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The Learning 20’s

Very rarely am I sentimental and it’s even more rare that I celebrate. I describe myself to others as being “somewhere between two and eight on the emotion scale. Never too low, never too high.” I have always expressed reflection, however, and with an hour remaining before I turn 30 and my age ceases to begin with a 2, reflecting is what I’m doing. Every single important or monumental moment in my life except my birth, graduating high school, and learning what it means to love another person occurred in my twenties.

I didn’t celebrate turning 20 and saying goodbye to my teens. I didn’t celebrate turning 21 and being able to legally drink. I didn’t celebrate turning 25 and being “halfway to 30.” I aged, at least in my own head and heart, like nothing was different. I grew up in years but largely remained the same in belief and personality, with a few lessons learned with each passing year. I became legally licensed at 20, long after my friends and people I went to school with did. Growing up I never had the support of my parents and the ability to develop skills and have opportunities that others did. My household wasn’t one that promoted the flourishing of its young members. Only when I was able to get out into the world and have a family friend offer to teach me to drive on their time with their vehicle was I given such a chance.

I lost my grandmother in my twenties and although her memory is with me always and I carry it with me daily, I’d still give up most anything for one more cup of tea with her. My life had never been “rocked” at its core before, and with her passing a wrecking ball of emotion did major damage to my soul. Over time I’ve learned to accept her death and keep her memory and her words alive in all that I do, reciting back lines and lessons each day, but the hurt will never leave. It’s tough, to think of the person most important to you in life, one that molded you, protected you, and did their best to guide you and all of a sudden they’re gone. All you can do is put their teachings to use and be your best self. I’ve tried to do that and be the example for others that she was for me.

I became a father in my twenties and although not everything is the essence of a fairy tale, I wouldn’t trade my parenthood for anything. My children have always been a sanctuary for me and they are the only thing that makes me immune to bad moods. They make me laugh all the time, make me smile even when they’re not around, and they have no idea how thankful I am to be their father. They don’t know that when they fall asleep at night I kiss their foreheads and I smile to myself. I know that as they age they’ll encounter more and more of life’s problems, just as I have, and I hope I can guide them to the best of my abilities. If I’m lucky enough to live for another decade, they’ll be in their teenage years when I’m 40 and I’ll have ten more years of their impact on my life to look back on. I don’t describe many things with the word “blessing” but it seems fitting here that my children represent a blessing to me.

Ironically, I went to college to be a writer and after five years, I came home to a summer job in commercial construction and it’s been my career ever since. I’ve always been headstrong, passionate for the things I do, and had a do-it-myself attitude. At the age of 22 I became self-employed as a DBA and at 25 I opened my own LLC which remains in business to this day. The world of construction and building has always been around me. I remember being young, perhaps 13 or 14, and my father and uncle would bring me along as they set modular homes and would let me doing menial tasks such as hammering nails into deck boards. Even being around the trades all those years, I never developed a passion or an interest for construction. To me, it was something that my father and others did, but not me. That changed when I got that first commercial job, however, and I wanted to be the best I could be at it, in as many facets of it as I could. I was lucky enough to work for two companies early on whose owners were quality teachers and gave me opportunities to succeed and learn as much as I could handle. Construction has given me all that I have today and continues to provide a living for my family and for that I’m thankful as well.

After being alive for three full decades my focus now shifts to the next one. I am so very thankful to have lived for nearly 30 years and I think about that often. There are some that don’t get the opportunity to be alive for 30 minutes, 30 days, or 30 months and yet here I am and that brings me much gratitude. When I graduated high school I made one promise to myself: to be loyal to my health and fitness and to maintain it into my adult life and that I’ve done. Being able to join an adult baseball league and play against top players has been a dream come true, one that I didn’t get to pursue until I was 28. My twenties taught me patience, something I struggled with in my youth. They also taught me what’s important, what isn’t important, and how to live with accepting both.

Perhaps it’s my reflection or maybe I’m learning some sentiment, but I’ve been peeking over at the clock since I woke up this morning. I’ve been doing constant math in my head, counting how many hours I have remaining in my twenties. With each passing hour I’ve been reflecting, learning about myself, swimming in memories good and bad, and looking forward to what’s next. As the hour-glass runs out of sand on my third decade on this Earth I can’t help but imagine what the fourth will hold. Regardless, I’m happy with who I’ve been and who I’ve become the last 30 years. I hope I’m around for another 30.


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A Letter To My Teammates

Last Fall I typed a message in this very group detailing how I wanted to return to the Pirates for a 2nd season because we had “unfinished business” after losing a championship game. Tonight I type this message because I won’t be returning for a 3rd. While I have my reasons, I want to instead talk about the positives.

