By now everyone knows that Noah was a drummer. But what you may not know is that Noah was also an athlete. When he was younger, he was a Little League pitcher, he was pretty decent at basketball (with his giant hands and ridiculous height), he even played tackle football one year. Definitely not his thing, football. In high school, we encouraged Noah to take up a sport, which he did. While he didn’t play basketball his freshman year because of his class load, he chose to run cross country and track–he even ran hurdles. Imagine a baby giraffe trying to jump like a show horse. You get the idea. But he loved it, took it seriously, and was happy, which was all we could ask for.
Gav has always been the sports star in the family. He has more natural ability, with the exception of basketball skills. Gavin and dribbling just do not mix. Spring has always been lacrosse season for Gav, but he elected to take a year off and, much to our surprise, join the track team…to pole vault…and sprint. Didn’t see that one coming. But we love that he is putting himself out there and trying something new. He likes his teammates and coaches and is learning quickly. I’m sure some girl in short, track shorts is also involved, but I’ve not heard about her yet. Last week was Gav’s first meet, so naturally I went and was excited about it. But when I got to the stadium, I was not expecting it to take my breath away.
I saw the hurdles on the track as I started walking up the path behind the stadium, making my way to the pole vault pit and it hit me. This was my first time back in a stadium since the accident–much less at the boys’ school. I started to hyperventilate and felt the tears burning behind my sunglasses as I speed-walked up the hill. I had to stop off to the side and compose myself. In my head, I started talking to Noah:
I can do this. I’m here for Gav, but I forgot how much you loved this, too. I’m going to have to face this field and everything it meant to you–band, track, Maryland games. Oh, baby boy, I miss you. Help me through it. I’ve got this. Be here with me.
I kept walking and when the field came into view, there were all the memories. Noah. Hurdles. His 800 meter and 1600 meter runs. Band practice. Performances. Countless football games. His shako, plume, and drum sitting Noah-less on the field this year, as a tribute. Noah’s true passion and the place he felt most at home was right in front of me. I thought about how this should have been his year as the center snare. He’d worked so hard. How he should be here to graduate on that field. I just kept breathing, keeping my eyes fixed on the reason I was there. Gav and the pole vault. It was a crappy mix of emotions: the joy of watching Gav’s athleticism mixed with some of the most painful memories I’ve managed to avoid for nine. long. months. I felt guilty, selfish, and angry at myself for struggling to see past what we have lost and focus on what was right in front of me. But there I was in the stands, hiding the occasional well of tears behind my sunglasses while also cheering.
This isn’t the first time some everyday thing has been unexpectedly hard:
- Valentine’s Day–the one day a year I go ridiculously overboard with the boys
- Grocery stores, clothes shopping for Gavin, and anything else I used to do in twos
- Sets of four of anything
- Seeing every blue Carolla that crosses my path
- Dairy Queen–in general
- Leaving the company I have been with for six years to start a new job
- The thought of face-to-face interaction with people, daily, in a professional environment
And most unexpectedly, this nine-month mark. Maybe it’s because I carried him for nine months. He’s been gone for a gestational period. Maybe it’s because we are nearing his 18th birthday. Maybe it’s because we are that much closer to the year mark. Maybe it’s the change in weather. Maybe it’s because it’s a day that ends in Y. Who knows. All of the sudden it feels like everything is changing all at once. This led to a breakdown of epic proportions last week in the middle of the night. There we laid in the dark with a box of Kleenex, talking about love, loss, and taking steps forward. There’s no rhyme or reason to what and when things hit you hardest. I hate it.
When I think about the early days of grief, sitting on the floor in Costco crying because I didn’t have as much to buy, the gut punch I felt walking into Target and seeing all the back-to-school supplies or the long road home, I had a hard time recovering. Now, it’s a little easier for me to pick myself up, keep things in perspective, and remember that despite the bad, there is also good. I doubt I will ever walk into a stadium again and not look at the 50-yard line, wishing Noah would have had the chance to graduate, to be center snare, or maybe someday watch the Super Bowl with his dad. But Gavin will. We will revel in his success with a heart full of love and pride for everything he’s overcome. Even if, for him, that means being in a place where he feels confident enough to go out there and pole vault for the first. time. ever. What an amazing kid!