with another and we were outside the bar trying to get past the doorman with our fake IDs.
I’m not sure what happened next. It was so long ago. Suddenly there was a lot of pushing and yelling and the doorman shoved Tim Mulhern and he bashed into me. In the chaos happening around me, I felt threatened, but I also sensed an opportunity.
Tim Mulhern had struck me even though he hadn’t been targeting me. But I targeted him. He was off balance and I threw the best punch I could muster and connected with the side of his head and he went down. The doorman saw it happen and he yelled at me I was going to get myself killed. He grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the fray.
I walked to the parking lot behind the convenience store on the next block. I was alone and I stood and caught my breath. I was both elated and horrified. I don’t know why I hit Tim. I never got into fights. I wasn’t a pugilistic type. It had to be a need for some type of vengeance on previous wrongs.
And then three other guys walked into the parking lot. They were guys that were with Tim. I knew one of them from St. Mark’s. He was another Tim-like character. They said look who’s here. I realized then I was going to get my ass kicked, three against one, but for some reason one of those guys said, Come on, let’s get out of here. And they kept going.
Later that summer I ran into Tim Mulhern in the Park Meadow again. This time I was inside, sitting at the bar with my friend. We’d brought submarine sandwiches in and were eating and having a beer. Tim came up to the bar, grabbed a sandwich, and dropped it on the floor. I said something lame, maybe to buy time or sow confusion: “That’s not even my sub.” He had grabbed my friend’s wrapper by mistake.
Tim puffed out his chest and I knew the time had come. I stood up. I felt as ready as I could be. I’d grown some in the last year or so. I was bigger than Tim. I had shoulders from rowing crew and working out. I had my father’s height.
I clenched my fists and waited. He didn’t look as ready to fight as he did a moment ago.
Before anything could happen, the doorman—the same one as last time—saw us facing off and got between us. Tim left the bar. I hung around for a bit. I never saw him again.
Now he’s dead. I don’t know if Tim remembered me or any of these events. I don’t know if I had a place in his personal history the way he did in mine. He grew up. He had a family, six kids of his own.
Rest in peace, Tim. A memory of you lives on, for as long as I’m alive.