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Take Time To Realize


In thirty-plus years of existence I’ve traveled many roads, both physical and metaphorical, but Memory Lane is by far the hardest one to traverse. I speak often of reflection and its impact on my life, going into great detail about my ups and downs. These last few weeks I’ve been stuck in reflection, asked myself a million questions, and suffered through the longest emotional days of my life. I lost a relationship that meant more to me than I ever acknowledged or maybe believed it did and I’m no closer to healing today than I was when J* and I parted. The post I wrote a few weeks back hinted at how I’m feeling and pointed out that I sought therapy, but it failed to lay out my thoughts. Without reason or motive I’d like to lay them out now. I find that writing, especially when I’m hurting, helps me in some indescribable way. I realize I’ll be tethered to the words forever but this is a story I’d like to tell.

When Erin and I broke up in March of 2017 I moved back into my parents home for the short-term in order to sort my life out and build up a foundation for myself. Part of my rebuild was a barrier around my heart and emotions, designed to recalibrate my wants and needs and to allow me to focus on my work and my role as a father. I wanted to focus on the things that mattered most and failed relationships had plagued me for years so I wanted the distance from the thought of one. Over time I became more of a recluse. I’d wake up for work, work long hours and spend every minute at home that I wasn’t with my children or playing baseball. One night in the Fall of that year my brother Matt told me how his friend Justin and him had gone to this restaurant with a bar inside it located in Millerton and they’d just drank coffee. I had been longing for any semblance of a social life and I knew they always went on Thursdays, so I went. We ate dinner at the Chinese restaurant in town then headed over and drank coffee and watched Thursday Night Football. As small an event as it was, I felt good to be out in society and having a good time. The following Thursday I was up for going again but Justin had another commitment so he wasn’t going to attend. I asked Matt if he’d still like to go and offered to pay for his meal if he did. He agreed. When we got there most of the seats at the bar were taken so we elected to sit at a table instead and had dinner. As we ate my eyes kept peering over to a blond girl sitting on the far left side of the bar all alone. I pointed her out to Matt and wondered aloud if I should try to talk to her, but I was too shy. As she drank wine I kept basking in her beauty and when she got up to leave, our eyes met for a what seemed like a lifetime. I watched her put her black coat on, tell the bartender to have a good night, and walk out the door. As she disappeared into the cold night air I remember thinking to myself: “Damn, I’ll never see her again.” For years I told all of my friends that I’d “never meet my significant other in a bar.” I swore by that quote and it was fairly easy to uphold because I never went to bars. I just didn’t think the type of person I was looking for would be present in a bar. I was about to be wrong in the best way possible.

That night I went home and was laying in bed browsing Instagram, unable to fall asleep. I looked up the bar we had been at, 52 Main, and found their Instagram page. After scanning through their photos I wondered who else I knew that followed them so I clicked to view their “Followers” and I found J’s profile. I paused for about 20 minutes, wondering if I should message her or not. Her profile was private but judging by the profile image I was 95% certain it was her. After more contemplation I decided I had nothing to lose and I sent one message. It read: “Hello, were you the beautiful woman I saw sitting at the bar tonight at 52?” A few minutes later she replied that it was in fact her but that she was going to bed and so the conversation ended. The date was Thursday, October 11, 2017.

J and I began talking very slowly. We were very much the same person when it came to our beliefs and personalities. Both of us had come from long-term relationships that ended in hurt we didn’t want to experience again and we were both hesitant. We met and spoke for the first time weeks later in a little coffee shop and when we parted that morning she asked me if she could give me her phone number, as we had only been corresponding through Instagram messaging until that point. I don’t think my heart has ever pounded as heavily as it did on my drive to work that morning. I was smitten and left speechless with excitement. As the days rolled on we became closer and closer and soon began dating. I remember so vividly the night I looked J in the eyes later that fall and told her I loved her, my eyes welling up as I said the words. That love persists to this day.

As our relationship was blossoming in some of the best ways, J and I had grown tired of our living situations. We both lived with our parents and had both done so in order to get back on our feet. We felt it was time to branch out and we began looking for houses together. In February of 2018 we finally settled on one and began the process of escaping our individual situations and diving headfirst into a living environment we could share. The lease we signed began on March 1st but we had been given permission to move in a tad early as the house had been vacant. Jumping at that opportunity, J and I met at the house one night to clean the entire thing before moving any of our things into it. We were there extremely late that night, throwing away garbage that had been left behind, vacuuming all of the rooms, mopping all of the floors, and cleaning every fixture and appliance in the house. I left at 3:00 in the morning to go home to sleep for a few hours before heading to work. J stayed behind to clean some more. I drove home that night with such a sense of accomplishment.