Years ago, maybe in 2012ish, I responded to an online post looking for baseball players and I met John Bates for the first time. From that season until last season I was unavailable to play for the Pirates. Landon and Savannah were born, my family expanded, and I didn’t have time for baseball. Before last season I reached out to John and told him I had time now and he welcomed me back with open arms. Without John I don’t throw a single pitch in the NABA and I don’t get to play competitive baseball in my late 20’s. John I’ll be grateful always for the opportunity.

Chris Federico: I’ve spent more time on a mound than I probably deserved to at times and that’s because of you. You’ve had faith in me from the beginning and gave me a longer leash than sometimes I deserved, and I’m forever thankful. All I’ve asked for is an opportunity and Chris gave me plenty of them.

Kevin Bohannon: The catcher I’ve always needed and my favorite Pirates catcher. Kevin caught some of my best games and I’ve always leaned on his ability to walk to the mound and calm me down, correct my issues, and get the best out of me. As a pitcher I couldn’t ask for more.

I’ll miss talking about score-keeping with Zachary Andrews, talking life with Al Christopher, Kyle Geysen, and Tommy Corcoran, thanking my lucky stars I’ve never had to face Abel Vargas on the mound, “doing it for the Robs” with Rob Blumenthal, and welcoming the constructive criticism from Abigail Canning.

I’m thankful for my time with the Pirates and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I got to throw the very first pitch of our baseball season and I got to throw the very last. I wasn’t always at my best, often underperformed to my standards, and wish I could have done so much more for us. I’m thankful for every catcher who called my games. I rarely shook off because I had confidence in the job you’d do. I’m thankful for every position player who played behind me and got outs for our team when I pitched and I’m sorry for the long innings you had to endure when I struggled. I take everything I do in life seriously. I joke around, sure, but when it comes time to “do a job,” as Victor Porro always says, I’m all business. I took that baseball every time I had to pitch and tried to do my best. I understood the magnitude of my job as your starting pitcher and I did my best for us every time out. There was never a game when I showed up and played half-assed or didn’t give my full effort. I’m thankful to have played on a team that had so much success because we all know most teams in our league don’t get such an opportunity. I’ve always been humble in life and I remain so as I type this. I’m thankful for the opportunity to put that #18 on every Sunday and play the game I’ve loved since I was very young.

To the returning players next season I wish you nothing but the best. To the young players on the team just know that you can’t fake effort. If you show up and give your all you’ll be rewarded with opportunities because someone will notice what you put in. I didn’t play baseball from age 20 to about 27-28 and I see some of you guys that have this chance at 19, 20, 21 and you’ve got so much time to play, make the most of that. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time with the Pirates it’s this: There are opportunities to be found on this roster. Thank you to all of my past teammates for making this experience an important one for me.


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I Voted For Hillary Clinton

Most people around election time don’t reveal who they voted for, I know plenty of people who don’t. “To each his own,” I always say. I have never been shy in discussing and or explaining what I believe in or stand for, and that is why I am revealing my choice. I’ll begin by saying, against the beliefs of some, voting for Hillary Clinton does not show a diminished education level, knowledge level, or response to current and past events. I know what both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand for, or at least I have tried to, and I spent the last two weeks really researching each candidate in depth using unbiased sources before choosing the person worthy of my vote. I learned long ago that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate, nor will there ever be a perfect candidate. When choosing between two things you’re putting your faith in which one gives you the best chance to succeed, and I thought Hillary did that for me. Regardless of the outcome of this election (still undecided as I write this) I stand by my vote 100%.

I registered to vote immediately after graduating high school in 2007 and I registered as an Independent. I did this for two main reasons: 1. I didn’t want to be solicited by Republicans or Democrats who come to your door or cold call your house looking for donations or votes. I wanted to be left alone to make the decision on my own without outside influence or pressure. 2. I don’t like labels, to some degree. Too often people who register as Democrat or Republican only vote that way because that’s what they are. When you tell someone you’re one or the other, they assume and make their own opinion based on stereotypical views of each party, and I can do without that. I like having the free-will to always start in the middle, as I always say. I think to view any election or decision you face in life, you have to start in the middle and weigh out all of the options. Not all candidates are good or bad, you have to decide based on a neutral observation, which is what I do.

When Donald Trump burst on to the political scene last year my first reaction was “Man, this guy has some balls, that’s what our country needs.” As time went on and I delved deeper into who Trump was, what he stood for, and listened to what came out of his mouth I learned that I could not vote for Donald Trump. Anyone who reads headlines or casually follows along knows the details. Trump often talks without thinking, as if he doesn’t know he’s on the largest of national stages. From labeling all Mexicans “rapists and killers” to denying that global warming exists to making claims that have no backbone, to me it was all rubbish. I watched the debates and in each one yelled at the television screen. Trump doesn’t answer questions with straight answers. Asked what he will do in certain situations he responds by bashing Obama, bashing Hillary, and going way off topic. You’re going to take away health insurance from millions of people and then what? Trump claims he will “abolish Obamacare” but has never once discussed what he plans to replace it with. He claims he will build this massive wall to keep immigrants out and Mexico will pay for it but exactly how? Will he use military force to threaten them? He plans to offer all of these great tax breaks but if you actually read into what he is proposing, all of the breaks benefit affluent families and rich business owners, not the “common folk.” On top if it all the guy disrespects pretty much everyone but white males, which is not alright with this white male.

