Life Goes On
For some, at least.
Yesterday morning, I learned of the passing of one of my high school classmates, Rick. Rick and I not only graduated in the same class, but we also played football together. And, more than that, we both played on the offensive line, right next to one another. I was left tackle, he was left guard.
At our last class reunion, Rick and I reminisced about football and other high school adventures…most of which are unmentionable in a public forum. If Rick knew I was writing that about him, he’d likely smile. We went through two-a-days together, sweating and puking and running and blocking. Those are million dollar experiences I wouldn’t give a dime for today. Tough, draining, exhausting and, ultimately, good for what we were doing because, if memory serves, we did end up with a winning record my senior year. I know Rick was always proud of this…even into our adult years, I think those were some of the best memories of his life.
Depending on when his birthday fell, Rick was 41…maybe 42. Too damned young to die. These kinds of events give anyone pause. Sometimes, they make you re-evaluate life altogether.
The thing I will never forget about Rick wasn’t football, it wasn’t field parties in high school, it wasn’t sitting through high school classes. I remember Rick being one of the guys who first came to see me when I was hospitalized. When I was totally tripping balls on morphine with no idea how injured I truly was, Rick (and a handful of other buds) all gathered in my hospital room. Due to the trach in my throat, I was writing everything out longhand. I kept asking my friends to help get me out of there. Obviously, that couldn’t happen, though I vividly remember visualizing my friends pushing my hospital bed out into the world. This must have been within just a few days of the trauma, so Rick saw me when I was at my absolute worst. Seriously, no one, not even trained healthcare professionals, should have to look at an image that ghastly. I’m sure he never forgot it.
Then, maybe six or eight months later, and once I’d recovered a lot more, I remember Rick whispering something…something I’ve never forgotten and, to this day, I still appreciate. See, Rick wasn’t someone who would back down from a fight. “A little rough around the edges” wasn’t how you’d describe Rick. He was simply a badass. Wrong him or someone he cared about and there would be problems.
Rick knew, as everyone did, that the reason I was blind, that the reason I’d nearly been killed, all lay at the foot of the drunk driver who hit my friends and me. Sometime in that first year of blindness, I remember Rick saying, “Engel, if you ever want anything to happen to that guy, you come to me.”
My desire for revenge was short lived. I knew that wouldn’t change anything. This may not be forgiveness, but it was the place of peace I came to about the offender. And there’s no doubt that Rick would have relished an opportunity to put some hurtin’ on someone who hurt his friend. He was the only person who ever directly came to me, offering to help me have paybacks. Again, that wasn’t on my radar for very long, but just to know that I had a friend who was willing to get his hands dirty on my behalf, well, I appreciated it. I still do.
Rick, tonight I’ll pour a little out for you and remember the good times. Rest in peace, brother, until we double team up on some defensive nose guard again on that gridiron in the sky.