He squeezed her hand tightly as they walked hand in hand down the seawall on Ocean Road in Narragansett, RI. Matt Finnegan Jr (AKA Finn) looked out over the Atlantic ocean wondering how we would ever be able to explain to his parents that he wasn’t going to walk in his graduation ceremony on Saturday. As they approached the door to the Coast Guard House, a swanky oceanfront restaurant, Sarah Cohen looked reassuringly at her long time boyfriend as if to say everything will be OK, but she knew that wouldn’t be the case.
I guess it’s time to face the music” said Finn as he slowly pulled opened the massive gold inlaid oak door leading to the foyer of the restaurant, hoping his family would be late.
It was only four days ago that Finn and the class of 15’ had been living it up on a party boat in Narragansett Bay, one last booze cruise to cap off his four years at the University of RI. And what a four years they were.
A star baseball player who had a shot to be drafted, Finn was a big man on campus so to speak. That all changed on a cold April day game against UMASS when he blew out his knee. Finn played catcher threw right handed and was a switch hitter. The tragic injury occurred during a collision at home plate and sent his life spiraling out of control. More booze more girls, and less school that is until he met Sarah. He’d found something in her that gave him passion and drive again. He wasn’t able to put his finger on it but to paraphrase Jerry McGuire, she completed him.
As they reached the restaurant, Sarah stopped him with a stern look. “Maybe we should wait to tell them, I mean you saw something out there, something that you made you jump, do you know what or who it was?”
“It looked like body, floating face down, so I told Riggs to yell man overboard, grabbed a life ring and jumped in” said Finn.
Riggs, was Finn’s roommate and best friend since they were paired together freshman year in Coddington, a dorm tower dorm in what was affectionately referred to as the ghetto. They were both on the baseball team, both in the same fraternity, and dated roommates from the same house too. They both focused on business degrees in finance with dreams of working on Wall Street, almost as if they were twins sharing the same brain. They were inseparable.
“By the time I got there, there was nothing. I swam down about fifteen feet but the water was so murky I couldn’t see a thing.” said Finn.
As they opened the door, his family arrived at the restaurant and Finn was swarmed with hugs from his sisters; Jamie, who was 3 years older and now lived in Boston’s Back Bay working as a graphic designer for a marketing agency; Maggie, 1 and half years older who was in her last year of dental school at Tufts University; and Shea, 2 years younger and also attending the University of RI and studying pharmacy; along with his mother Janis a retired insurance agent and his father Sean a retired Army Lt Colonel and accountant.
Dinner did not go well, and that is putting it mildly. It started innocently enough with questions about senior week and his search for an apartment in New York City. Finn had taken a job with a big Wall Street firm in the bond analysis department and was moving to the city along with Riggs, to an apartment on the lower east side in a few weeks.
As the small talk concluded, Finn decided it was time to “face the music”. He swallowed the lump in his throat and began to speak.
“Everyone, I have some news” he began “last week during our booze cruise just out there past the breakwater I saw something floating.” Finn pointed out the window of the restaurant across the bay towards the Jamestown Bridge.
“What? What are you talking about questioned” Janis his mother.
“Well” Finn said as he again swallowed hard his face pale, eyes bulging, and heart nearly jumping out of his chest. “I saw someone or something in the water. It was just floating on the surface kinda like Jason Bourne was in the beginning of the movie.
“OK” said Sean his father, “what does that have to do with price of tea in China?” Sean was always using phrases like that to get to the point faster.
“Well, I yelled to the crew to stop the boat, but with the music blaring no one could hear me so I jumped in” said Finn. “As I swam 50 yards or so over the what I saw, it was gone”
“Are you taking drugs?” Sean said in a hushed tone as the rest of family looked on in astonishment.
“That’s not all.” said Finn, “Because I ruined the booze cruise, jumped off the boat and had to have the Coast Guard come out, President Carothers said I can’t walk tomorrow and that I’m not allowed on campus at all until after graduation”
An extremely awkward silence, more than the typical long pause in conversation engulfed the table. Sean sat at the head of the table peering through his glasses and steepling his fingers as he so often did during moments of tension. No one dared to utter a single syllable. What seemed like five minutes went by before the silence was broken by the waitress coming over to the table.
