We were crunched for time and headed out early, as Saturday would begin with a 6-hour drive. The goal was to make it to Columbus not only in time for the traditional pre-game festivities, but also to see my sister who was in the hospital at Ohio State. If we were pressed for time and thought we would miss kick-off then we would try to see my sister after the game or when I was back in Ohio another time. Another time would surely present itself as we were young and there was no reason to think otherwise, so we drove and would make a game time decision.
Originally our plan was to see Ohio State play Bowling Green in the afternoon and then race to Athens to see Ohio University play that night. Ohio University changed the start time of their game – dashing our hopes for what would become known as the “elusive double.” For now, we would settle on seeing our Buckeyes play and head back south.
We made it to Columbus in time to see my sister. We walked into the hospital at the Ohio State University in full scarlet and gray regalia – when you are seeing your hometown team, you do not mess around and have one guy wear the other team’s hat as at neutral games – and the woman at the front desk without a hint of irony asked us who we were rooting for. I smiled at Ronnie and we chalked it up to her being another Character we would meet on The Trip.
I didn’t know it, but it was going to be the last time I saw my sister (she died from a brain aneurism a week later). There are times in your life when you wish you could hold on for just a bit longer. I hugged her and it seemed like the right amount of time, but maybe holding on one more second may have been more right. You never know. She was done holding on though. She had held on and fought with every ounce of her being for 18 years and a week after this visit, she couldn’t hold on any longer. (For insight on a life not fully lived, check out my eulogy for her below.)
What I have learned in the time since Melissa died is that time is all we have. Every moment is precious. If I had not come up with this crazy Trip or the idea to see all of these teams, I would not have seen her before she died. It is easy to sit on the couch and watch football on a Saturday. It is more fun and more rewarding however to get off the couch, and feel the rush of energy when you are truly pursuing something worthwhile. These trips not only occupy 4 days during the fall, but also year-round when conversations, stories and planning happen. Having a passion or hobby and the pursuit thereof, makes the living worthwhile. College football sounds meaningless to some, but to me it brings energy and excitement.
The last time Ohio State lost to another team from Ohio was 1921 when they lost to Oberlin College. We did not think that this game was going to break an 85 year-old streak, but there is nothing that compares to game day at Ohio Stadium. We made it over to the parking lot to meet some friends and see the line at the Varsity Club. They do more business on 6 home Saturdays than the rest of the year combined. http://www.myvarsityclub.com/. As one would expect, Ohio State made efficient, quick-work out of the Falcons. I always enjoy a Buckeye win no matter the opponent so it was a good day. (http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=262800194) I like to think that Kyle (day-2-winston-salem-to-nashville) had a good day too. As the crowd turned into a frenzied mass cheering on the band as they entered the stadium, I dialed Kyle’s number and held up the phone so he cold hear the noise of a Big Ten stadium. Kyle, if you are out there, I hope you got what you needed from that brief bit of white noise at the other end of the line. Keep dreaming big and keep painting yourself blue.
That game also started an incredible run for us on The Trip. We didn’t know it, but we saw a Heisman Trophy winner and BCS Championship game participant that day. On our 5 The Trips, we have seen 3 Heisman winners and 4 BCS Championship game participants (3 winners). IN addition we have seen 4 other BCS Bowl participants and tons of individual player award winners.
After the game we got in the car and hit BW3. This is an Ohio staple that has grown into a national chain. In college I lived equidistant to their two campus locations and frequented them both often. On Tuesdays they always had a 10 cent Wing promotion and sometimes, wings were my lunch and dinner on Tuesday nights. We were just getting started on laying the groundwork for lots of eating on future travels. After some tasty wings and flavors and smells that reminded of more carefree days, we headed back south.
We were disappointed that the Ohio University game was moved to earlier un the day, our one game per day pace was too slow. We needed more football, but we would have to wait. Our next game was tomorrow in North Carolina and we were in Ohio. (I think we should get a map and a compass before planning another adventure like this.) It got dark quickly and we were on long stretches of highway with no lights other than our own headlights. Given the desolation, we thought it would be a no-brainer to find a motel for the night. After several hours of driving and being turned away from at least 5 roadside hotels I was starting to feel like Ronnie and I were a young black couple in the Jim Crow south. Every time I walked up to a hotel, I could see the sign change from “Vacancy” to “No Vacancy.”
At some point after midnight we arrived at a Holiday Inn Express near Roanoke, VA. Did we really start the day in Nashville, drive to Columbus watch some football then end up in Roanoke, VA? Yep. Had to, more BBQ and football was on tap for Sunday. Sleep sounded good.