In 5th grade my teacher had a two day debate, and it was boys against girls. I don’t remember the topic but it was something along the lines of who is better, who is more important, etc. For the entire first day I spoke for the guys and made some valid points, but the entire time I felt bad. The second day I switched to the girls team and when arguing, felt much more comfortable with the words I was saying. I’ve always been for women’s rights, equal pay for women, and above all else, respect for women. I listen to each candidate speak and I also see the way Trump acts and speaks about women and it disgusts me. As a father to a daughter, I don’t want to ever tell her when she grows up that I voted for a sexist pig who spoke openly about doing whatever he wanted to women without recourse. On the contrary, Hillary stands for much that I believe in, including looking for ways to use renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, equal rights for all, altering Obamacare to expand it to more individuals and families, and the continued work of Planned Parenthood. Trump either doesn’t believe those issues exist or flatly doesn’t care about them. Hillary will also continue many of Obama’s policies, many that I believe in and with a little tweaking can be improved. Lastly, in disagreeing with Trump, he’s not going to “Make America Great Again” for one simple reason: it’s been great. I once had a college professor ask my class: “Do you know why countries around the world hate the United States? Because we’re the greatest country in the world and they know it.” I couldn’t agree more and what’s really great about America is you can strive to be or do whatever you want to. So if you don’t like America as it is, you’re always free to go somewhere else and seek what it is you desire.

In parting I know I’ll be asked why I didn’t take a third road and vote for another candidate, and I think it’s a valid question, especially this year. Gary Johnson’s name makes its way through the headlines as he is this years Libertarian candidate and it seems that he has caught some steam in this election. That being said, I have very specific reasons why I didn’t vote for him and it starts with his economic ideas are wildly radical and quite honestly, irresponsible. Abolishing federal income taxes, cutting Medicare and Medicaid by 40%, banning federal bailouts of states, and a few others would not only trigger a recession, but also remove hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy. Government would be unable to stabilize business and millions of people would lose healthcare. I agree with his idea to cut spending, but you have to choose wisely where you are cutting it, you can’t just cut spending for the sake of cutting spending. Also, Johnson’s best work is done domestically. When it comes to foreign issues, he has stumbled many times even admitting he had no idea what important issues were. When you aren’t prepared to be president and you show up and have to discuss issues there’s nothing to hide behind, and it showed for Johnson. Like I said, I like some of his work, but as a whole, I don’t think he is presidential material. Additionally, until other parties are weighted equally in these elections, voting for them is pointless. I hear the argument of “Voting for Gary is voting for you” as if somehow Gary Johnson is this perfect candidate that everyone somehow missed on except millennials. He’s become the choice that allows you to get away with not saying you supported Trump or Clinton. I knew my vote was between Trump and Clinton because I was voting for the person I wanted to become president of the United States. I knew Gary Johnson wasn’t going to become president, you knew Gary Johnson wasn’t going to become president, and Gary Johnson knew he wasn’t going to become president. In a year that seemed prime for a third party candidate to do some real damage, the same old outcome will happen. As I said above, until it’s a true three party race, I can’t consider any other candidates.

I conclude in admitting that I have no idea how this election will end. The previous two elections I just felt that Obama would win, and this time I honestly wouldn’t be surprised with either result. Above all else, regardless of outcome I’m an American and I support our country, and I’ll hope that our new leader takes us in a direction of prosperity. I also stand by my decision to vote for Hillary Clinton and I would do so again if given the chance. I look all over social media and see Trump supporters out in droves, but very few Hillary supporters and often wonder why that is, because I know they exist. I’m also not affected by the opinions of those who voted in other directions. Anyone reading the headline of this piece knew my stance before they read one word of it and they knew how I voted. I’m sure some will disagree but that’s what makes this country so great isn’t it?

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November 9, 2016 · 8:00 am

There Goes My Hero


I don’t have many heroes and most of the ones I do have I have never met, and probably never will. I always tell people that there is no man on this planet that I would rather be than myself. My confidence in my choices, my beliefs, my abilities, my philosophies, and my lifestyle is extremely high and being Robert W. Bailey Jr. is pretty cool. I have, however, tried to emulate those whom I admire, trying to incorporate qualities of theirs that I treasure into my own life. After my late grandmother, I would say that I have mirrored Peyton Manning more than any other human being.

All day at work yesterday I knew that Peyton would hold a press conference to announce his retirement at 1:00 and I kept looking at the clock as time grew near. I reached a stopping point and brought up the live stream of the press conference on my cell phone and watched intently, allthewhile understanding the magnitude of what I was watching and listening to: my favorite football player would NEVER play football again. It is truly hard for me to deal with in the short term. As I watched that press conference I was genuinely sad and I’m not saying that to get attention or to be emotional, but to express my respect and reverence for a man who doesn’t even know who I am, but has impacted my life forever.

