My first significant experience with death was when I was barely a teenager. I’d lost distant family members before, yet as a kid it didn’t bare the same weight at the time, so it’s hard to quantify that feeling of loss. My very first pet, my cat, Keebler, was hit by a car one night. I saw it happen—though at the time I didn’t realize what I’d witnessed—until I went outside and found her. She was six months old and I was devastated. I saw through my dining room window a car suddenly stop, and the driver get out and drag something to the side, get back in, and drive away. It was completely black out and I was concerned about her, so I went out with a flashlight—back when people had flashlights. I walked out with my mother and pointed to where I saw that monster go, and the light reflected off her eyes. I ran inside and I cried for days.
My family insisted we get another cat, eventually, and, as the kid I was, I finally agreed. We found a pair of sisters—both all black: one short-haired; the other long-haired—who we aptly named Shadow and Phantom, respective. Phantom was mine, and after only 8 years, she developed kidney problems. She’d disappear into the darkness often, tucked away into the shadows of our attic, only appearing long enough to sip some water. Weeks later, even that stopped.
We took her to the vet, but she passed that night. I remember it clearly because I became severely ill that night. Fever. Vomiting. Night terrors. Everything. I remember waking in the middle of the night to my room being overtaken by darkness, like I was being haunted, cursed, and I woke in a sweat, terrified. I could see the shadows move across the walls and envelop everything, like the hands of beasts clawing at every surface, like they wanted to suffocate me. Later, in retrospect, it felt like she, Phantom (or Fanny as we called her), was trying to reach out to me—to tell me it wasn’t my fault. It’s always hard to think otherwise, but I’m starting to believe her. Nobody ever gets used to nightmares, after all.
My grandfather, Tommy, who I’m named after, passed away shortly after. And then my grandmother, heartbroken, had a stroke. She was a badass, too—she would’ve loved this league. I swear, every time I saw her, she had a PBR in hand. At the hospital, I whispered into her ear, told her how much I loved her, and apologized for not always being there—for not appreciating her and the man I’m named after. She passed away the next day.
I have experienced my share of loss since then—family, friends, pets. It’s never easy. It’s never expected.
On 21 March, 2015, I lost my father. It was sudden. Yet in ’08 his doctor said he had six months to live. He didn’t like to listen to anyone, though, and sure as shit not that, so he fought the hell out of everything that came his way. Seven years later those six months came. Nothing has haunted me more.
I always wanted him to watch me play something other than elementary school basketball, but he never had the chance, unfortunately. (He was my basketball coach as a kid, even, and he was pretty damn good.) Call it bad timing, call it whatever. But I’ve never had a chance outside of my day-to-day life to say I’m doing something for him, until this Sunday.
I play in Game of the Week, on 18 July, on Father’s Day. Maybe a lot of us are playing for their fathers. I’m playing for him. I don’t particularly care about the outcome, because I know what it’d mean to him. And while he may not be there, I know he’s there.
And for all of you, loved and lost and never forgotten: I wish you were here.
All my love,