My Eulogy for Melissa:
Melissa and I were 11 months apart. Once, we were asked by an adult how old were. On cue, without looking at each other, we responded in unison with a sing-songy tone “12.”
Every August, we were the same age. During that month each year, I looked forward to getting on the phone with Melissa and reliving that moment with our current age inserted. No matter her state of mind, I could see her huge toothy smile through the phone. Her laughter, although it wasn’t heard enough, was infectious and came from such a genuine place inside of her.
When Melissa was on my mind a lot for one reason or another, I would have dreams where we missed the call, but I would wake up feeling relieved that it was only a dream and Melissa and I would laugh about it.
This year, for the first time in 25 years, we didn’t have that conversation. I have felt somewhat empty ever since.
I saw her last Saturday in the hospital, she was both feeling and looking great, and we laughed about missing the call. Without saying so we gave each other a look like we both knew that we wouldn’t let it happen again. Sadly, now it won’t.
That somewhat empty feeling I had will stay with me forever, but luckily so will the laugh and smile we shared about it last week.
Great memories from our youth are plentiful: from coloring on the walls in our blue basement to playing on the same little league team to our walks together in more recently. This time of year brings strong recollections of going apple picking, one of our favorite family activities and we spoke of it often.
At summer camp we would take care of each other and as counselors, sometimes spent our nights off together. As an athlete she was without peer, excelling at a variety of sports but never focusing on one enough to play at a higher level. This didn’t bother her at all. Her very last game as a little leaguer she took the mound for the Braves and pitched. She didn’t think it was odd that a girl was pitching, she just went out and pitched. Last Thursday, she even played my dad in Basketball and whipped him in HORSE.
Occasionally in high school, I would go and watch her basketball practice and even referee their scrimmages. No one hustled more than she did. I don’t think the varsity won more than 6 games in all 4 years she was on the team but she never complained and the camaraderie that she shared on these teams was something that meant a great deal to her. A favorite memory of mine was the walk with my family through the Academy after my baseball games down to the track to see Melissa grind out another run.
Her varied interests included all of these sports, plus animals, yoga, piano and a ridiculous ability to learn languages. This skill made her a tough scrabble foe and the word scrambles in the paper were no match for her.
Few people in this world are capable of handling a situation like this. The emotional and physical strain that this has caused my family has been tremendous.
Mom, how you managed to keep it together for so long is both unimaginable and inspiring at the same time. Your dedication to Melissa’s care and lifestyle while wrangling dad, being a successful professional, mother to me and loving grandmother; sets an example that others should emulate.
When traveling to see Melissa you even learned how to stay in crappy hotels you brought your own sheets, but you were a trooper.
I cannot think of a time over the past 37 years with whatever chaos was occurring that the dinner plates didn’t hit the table at the appropriate hour. I hope that even in the face of Melissa’s death you will celebrate her life by now taking care of yourself. No one deserves it more.
Dad I hope that you, too, are able to regain that twinkle in your eyes that you used to have. I know that Melissa’s situation has forced you to internalize a lot and I look forward to walking into the house again and hearing you humming or singing. It has been far too long. You have always managed to find the bright side of things and I hope that you can retain that perspective in spite of this.
Grandma, Since I remember you giving us baths together as kids, you have been so supportive of Melissa You were her rock and provided a true sense of consistency in her world. She got such pleasure from her time with you and cherished the weeks she spent with you this spring.
Our extended family has been so helpful and supportive over the years. My parents and I feel blessed and loved. The community in Columbus has been remarkable and we are appreciative of all you have done and continue to do for us.
Missy, as she was known then was a good friend to have and she was universally liked. However, in the past several years she lacked the confidence and ability to maintain or make new friendships.
It is a shame that someone with so much to give was forced by her illness to take so much more than she could offer. Rest assured that this was not something that she would have chosen for herself. Proof of her giving until the very end; some of Melissa’s organs were donated.
We take great solace and pride in the fact that she was able to save other lives and give others experiences that she might not have been able to have herself.
Some of life’s simplest pleasures like picking up the phone and hearing an old friend’s voice, sharing a good meal or memorable experience were things that she appreciated, but were not part of her everyday life. It is a tragedy that she missed out on these things.
In my opinion, tragedy does not come in her death at such a young age, but rather that the world never got a chance to see her warmth, charm and intellect contribute to a society so in need of those qualities.
Thankfully, after so many years of internal struggle and torture, I am confident that Melissa has finally found peace.