I grew up as a Broncos fan, and have loved them for  20+ years. My teams ran into Peyton’s Colts in the playoffs a few times, losing both games by a combined score of 90-34. Watching him play the quarterback position was something that intrigued me like nothing else in sports. The way he analyzed defenses play-by-play under a 40 second ticking play clock as time ran constantly, play after play after play. It always seemed like someone was wide open. He would audible to a run play when no one expected it and it would be as if the defensive line didn’t exist as the running back ran up the middle. His teams scored often and in bunches and won double digit games almost every season.

When franchises find their “guy” and establish a “franchise quarterback,” that guy rarely hits the open market. Franchise quarterbacks often extend their contracts and remain with their teams for 10-15 years, retiring with the team that drafted them. Needless to say I never expected Peyton to become a free agent but due to health issues and the Colts holding the number one selection in the upcoming NFL draft, they let him go. I remember texting Jim after hearing Peyton’s name linked to our Denver Broncos and saying “No way dude, this can’t be possible, we might sign him.” Days later, we had signed Peyton Manning to a 5 year, 96 million dollar deal. My favorite player, the guy I had admired for years, was the starting quarterback for my favorite football team.

For the next four years, Peyton took my Broncos to a new level, a level that no other team in the history of the game has reached offensively. He set personal, all-time, and team scoring, passing yards, and passing touchdown records. He threw for 55 touchdown passes and threw for 5,477 yards in 2013, both single season records. The Broncos scored 606 points as a team, also a record. We reached the Super Bowl twice, losing Super Bowl 48 and winning Super Bowl 50 as an underdog. The “Peyton Years” will go down as some of my best football memories as a fan.

I’ll remember Peyton as being second to none in preparation, my favorite attribute of his and the one I try to copy the most. Peyton taught me that with proper research and preparing, you can put yourself in a better position to be successful. I have spent countless nights up late drawing up playbooks and calling my teammates and going over routes, schemes, match-ups, and situations. Peyton taught me to be humble and not parade my own accomplishments. He taught me to remain in the moment and not get too far ahead of myself. He taught me to take my job seriously, but also enjoy doing it. I learned to stand out by watching him in action. Finally, Peyton taught me to be a leader. Anyone in a group or on a team can be the loudest, the cockiest, the biggest, the strongest, but only some can lead. It takes more to be a leader. You need to be able to collect multiple personalities and egos and put them together while trying to be successful as a unit. On all of my sports teams I have tried to do just that for my team, sometimes we have conquered, sometimes we haven’t, but leading is a quality that remains always, and I’ll have it forever because of Peyton.

The last piece of Peyton Manning that will remain with me is the number 18. I have worn #18 since I was in high school no matter the team or sport. Dodgeball, baseball, softball, etc., the number 18 has always been on the back of my jersey. I own two Peyton Manning Denver Broncos jerseys and wore both of them for this past playoff run, knowing it could be the last time I wore his jersey. Wearing that number is representative of all that Peyton stands for and I’ll value it and his individual qualities for the rest of my life. I’ll value the touchdown passes, the audibles, the smiles, the press conferences, the analysis, yelling and high-fiving my girlfriend’s father when the Broncos scored a defensive touchdown in Super Bowl 50, the “Omaha”‘s, the praise from his teammates, debating his legacy with friends and others, and so much more. I want to thank Peyton for choosing to play for my favorite team and giving me four wonderful years as a fan.

Next season will feel awkward for me, but even more sad. For the first time in 18+ years, Peyton Manning will not be on an NFL team. Fathom that.


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Death…Then What..?

Last Friday I went to the movies with my brother Ray and we saw “Furious 7.” We had seen the previous six movies, including the last two in theaters together, so it was only tradition to watch this one. Only this movie felt different, because you were watching someone act in the film that was no longer with us, that no longer breathed air on this Earth. Since that movie my mind has been racing, as it often does. I’ve been thinking about death.

I used to always be able to say that death had never really interfered with my life, and for years I was absolutely right. The only real close person to me that had passed away was Clayton’s uncle Dave, who I had worked with and I knew on a first name basis. I was sad, mainly for Clayton because they were close, but I was alright. My grandmother passing away changed this outlook for me, and it has largely remained the same since then.

I remember being young (between 5-10) and I would wake up in the morning before everyone else in my house and think about things. Sometimes, for really no reason, I would think about life without my grandma, and I would cry to myself. I never spoke of these moments to anyone, choosing to keep them to myself (like most things). When the news finally came of her passing, my first response, however, was not to cry. I felt like a gallon jug of water that someone had punctured on the bottom, the water slowly running out of the jug until it was empty. I felt extreme sadness, while also feeling nothing. I spoke of this in my previous post so I am not going to detail it here, but death has touched my life now.

