Life sure has its ways of throwing you a curve ball when you least expect it. My curve ball hit me on February 10, 2016. Hearing from two navy sailors at 5:30 in the afternoon, that my son had passed away some 12 hours earlier was a turn of events that I had never imagined in my wildest dreams. I had just texted you the night before….Our last text occurring somewhere around 11:00. If only I had known….maybe I could have done something differently…..what, I’m not sure, because we were on opposite ends of the US. But that curve ball both haunts me and makes me think of your love for sports.
Baseball…I think was your favorite sport to play. You enjoyed the camaraderie and the social aspect of being on at team…sometimes, I think more than actually playing the sport. As far as the drive to play, sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t…but when it was there, you was so very good at it. I used to love watching you help make double plays, sliding into base, and catching the pop flies that looked uncatchable. The one game that stands out in my mind the most is the Halloween tournament you played in when you were about 10 or 11. I will never forget it…the other team was at bat…with 2 outs. All they needed was to get a hit and run some players in and that would be ball game. The ball was pitched and it was a line drive…straight to you. It was almost like it happened in slow motion for me…the anticipation of wondering, “Could he catch it?” The ball was over your head, but you jumped to get it…AND you CAUGHT it! Oh, I remember that proud momma moment knowing that it was my son that ended the game and helped his team to win that tournament. I still have that trophy in your box of memorobelia…that I had planned on giving to you when you got a place of your own.
Your love of sports didn’t stop there. I remember basketball being another of your favorites to play and to watch. As any mother, watching your child run up and down the court, waiting to see if they will get the ball…watching them scramble for a loose ball…or to watch them get in the middle of the lane and fight over a rebound…it ties your stomach in knots. Just as in baseball, there were times that you were a real go getter and then there were times that you just weren’t “on your game”. But when someone told you what to do on the court…you did it. The game that comes to mind here, is when you were playing for West Buncombe and your team was playing Emma on our home court. Their center was the tallest kid on the court, and their game plan, in every single game, was to give him the ball…and naturally he would score because no one could stop him once he got the ball. He would score almost every time he touched the ball. So, your coach decided to put you in, a much shorter player, to play defense against this giant. I remember her telling you….”You go EVERYWHERE with him…don’t let him out of your sight….stick to him like white on rice.” And you did exactly that. You stuck to that boy every way he turned…if he moved left…you moved left….if he moved right…you moved right. Whatever he tried to do to shake your defense didn’t work…you were there like white on rice. Basically, you shut him down that game…he became so frustrated that he couldn’t get the ball that you took him out of his game…and your team won that day. What great memories I have of those days.
Football was your least favorite to play….but I think it was one of your favorite sports to watch. I’ll NEVER forget the year that Appalachian State beat Michigan in the opening game of the season…YOU were ecstatic. I learned to like football and I can remember you and I having many conversations over which teams were playing and which teams were winning. I remember that we would text to see which game the other was watching…and we would talk through text about what was happening. I can remember getting texts saying, “Did you see that play?”, “TOUCHDOWWWWN!” Those are great memories to hold, but I’m not sure that sports will hold the same meaning for me this year as they have in the past.
When you were younger, March Madness was our favorite time of year. We would make sure to get home in time to watch those most important games….or even those that weren’t so important. But, we always made time for watching Duke play…especially if it were Duke and Carolina playing. Oh the memories that flood my mind…You would get so upset if the refs didn’t call something right…or if, unfortunately Duke lost. You would carry that defeat for a day or so, because you knew what the torment would be like at school the next day. Watching basketball was just something we did together….and after your death in February, March Madness was just around the corner. I couldn’t bear to watch any of the tournaments, much less to even see a game on TV. I would change the channel as quickly as I could if I came upon a game while channel surfing. And I’m not sure that I will be able to watch any of it this year. I’m not even sure that I’ll be able to watch football this year, because we were always calling or texting about what was happening in the biggest game of that week.
Your love of sports was more a love of watching the games, but your knowledge of sports trivia always amazed me. You could tell anyone anything about ANY sport. We used to call you the sports guru, because you could answer any question that would stump everyone else. I guess some of that comes from the fact that you watched ESPN and Sports Center every morning before school. You became an expert in the area of sports trivia and I would have put you up against anyone to answer any question that caused controversy in the house. You knew your stuff and you knew it well.
I love remembering these happier times, but they also bring with it that turn in my life that is still hard for me to accept. It’s that curve ball that crossed my plate in February…and it sucked me in relentlessly. It was almost like when that ball passed the plate, it grabbed hold of me and it spun me uncontrollably in a continuous series of spins. Those have left me in an unbalanced state and stumbling for clarity. They have also landed me in a new world…one that is so foreign to me…one in which I feel lost and alone. Often times, I feel completely alone in my thoughts….alone in that I feel no one else is thinking or does think of you. Alone…because of your hole in my heart. Alone…because the world continues on, but mine has stopped in its tracks. Alone….because I can’t talk to you or see you. Alone…because I feel your absence. Alone….because I have to wear a mask on a daily basis that all is ok…when it really isn’t ok.
But as I was talking with a friend the other day, he said to me…”Jesus is in our thoughts too…so you really aren’t alone. He’s there with you too.” Wow…my friend was right. I hadn’t thought about that much, but when I began to look back on all the times when I was “alone” with my thoughts, I remembered how many times I had, in those thoughts, talked to Him…even if it was just a few words. And that thought, brought me some comfort. He is always faithful and IS always there, even if we don’t feel Him, because sometimes our circumstances and our feelings take over our mind and stifle that knowledge and the feeling that He is there. So, I am trying to remember that when I feel alone…I’m really not….He is there, just waiting on me to call out. And He was there when Aaron, called out to Him. I saw that change in my son in the last few weeks of his life and I’m so thankful that saw that change. That change let’s me know that I will see Aaron again someday.
So, as the spins from the curve ball surge and slow, I think of you and your love of sports, people, and nature….and I smile (and still cry). I smile because of the hope and cry because even in the hope, I still miss your presence. It’s a curve that I will continue to roll and spin for the rest of my life…and I will continually learn to how to manage life in the curve.
To all of my friends that have suffered the loss of a child…I dedicate this to you. This type of curve ball that has been thrown into our lives is devastating and life changing. I admire each and everyone of you, because their loss is a battle we fight every single day of our lives.