I tell myself “There is a lot going on inside that needs to be sorted out, that needs to be clarified so you can put it on paper.” I open up Microsoft Word then look outside while it’s booting up. There are those new neighbors, I think. They’ve barely come around since moving in. I need to get a good look at them… Minutes later I’ve abandoned not just my computer but my entire office and idea. I never made it outside to spy on the neighbors either, by the way. I stopped to watch The People’s Court. I do this several times a day.
On May 20th, I again think I am ready to sit down and spend some time with myself. Why today? I think. I don’t know. It feels right. I am hoping that what has been needed is for my thoughts work themselves out, run rampant until in my head they were ready to curl up and let me soothe and caress them. Today is the nexus of my mental processing. Then I realize it’s been exactly a year since his South Carolina memorial and I know I’m not as complicated as I think I am, as I feel inside. I sigh. Today I have to write.
Last week I went on a voyage back to Colorado to give away the first scholarships from his memorial fund. It was an emotional trip that, I thought, was supposed to crescendo in another public homage to my father and the legacy he left. I flew in to Denver a day in advance. Troy picked me up from the airport and we drove straight to Cory’s house so I could meet his new girlfriend. The four of us eventually went for sushi and then the boys dropped me off at mom’s house when we were done.
Somewhere between that point and the morning I got violently sick. Sadistically sick, like a demon was imbedded in my torso with the explicit instructions to expel all visitors, bar none. A steady parade of trips to the bathroom ensued, along with sweats, chills and a relentless headache. Never have I been sick like that. I was even doing an interview with a woman on the phone and literally had to hit mute at one point to vomit in the sink. Yeah, take it in. YEAH. Since I never get sick like that – ever – it was easy to blame the fish from the night before. Problem was, everyone else was fine and we all ate the same things. Then I remembered, all three of my girls had been sick within the last ten days…vomiting, exhaustion, fevers…yep. I’d been right about that little demon; like a railroad vagabond he’d jumped off of one of them and hitched a ride to Colorado courtesy of yours truly. Ugh.
Normally I’d be fine being sick at my mom’s house and letting her take care of me (which she did, by the way.) The problem was that I was in Denver to take care of business. I had to present something…in front of a lot of people. I had to speak. I had to be on. Fortunately I got lucky and the the plague gently passed like a summer thunderstorm and though I would still deal with some of the wreckage for a few more days, by the next morning I was on the mend.
On the day of the scholarship presentation I headed over to the school early so I could ‘accidentally’ run into some of the organizers of the awards assembly. It was easy, actually. I just sauntered into the office and ran smack into a woman that was both on the scholarship committee and at Northglenn twenty years ago when I was a student. We chatted for a few minutes and then she introduced me to the guy who was actually coordinating the assembly. “You’re early!” he said…sheepishly. I assured him I wasn’t there to hang out and just wanted to make sure I had the time right and knew where I was going.
A few minutes later I was giving myself a tour of a school I barely recognized. They’ve added on to Northglenn, changed the insides some. My dad’s famed office is now a conference room. I got the impression that the logistics probably made a lot more sense now, but still, I was a little melancholy about all my memories being permanent archives now. After walking around for a bit, I went back home. It was time to get myself together.
In thinking about my comments, I had a tough time identifying how much I should share about my dad with people who really would have no frame of reference for him whatsoever. These would be kids, bored from an assembly, eager to be done with school for the year. Maybe make it funny then, I thought. Talk about some of the more famous Bob stories. Talk about the piranhas in his office. I went back and forth inside my head. How long would I need? Five minutes? No one had explicitly told me how long I would get, but in my head I could do whatever I wanted. I was coming with cash and therefore was completely justified in commandeering two minutes, five minutes…whatever I wanted, really. (Note: in writing that last sentence I was struck by how political that sounded and by how much I hate pay-to-play dynamics…)
When I arrived for the ceremony the gym looked like I hoped/expected: set up for a big audience. Northglenn is a big school and they had the bleachers pulled down on both sides of the gym and the floor covered with chairs. Perfect, I thought. My dad deserves this. I had my talking points ready. I felt ready. I could feel my dad watching. My family was in the bleachers. Perfect. Then…things took a turn.
While I was going over my comments in my head, it dawned on me that I had only read the names of the two kids getting awards. I had never said them. I went up to the man in charge because I wanted to make sure I was correctly pronouncing the name of each of the two students I’d be presenting the scholarship too. “Oh don’t worry,” he told me. “You won’t need to speak. We’ve got that handled.”
What the fuck?
He turned away quickly and kept on with whatever he was doing. I looked around the gym, which was nearly full at this point. Then I looked at the program. It was a full page. Then I turned it over. Full on the other side too. I counted how many separate awards there were. More than 60. Some of the awards were for multiple kids. I counted the kids too. More than 100. Feeling awkward, I made my way to the seat they’d designated for me, looking up at my mom and Kathy and smiling sheepishly. I knew they were expecting something different too. More people filed in and soon the gym was full. The teachers in charge of the event were jumping around, making sure they had the awards in the right places.
About 30 minutes later I was called upon to present the plaques to the two kids we were giving money to. Even though nothing more than an efficient hand shake was expected, I took extra time to whisper in their ears that we’d be keeping tabs on them. I figured…what were they going to do? In all, the handoff took about half a minute. I had another couple minutes after the assembly to talk to the kids but then that was it. That was all. That was everything I came to do. And it was over. It was time for me to leave. I’ve felt conflicted about the whole event ever since. Positive, but conflicted.
Today I understand that in no small way I was being a little narcissistic about the whole thing. I went to Northglenn decades ago. My dad retired in the 90’s. During that time the city of Northglenn and in particular the areas that feed students into the school have undergone seismic shifts in socioeconomics & demographics; the students of Northglenn today in no way resemble the students from when my dad and I were there. I’m not qualifying either. I’m just saying the place is very different. The issues that staff deal with are naturally very different now than they were 25 years ago, too.
I had assumed that, similar to his Memorial last year, today would be another anthemic celebration of his life. I pictured a captive student audience learning about this larger-than-life figure that defined Northglenn High school for three decades and teachers blotting their eyes as memories from days gone by were reopened and activated in real time. And I imagined the feelings I would have inside…the unprecedented sense of vindication and accomplishment that my father would channel through me. I wanted that feeling again.
I’m still dealing with his death. I’ll probably always be dealing with it. Sometimes I do better, sometimes I do worse. There isn’t a day – probably an hour – that I don’t think about him. The scholarship ceremony didn’t work out the way I hoped, which isn’t to say it wasn’t everything it should have been. But you know what? The way it happened was right. It shouldn’t be about a showcase showdown. It shouldn’t be about me delivering some show-stopping tribute to my father. That was his eulogy and it was fantastic and it is over. Now it should be about longevity, a deliberate mechanism to use my father’s legacy in a way that facilitates opportunities for others. My dad is gone. His legacy lives inside me and will touch whatever I point it towards.
After writing this I feel barely mature enough to understand and be ok with my week. This is about these kids, I am thinking.
I love you dad.