I think about it often, is death truly the end for a person? I am not spiritual or religious, so I suppose I don’t believe in Reincarnation or Heaven, but I think about how cool it would be if such a place exists. Everyone tells people that they will “see them again” when they die, but will they? Or do they just say this because it is the norm? I would like to think I will see my grandma again one day, to have another deep conversation with her, but what if our time together ended when she passed away?

To think about death is also to think about life. Science says that during the creating of a person, there are millions of sperm cells, each with its own DNA makeup. I think about how I was the one in the millions. I think about how I’m me and if my parents had any other child, what would they be like? Would they have habits that I don’t? Would they be similar to me, maybe a copy? I guess I obviously have no way of knowing.

I think that a person is afforded, if they are lucky enough to remain healthy for that long, perhaps 70-90 years alive. I think about how I can improve myself physically every day, to prevent the breaking down that will inevitably occur and to prolong my life as long as possible. I joke that I’ll never die, and who knows, maybe I won’t. I’m 26 going on forever, maybe. I think about life without me, how others will conduct themselves if I’m no longer around. I think about all of the random people I have ever helped in life, whom I have only encountered once, and never again. The man who had run out of gas down the street from the gas station who I pulled over for and helped push his car into the station. The girl at Oswego whose ID card I found on the campus grounds and sought out to return it to. The people whose lives may have been saved with the blood that I donated. None of them will know when I pass away, and don’t even know my identity. Will I see them “down the road” and be able to discuss with them how our lives crossed paths, if only for a moment?

I have a tattoo on my forearm, designed by my best friend Jim, that depicts an hourglass. In the bottom section of the hourglass, the space is roughly 3/4 full with sand. The sand is pouring through the middle and the top section is about 7/8 full. Every tattoo I have has a deep meaning, I don’t believe in random tattooing and I don’t believe in displaying something on my body or in my life that holds no meaning. This hourglass says “There’s always time.” It may be translated in any way you see fit. I like to think it relates to everything in life. No matter how hard life gets, or how many times you’ve fallen, or hurt someone, or been hurt, there’s always time to improve your circumstances or make progress for the positive. In terms of this piece, there’s always time as long as you live, I suppose. Since I have no idea of knowing what happens after you take your last breath, I don’t know if there is time to do anything when you’re gone. But as long as you’re “here” on Earth, moves can be made.

Whether you’re given 90 years or 15, a long prosperous life or a short, difficult one, I believe you make it yours. I was in church once and the pastor said that your time on Earth was a pit stop, asking the audience, “What matters more, your 90 years on this Earth, or eternity with God?” I was offended, because what kind of question is that? To me, if you believe in religion, that’s perfectly alright, but I don’t. I try not to take anything for granted, because I want to make my “90” years worthwhile. I want to have lived a life that impacted at least one other life. If someone can look back on my life and say “Rob influenced somebody, he made an impact on their life while he lived” then I will go feeling accomplished.

I believe that there is a way to live forever. You do it through the people you lived with and shared life with. My grandma hasn’t died because I keep her alive through memory and story. So long as I’m alive, and others who hold her dearly, she can never leave. You die when you’re forgotten by everyone.

Paul Walker passing made me think about death, but also about life. His tribute made me see that he isn’t dead, only gone.

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Bernita M. Bailey (9/8/1921-9/25/2012)

January 31st, 1989, sometime after 8:00 p.m., Sharon Hospital, Connecticut. I took my first breath of air on this planet that night, and I’ll have taken over 200,000,000 by Saturday, my 26th year of life.

September 25th, 2012, sometime shortly after 5:00 a.m., Sharon Hospital, Connecticut. My grandmother took her final breath on this planet that morning. She took over 700,000,000 breaths over her 91 years of life.

I’ve been lucky to have 26 healthy years, but I’ve been unlucky to have been plagued for the past 3+. I shared my time on this Earth with my grandmother for just under twenty-four years. I learned about life, listened before speaking, and grew up earlier than most. It’s taken me over three years to sit down now and tell her story, to sit down and tell our story. It won’t do her justice, or bring her back, nothing will, but I want to tell it.

My grandmother was always like a third parent to me. My parents would go to work or go out with friends and my two brothers, sister, and I would stay home with her. She was 68 years old when I was born, and 74 by the time my sister was born, but she was always up for the challenge. We lived in Pawling until I was four, moving to Dover Plains after that and living there for 13+ years until we were all older. When we moved, my grandmother came with us. She always lived with us, and I’m thankful for that. As I grew up, my relationship with my grandmother evolved, and she became my closest friend. We spoke for hours on end in the kitchen, from the time I was about ten until she passed. She liked to drink hot tea and eat toast, things that have become every day occurrences for me. We would talk about anything, the Yankees and Cowboys, which were her favorite sports teams, the weather, the neighbor’s antics, life. She taught me different card games and we would play them as we spoke. I look back and just remember asking her so many questions. I’ve always wanted to learn as much as possible, and I still do. I would listen to her speak, ask questions when I could, and take everything she said to heart. Sometimes we would be up until 11:00 at night or later just talking. She would fall asleep in the chair in our living room as I watched television so I would wait for her to wake up and keep talking more. Maybe she was annoyed with me sometimes, who knows.