“Hi I’m Sam and I’ll be your server this evening” exclaimed the waitress, “are we in town for graduation this weekend?”
Finn spoke up first, “Hi Sam, can you give us a couple of minutes, we’re kinda in the middle of something.”
“Sure, I’ll just leave the wine and cocktail list here, wave when you’re ready.” She said
As everyone waited for Sean to speak the tension grew. Everyone at the table excluding Sarah knew that they had better not say anything. They’d seen their father angry before, they’d seen the forehead vein popping out of his head before. They knew the look of utter disappointment on Janis’ face.
Finally after a good four or five minutes Sean waved over the waitress and said “we’ll take that drink now.”
As they went around the table everyone ordered a beer, Mom had her customary madori sour and then came Dad. Dad wasn’t a big drinker, the occasional beer at a family function was usually the max he’d go to.
“I’ll have a Johnny Walker Blue neat and make it a double please.” he said as he leaned back in his chair, still thinking, still steepling his finger.
He looked at his wife of twenty seven years almost for an approval to proceed. He then began to speak, “Finn, how could you put yourself in this situation, this will surely affect your job Brigham Mather and Fien.”
But Dad I saw…, Finn tried to get a word in, Sean would have none of it. He continued “you’ve worked so hard to right the ship, and put yourself in a position for life long success and you threw it all away on stupid college stunt. This isn’t stealing a turkey sandwich, this is real life.”
Turkey sandwich referring to the time Finn and Riggs along with a couple other fraternity brother were arrested for breaking into the Elery dining hall after hours and after a thirty pack because they were hungry. In this case the judge took it easy on them ordering community service and that their records be expunged.
Sure he’d done some crazy stuff, stupid stuff, car surfing, turkey sandwiches, composite removal, a nice way to say stealing a sorority class picture, but it was all harmless in the end. This incident was not, it would definitely leave a black mark on his life.
His father continued to lecture him in front of the entire restaurant, “Finn, you can just continue to screw up and have it all work out, eventually it won’t. I’m not going to help you clean up this mess, you’re on your own this time Finn. I can pull strings when maritime officials are involved.”
Finn thought to himself when has he ever pulled strings for me, things just always seemed to workout in the end, and he thought there’s no reason why it wouldn’t this time. Sure he’d been plucked from fifty degree water by a Coast Guard cutter three days earlier, so what he had the best of intentions when he jumped in. He’d seen something, it wasn’t his imagination, there was something or someone in the water that night and he’d prove it.
As they ate, small conversations broke out around the table, with Finn’s sisters making plans to visit him over the summer in New York City, maybe around a Red Sox v Yankees series. Finn and Sarah planning a small getaway to Kennebunkport, ME. Sean and Janis struggling how to make Finn understand the consequences of his actions. What was to be a joyous occasion was anything but.
As they finished ordering dessert, Finn asked to switch seat with one of his sister so he could speak privately with his parents.
Finn began, “I know you’re disappointed and I can only tell you I truly believe I saw someone who needed help. I was taking any drugs, you know I don’t use them and I wasn’t drunk, maybe I had five beers.” I need to ask you for some advice, should I tell the firm?
“Well” Sean said, “I believe you should, as you’ll be studying for the series 7 and 63 and they will request a background check, it’s bound to come up.”
The series 7 and 63 are licenses to sell securities, and even though Finn would be working as an analyst and not selling them, the government required that he hold these licenses.
In a sheepish sort of way, uncommon for Finn, he ask, “Do you think they’ll rescind my offer?”
Janis piped up, “As long as you’re open and honest I think they will understand. You weren’t arrested and I’m sure the old boys club at the firm has done some pretty crazy things in there day too.”
As the finished dessert and drinks, Finn, Sarah and his sisters went up to the top deck to grab some drinks. Finally, Finn felt at ease, he’d been to this place so many times he’d lost count. As they walked in Riggs bounded over and asked “How’d it go?”
“Shitty” answered Finn, “they thought I was on drugs, doing something stupid, but there was something out there I’m sure of it.”