As I sit here today, alone in our house counting down the days until I have to move out, I’ve never been so low. I spoke recently of being broken and that’s how I remain. I have good moments each day. I talk to my friends and we joke and laugh and have a good time. I attend baseball practice and I enjoy the company of my teammates. On the outset and for the most part, my life isn’t all that bad. No one I’m ever in the company of would ever be able to know what I struggle with internally each day and until now, only a few people knew any details at all. No one is ever around me when I struggle the most so how could they know? No one sees me sitting alone in my house staring blankly into space thinking about “what-ifs.” No one is with me when I’m driving in my car and listening to songs about loss, love, and those that got away. No one knows that when I shower I put a Rascal Flatts playlist on and let the songs overwhelm me with emotion as the words fill the room. The words I write are my best attempt at explaining how I feel and even then I don’t feel they do my emotions justice.

I remember the first time we visited our future home together. We were coming from different areas and I got to the house first. Realizing the road was a “dead zone” for cellular service and I couldn’t text or call J to ask if she was close, I decided to go in the house and explore while I waited. After looking around a little bit I walked back outside and stood in the driveway as a light snow started to fall. I remember J’s car approaching from my right and as I watched it pull into the driveway and I remember the butterflies of that moment. As my end in that same house approaches, I often spend time daydreaming about areas of the house and moments that took place in those areas. I picture J cooking in the kitchen every night for us. I can picture how she stood and where she organized things for her preparation. I look at the area of a bench in our living room where I sat after a long, stressful day and I can still see her walking over to me and hugging me, enveloping me in support. I look around my bedroom at all of the areas where her furniture used to sit. I look around the bathroom and notice the void where the shelf that held her belongings once sat and all of the shelves where she placed other items. The spare bedroom that once belonged to our children now belongings to only mine. I can still picture J tucking our children in every night and reading them a bedtime story without taking a night off and I’m reminded of how loving of a human being she is. I remember where we sat when we exchanged Christmas gifts. I notice the toaster sitting on my counter that J insisted on buying me because I kept burning my hand in the oven when I toasted bread in there. I’m reminded of good times when I notice the plate of sea shells that I picked up from a beach J had been dying to bring me to. I walk outside and look at a space on our patio where we sat one night after a period of unrest between us. We had nearly broken up and the relationship was fragile. J came home and after the children went to bed she asked if I wanted to sit outside and I agreed. We stared up at the moon and talked openly with her asking me: “If I wanted you to put your arms around me and just hold me, could you do that without any expectations?” to which I replied that I could not. In doing so anyway, we fixed our relationship that night, a memory that remains with me always.

While this house holds most of the physical memories of our relationship, it pales in comparison to the ones I hold dearly in my heart, my mind, and my soul. There are so many memories, big and small, that I cherish and relive often. The day I was at work and texted J how to prepare and start the wood stove and the accomplishment we both felt at achieving it. I relive our trip to New York City around Christmas time, the birthday she planned secretly for me at Troutbeck in Amenia, and our first night falling asleep together. I’ll remember always moving her car out of the driveway and into the road at 6:00 am in order to get mine out and put hers back. I’ll remember our shared annoyance at our new neighbor, our hundreds of laughs at silly things, and our shared judgmental views. I’ll remember the mirror she brought home from work one night that I secretly cleaned when she was at work the following day. I’m reminded of J on my way home every single day as I pass the bush in someone’s yard she accidentally crushed when her car slid off the road one winter day. I think often about one night sitting in the back of her car after we got back together and looking into her eyes with tears in mine and telling her I loved her, her responding with “Do you?” and telling her I did as she wiped my tears away with her hand. I’ve had a handful of long-term relationships in my life and I’ve never had this lingering feeling of overall defeat and longing after they ended before. This is the type of fall that there’s no parachute for. Being with J felt like I was on top of the world each and every day. Being without her feels like the weight of the world is pushing down on me.

For many years I’ve used the passing of my grandmother as my barometer for sadness but when I think about losing J I find a new standard. When my grandmother passed away, as much as I didn’t want to accept it, I knew she was gone and she wasn’t coming back. Being without J is a torture that recurs each and every day because she’s out there breathing the same air, driving the same roads, basking in the same sun, looking up at the same moon, and shopping at the same stores and she’s doing it without me. What a grand shame it is that missing someone doesn’t make them miss you, longing for someone doesn’t make them long for you, and being in love with someone doesn’t make them love you. No matter how many sad songs you listen to you know none of the words in those songs do a damn thing to bring the person back into your life. It doesn’t matter that every time I pick up my children they ask if we are going to spend time with J and her daughter and I’m sure her daughter asks about me periodically. As much as our children may long for the other, it does nothing to bring us any closer than we are today. My children using my iPad and finding photos of J and I together does nothing to actually bring us together. I spend much time sitting back and asking myself questions I’ll never be able to answer fully. How did we get here? The good times, the laughs, the moments that’ll live on forever feel as fresh as yesterday.