As I entered high school we got closer. I would go to work with her over the summer in Pawling. She worked at the funeral home for years, and would take the train from Dover to Pawling and walk to the funeral home, which was probably a mile or so. I marveled at her ability to do this, and it was her routine year round, up until she was in her mid-80’s. One morning we couldn’t take the train because the lines were doing maintenance so they provided a bus instead. The bus didn’t stop at the train station though, instead making a different stop in town, so we walked to the funeral home from there. We were crossing this one intersection and my grandma (in her 80’s) tripped over a small pothole and fell to the ground, scraping her elbow. I immediately helped her up and we kept walking. She never let the small things affect her, life was too important and not worth “crying over spilt milk,” as she would often tell me.

Entering my junior year, talk of going to prom came up. I had a girlfriend at the time but the topic wasn’t urgent for us, so I didn’t really pay attention to it. A few weeks before the tickets went on sale, I asked her to prom and she said “yes.” I was excited and felt happy to be included in something that you get one chance at in your life, unless you go to prom with someone older or younger, but I don’t count that because it’s not your prom. I told my grandma and she was happy for me, as she always was, being my biggest supporter. She told me she would pay for it all, and didn’t hesitate in making that offer. She put me to work making the necessary phone calls to order my tuxedo and a corsage for Kayla. I was on the phone with the tuxedo rental company when my phone beeped to notify me that there was an incoming call. It was Kayla. She broke up with me during that phone call and I came back on the line with the salesman and said, “Never mind, my girlfriend just broke up with me, so I won’t be going to prom, thank you anyway sir.” My grandma said she would still pay for me to go, regardless of if it was alone or not, but I respectfully declined. I loved her kindness, and it’s one of the great traits I carry with me to this day. She went above and beyond for me and wanted nothing in return, and that to me is greatness.

I graduated high school on June 23rd, 2007. My parents were bringing my grandma to the ceremony and I was looking forward to it. I always wanted her to be at my functions. They had planned a graduation party for me at my house afterwards, so the day was shaping up to be a good one. I remember being in the first row and looking into the crowd, scanning to see where they were. When I located my parents I did not see my grandmother, wondering where she was. They told me after the ceremony was over that she was having issues with her hip, which hurt on occasion, and she didn’t want to slow them down with her walking, so she was waiting for me at home. I remember being sad in that moment, because I really wanted her to be there.

That graduation party is very memorable for me because someone there took a photo of my grandmother and I standing side by side outside in the yard. I believe this is the only photo of her and I taken in my adult life, all the rest are of me as a child. I have the only copy of that photo and it hangs above me on the visor of my truck, held there by a “Guardian Angel” visor clip that my grandmother gave me and made sure I always had in my car. It reads: “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” I didn’t know when she gave it to me that the guardian angel it refers to would be her in the future. To be honest I never pictured a day where I would have to exist without her. I still don’t, it’s difficult to grasp when I dwell on it.

I went away to college from 2009-2010, attending SUNY Oswego, which was about five hours from home, and when the car left my driveway I cried. I sat in the back seat and broke down to myself, because I would miss out on so many talks and moments with her. Upon arriving and moving in, and throughout the semester I made sure to call home often. My grandma and I spoke the longest out of everyone, that’s always how it was. I was glad to move back home after college and reclaim the moments I treasured most.

Life moves in mysterious ways and after a few years I was living on my own. I remained in contact with her and still visited on weekends often. I visited my parents house for my grandma’s 91st birthday on September 8th, 2012. It was crazy to me, 91 years I thought, and it was like she never changed. She was always the same person, physically and mentally. That night I showed up and my mom warned me that my grandma wasn’t herself, and was in poor health. I entered her room to find her laying in bed, very frail and weak. This wasn’t the person I knew, not by any means, and the transformation seemed like it had happened overnight. She could still speak and I made sure she knew I was there and wished her a happy birthday. Her spirits were high despite her physical condition. My mom told me later that night that on Monday, they would seek to get her some medical care, which they did.

My brother Ray and I went to the hospital that Monday, September 10th, to see how she was doing and learned she had a few minor issues and needed some intravenous fluids to get her back on her feet. She need nutrients that her diet didn’t give her and by mid-week when we visited again she was her old healthy self again. We brought her a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, which she loved, and we sat and laughed and talked with her for hours before leaving around 10:00 that night. The hospital told us that they would monitor her and think about releasing her shortly, perhaps during the following week, which made us happy.

