It feels like I’ve started this post a thousand times. No words seem quite right. How can they be when you’re trying to convey heartfelt condolences to a family you hardly know anymore?
This year, the now-adults of our Dugway, Utah class of 1995 turned 40. We’re the same age as Star Wars, Bubbilicious and Chia Pets. Weird. I wonder what our 40 year old selves would tell those kids? At least of few riveting stories, I’m sure.
For some reason this time of year always takes me back to those memories. School starting, football season, long nights around our bonfires. Those were some good times we spent together.
There were only a few of us. Around 30, actually; not many when you consider the average size of a graduating class in Middle America. But there is something unique and special about living in such a tiny community. Even though we didn’t all hang out together, we got to know each other really well. Everyone of us found connection with each other in one way or another. And now, though our lives have taken as many directions as there were graduates, several of these people are still among my closest friends.
20+ years later, some of those connections are only peripheral, but we’re still tied together through the relationships we’ve fostered with our classmates. And overall, we still care deeply for one another.
Like I said, it’s a unique dynamic of living in Smalltown, USA. And I’m grateful for it.
This is probably why, when one of our own passes away, we each feel it rather acutely.
Tony was one of the first people I met when my family moved there the summer before 7th grade. The first thing I noticed about him was his swagger and it made my knees weak. I was secretly, (okay, maybe not so secretly) jealous of my girlfriends who shared the commonality of him being their first kisses.
We met at a park by our homes. It was a lazy summer day as the sun was setting along the desert horizon. As a girl previously living in Pennsylvania this was unfamiliar. It was hot and insanely dry but it didn’t matter. I was too twitterpated to notice. My parents did though and promptly grounded me for three years. (It’s okay though. My first kiss ended up being pretty awesome anyway.)
Throughout our junior high and high school years, that swagger became even more charming. But that wasn’t the most endearing thing about Tony. Not even close. He was always really kind to me. At a time when most of us were notoriously petty to people who weren’t like us, he never was. He always said ‘hello’ and smiled at me in the halls.
As the years passed and parts of my body grew faster than the rest of me, he was one of the few who didn’t crack jokes in front of me about my ever expanding chest. Did he know doing so was the fastest way to make a teenage girl feel self-conscious? I don’t know. Was he a gentleman before any of us realized it was cool? Maybe. In reality, I think underneath the heavy metal t-shirts and grunge so enthusiastically embraced by the average teenager in the 90’s, he was a really decent person.
Life, report cards, the reality of approaching adulthood kicked us in the pants a few times and we all kept plugging along. Then finally, the month of May came, the Spring before our lives really got interesting. We signed dozens of yearbooks, made the obligatory promises to keep in touch and said our ‘goodbyes’. Hugs, tears, and the ever important worries of who was going to the ‘unsponsored’ graduation party filled our brains that day as we stood in a greeting line donned in our caps and gowns. In spite of those promises and the very best of intentions, that was the last I saw many of them.
And somehow, it’s okay.
We’ve all gone on to live our lives. We’ve each faced triumph and tragedy, personal improvements and setbacks, and life has kicked us all in the pants again…even harder. But our connection to each other and Dugway has always remained.
Yet none of this prepares you for the reality of mortality. When it comes into full view, no matter how many years it’s been since you actually sat face to face with a person, the fact they no longer walk the earth is breathtaking.
Tony was a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday. I didn’t know him as an adult. We briefly reconnected on Facebook a few years ago before I deleted my account (only to open another for work shortly after). I don’t know what his particular triumphs and tragedies were but there is one thing I could see: He loved his family. In the pictures I’ve seen shared by those who’ve adored him the most, this much is clear. And honestly, is there a bigger triumph than that?
When the time for his memorial arrived, I awoke up in the morning intending to go. But something stopped me. It felt awkward and misplaced to attend. His grief stricken family had so much to grapple with. I didn’t feel I could make a meaningful contribution. So I stayed home.
But now, here it is.
As Fall turns into winter, Tony’s family goes forward finding their ‘new normal’. What even is that after losing someone you love so deeply? They’re facing a lot of firsts in the next few months; first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, birthdays without their daddy/son/husband. I can only imagine the intensity of such milestones.
I guess my meager contribution is to them is this: There are others who’ve been touched by who Tony was, even though we were young so long ago. Certainly, the sadness I feel when I think of his passing is nothing to the exquisite pain they must be feeling. I just want them to know, there are people buoying them up.
Maybe posting such a memorial so long after seems a bit irksome but I’d rather Tony’s family know he has not been forgotten as the hustle and bustle of life has continued for the rest of us. His impact is real and he is thought of so very fondly.
So if you’re reading this and were among those closest to Tony, I offer you my sincerest support. I’m happy to chat and reminisce about what he brought to my life…it was a lifetime ago but still means the world to me.
Peace be with you.