The downfall of our relationship rests mainly with me. After our first breakup, J moved out of our house. When we got back together she didn’t move back in and I had to adapt to a relationship where she wasn’t as accessible as I’d like. I had to rewire my mind to understand we had a different relationship. In the beginning it was easy to do but as time went on I began to embrace distance a little bit, from a physical standpoint, not an emotional one. I would couple this distance with being more closed-off. I would be dealing with life’s issues and instead of letting J in and telling her all about them, I tried to deal with them on my own. I’d have nights where I’d work late and instead of going over to J’s house after work I’d come home because I was too tired. These instances would occur about once a week and then once a week became three days a week and the distance mounted. After awhile the momentum of that distance and my failure to realize it set us down a path to an end. I think a flaw of mine is I’ve been a loner most of my life and when I’m given distance or space I embrace it and seek out a little more. In hindsight I realize that this could all have been avoided but how do I reconcile it now? J is gone and I’m left picking up pieces I don’t know how to put back together. In my head, “J” and “ex-girlfriend” will never be synonyms but in the real world they are just that. I have tons of photos, text messages, and emails from the woman I thought I’d be with forever, what am I to do with those? I have a photo of us and our children that we took around Thanksgiving of 2017 which means the world to me, do I bring myself to throw it in the garbage?

Life is easier when you’re happy and in love. Your cares, stresses, trials, and tribulations seem to melt away when you have someone in your corner each and every day. When J and I broke up I didn’t just lose my girlfriend, I lost my best and closest friend. J and I told each other everything we had going on in life and left nothing out. In October of 2018 I had my second scare with testicular cancer and as I was undergoing testing only J knew. I didn’t even tell my closest friends or family members. Before we met I swore I’d never plant my roots in any relationship or with anyone unless I was totally sure it was a “forever” thing and after doing so, I’m left hurting now that they’ve been ripped up. There is nothing worse than the person you love reaching a point where, to them, being with you is no longer fulfilling or worth it.

Each day we are alive we weave a quilt that eventually depicts our life. For the last year and a half, I weaved J all throughout that quilt, intertwining our relationship into every fiber and square inch of my lifes work. As I sit now looking at that quilt, I feel loss beyond words. How I wish I was still filling that quilt with new moments, new memories, new milestones. I go to bed every night on the side of the bed that used to be J’s and as the days roll on I miss her more, not less. Every week I do laundry or clean an area of my house I find blond hairs and I miss J more. Every day I leave my house for work and as I walk out the door and into the driveway I look at the space behind my car and expect J’s Toyota to be parked there and it isn’t and I miss her more. I wake up every morning and check my phone to see if she texted me, hoping her name pops up with the heart emoji that remains next to it and when it isn’t there, I miss her more. I go outside at night sometimes and I stand there in the dark, breathing in the cold air for a moment and I envision I’m waiting for J to come pick me up as she has so many times before. I see cars drive by at night and I look for the ones with two headlights and two fog lights like J’s had and I wish they’d pull into my driveway and pull me out of my emotional rut, but they drive right by and I miss J more. I picture us laying in bed together, her staring into my eyes as she runs her hand across my cheek and tells me that she loves me and I’m overcome with despair knowing I’ll only be able to experience that moment in a memory. I think about the engagement ring I had custom designed and purchased, a milestone I never thought I’d reach in life and one I certainly hadn’t gotten close to with anyone else, and instead of having the opportunity to be on one knee asking J to marry me, I’m brought to both knees with the emotion of missing someone I never thought I’d be without. Have you ever turned the hot water up just a bit too high in the shower and all of the steam makes it a little difficult to breathe? That’s how I feel when I think about my loss.

I remember, so vividly, the last time I saw J in person. I had spent the night at her house and I left in the morning for work. I would give anything to go back to that moment and kiss her just once more before leaving, hug her a little longer, squeeze just a little tighter. Knowing those moments are over for me is hard to deal with emotionally and I haven’t yet found a way to cope with that fact. For over a month I’ve been stricken with such a sadness that it penetrates my entire life and affects my every day habits. For weeks now I’ve lost my appetite because of my emotion. I wake up every morning and make a cup of coffee and head to work. I don’t eat breakfast, rarely eat lunch, and have a bowl of soup for dinner before going to bed and repeating the next day. I think about the hundreds and thousands of smiles J will have across her face for the rest of her life and it saddens me beyond words to know I won’t be responsible for any of them. If I had the chance I’d walk to the edge of the world barefoot if I could win J back and I feel helpless with the notion that I will not have such an opportunity.

Sometimes you don’t recognize the true effect of greatness until you’re staring at the void it leaves when it’s gone.

 

*I chose to withhold J’s full name to maintain the slightest bit of privacy and respect.

 

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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.

-18

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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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