I received phone call, I believe it was Thursday, September 20th or Friday the 21st from my aunt telling me that my grandmother had suffered from cardiac arrest and that she may not make it. I remember driving down route 9 in Wappingers, I had just left work and was driving at the time of the call, and I broke down in traffic. I remember it being bumper to bumper traffic and I was speeding and darting in and out of the lanes to get to her as fast as I could. I knew the drive was over an hour and I had one stop to make. I stopped at a red light and there was a young girl in her car in the next lane looking at me as I cried and I made eye contact with her, realizing she had noticed me but didn’t really care. I pulled into the car dealership that Ray worked at and with tears pouring from my eyes, told him what our aunt had told me, and told him to come to the hospital with me. He told me he couldn’t leave work so I went by myself. I got there to find her asleep in the hospital bed and the nurse asked me to sit in the waiting room for a second, she wanted to speak to me.

(I just found the actual date by looking at my Facebook wall to a post I wrote that day) It read: “September 21st: One doctor just spoke with me, telling me my grandmother is a strong woman. Her heart recovered and bounced back from cardiac arrest.” She went on to tell me while she had come out of it, if she slipped into cardiac arrest again, they may not be able to bring her back and would have to let her go. I remember saying out loud “I don’t want to hear this, I didn’t come here for that talk.” I went into her room and spoke to her some, finding it hard to find the words. I haven’t always been the best about opening up in person about my emotions, and this time was no different. I said “hello” and told her I wasn’t here to say goodbye to her, because she was going to beat this and walk out of that hospital one day soon. I thanked her for everything she had ever given me in life, the lessons, the hard talks, the knowledge, the love. This wasn’t an ordinary person in that hospital bed, to me this was my hero, and she was fighting, not giving up. I made it my goal to make sure my other siblings got to see her before she left, if in fact she was going to leave. My sister went with my parents that weekend and I brought my brother Matt with me to see her at the end of that weekend. I went back myself and fell asleep in the chair next to her bed. I felt that if I left, I would never see her again, so I spent every minute I could with her. I would speak to her sometimes and she would nod to me. She could hear me, but couldn’t say anything back. She was fighting.

I woke up on Tuesday, September 25th at a little past 5:00 in the morning to my phone ringing, it was my aunt calling. I didn’t pick up the phone. I had an idea as to why she might be calling, but refused to hear the words. The call ended and I laid there in bed, my mind was totally blank. My phone beeped to tell me I had a voicemail and I said “Nope, I’m not listening to it.” After another half hour or so I went out into the driveway and listened to the voicemail, and my worst fear became my reality. I still remember my aunt’s words as if they are being spoken to me now, “Your grandmother went into cardiac arrest this morning after 4:00 and they let her go.” I hung up and the burden of telling my family members was on me. I was the first one to know, and I didn’t break down in that moment, I had to hold it together for now. I called my parents’ house phone, and no one answered. I called my sister’s cell phone, no answer. I tried the house phone again, and my mother answered. I told her, and she began crying, she woke up my dad and brother Matt and told them. She said Megan had went to school and it would be best to tell her after she got out of school, so I agreed. Megan must have noticed the missed call shortly after because she texted me asking what was up, and I told her that I had something to tell her but wanted to wait until after school. She told me “Rob it’s ok to tell me now, I’ll be ok,” almost as if she knew, and she called me and I told her, both of us crying. One person remained, and I knew it was going to be the hardest discussion yet.

Since I had slept over Erin’s house that night, I still had to go home. I made arrangements to not work that day, drove home to where Ray and I lived, and just stood in the driveway for about three hours in a hoodie and jeans shooting a basketball through a hoop. I have no idea why I did this, and really didn’t put much thought into it other than doing it. My friend Joe, whose house it was, came outside and asked me what I was doing, I told him and he just left for work without asking me anything else. I finally went inside and sat on the couch for about twenty minutes, pondering how to tell Ray. Finally I walked down the hallway to his room, knocked on the door and said “Hey man, nan passed away shortly after 5:00 this morning” and walked back outside. Shortly after, Ray came out and left for work and we didn’t speak much that day. We’re much in the same, in times of crisis, we don’t say much.

It’s taken me over three years to write this, as I said earlier. I’ve drafted so many pieces in my head over those three years, never committing to put the thoughts into words. I didn’t know where to start. How do I write and accurately describe someone who meant more than words on a screen ever could? Why was she gone? Why did I feel as if it was a lie somehow? Many questions, hours of thought, no answers.

I always joke about never dying. People balk at it, because obviously no one lives forever. I beg to differ however, as I found my solution to that riddle at a very young age. You can only truly die if no one remembers you. Even if only one person carries your memory with them, you still exist. And to me, my grandma is still alive today, because even if everyone else forgot about her, I never could. I’ll write her story and have someone read it to me if I should be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease one day, because I love the story.

She will live on so long as I am physically alive, because in many ways, her personality and mine are parallel. I have so many traits now as a young adult that I look back and realize she had as well, the most important of which is altruism. By definition, altruism is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. It means that you are kind and generous to others always, without ever looking for or receiving compensation for your actions. It’s a marvelous trait, and one I’m glad she bestowed upon me. I have learned to ignore people, another very important one. In my younger days when someone was mouthing off to me I had the habit of wanting to say something back all the time. My grandma would take me aside and tell me “Robert just let them talk, don’t pay any mind to it, it’s not worth it.” I’ve dealt with much controversy using that line of thought. I wake up every day and look for purpose, choosing not to live a boring life. I surround myself with few people, because you can’t rely on everyone. I’m smart with my money, often frugal regardless of the amount in the bank. I believe in hard work, in doing the dishes every day, and in eating my vegetables. I “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” I drink hot tea all of the time, I enjoy the simple parts of life, such as birds chirping, and I never take anything for granted. Above all, I’m lucky to have shared this Earth with Bernita M. Bailey. That’s my proudest achievement.

My grandmother passed away almost 5 months to the day before my oldest son, Peyton, being born. She knew he was coming, but didn’t survive long enough to become a great-grandmother for the first time. She didn’t get to meet my two other children, Landon or Savannah either, and that makes me sad. I hope wherever her spirit lies, if she can look down on them now, she smiles at the sight of them. I hope she continues to lead me in some small way as I’ve always looked to her for guidance. And I hope she knows just how much I miss her every day, and can one day correct the battles I face within on a daily basis of the thought of her no longer being here.

My grandma and I had a tradition that developed when I was a child and continued into my twenties. Before I went to bed every night I would kiss her cheek and say four small phrases, in the same order every night:

“Goodnight, see you in the morning, I love you, sweet dreams.”

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Return (to the computer screen and the bike)

I often find that as my time is taken up with other things, it is my true passions that fall to the wayside. Writing has been a hobby of mine since my youth, and I always find myself stepping away from it for periods of time. I say I’ll be back, write more, post more, keep up on it, but I hardly ever keep my word. As I sat in front of the computer this evening, I saw my opportunity to open my life’s book again and add to its pages, so here I am. 

I want to fill sections of my life in that I normally write about, but have neglected to. I think I’ll start with my return to the bike marathon I began taking part in during my first year of college in 2007. This would be the marathon that I race in for charity, with the proceeds going to individuals with vision impairments who are in need of research, glasses, and other things related to that field. In 2007 I finished 5th out of 30, followed by a 2008 finish of 4th out of 20, which lead to a 2009 victory in a field of 28. From 2009-2011 I did not take part in the race and I had been missing it. After moving to Pleasant Valley, NY and into walking distance of where the race begins, I saw an opportunity to jump back into the race, and I did. 

I had a few weeks to prepare for the race but didn’t have a bike to use, a problem that was solved one day while I was at work. I had to run to the plumbing parts store to pick up some material and I passed a tag sale on the way. After noticing that it had a road bike for sale, I told myself that I would stop on the way back and purchase it, allthewhile hoping it would still be there. As it turns out, it was and for the small bargain price of ten dollars, it was all mine. The bike needed a little work and it wasn’t the type of bike I typically use (I like to go with an 18 or 21 speed, this bike was only a 10, which holds significant disadvantages) but it would have to do. 

The morning of the race, I had the same exact attire on that I had won the 2009 race in, black shorts and my long sleeve Under Armour top (the race is in September and tends to be cold, especially with the 9 a.m. start time.) I did my usual pre-race routine of a few laps around the parking lot and it was time. All I could think about was the possibility of a repeat, but I hadn’t entered this race in three years, which, coincidentally is the last time I had ridden a bike for any amount of time, so I wasn’t getting too ahead of myself. My main goal was my usual goal, to finish the race, number one, and number two, to never get off the bike, no matter what.

I started off in about 7th and for most of the race I was somewhere between 7th and 1st place. I noticed early on that I wasn’t going to dominate the hills as I had in past races because my physical condition wasn’t up to par with the demands of a 26.2 mile race. I struggled on the hardest hills but pushed on, leading about 5-7 miles of the race before surrendering the lead and eventually finishing 5th out of 23. It wasn’t a repeat win, but it was a victory for me. 

What I was most proud of was a moment in the middle of the race. I had been leading and two guys passed me, moving me to third. One of them slowed down and said he remembered me from the year I won, asking me “You used to run in this race, you won a few years back right?” That made me feel good. It’s always nice when someone on this planet notices or remembers me, especially since in most crowds I’m the quiet guy who lets his actions, not his words, show his true character.

Finishing 5th was only a disappointment because I expect the best results, and didn’t achieve them. But I gave this race all that I had physically and knew I had reached my limits, so I have nothing to complain about. I’ve been training on stationary bikes and in the gym since that race though and next year I expect the results to be much better. As with every sport that I play, I expect to win. That never changes.

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