Throughout my childhood, many of my cherished memories are of my mom and dad being at my baseball games. I started with t-ball at an early age, and played in our city league in Delray Beach, FL until I was sixteen, and after moving up to North Carolina, I played until I finished high school. It was a great experience and will always look back with fond memories, not only of the friends I made, but also the memories of my mom and dad being there.
It almost didn’t happen, though. I’m a naturally quiet person, and was a little shy when I was young. Mom and Dad signed me up for the t-ball city league and of course, I didn’t want to play. I didn’t know anyone and I was too frightened to give it a shot. Mom took me to the first practice, and I don’t think I made it out of the car and we eventually went back home. She wanted me to give it another chance, and I was placed on a different team. As we drove to the ballpark complex where the practice would be, I clammed up. Once we got there, I saw Garrett and things suddenly changed, and I got out of the car. Without actually doing anything except being there and saying hi, Garrett made a difference in my life. A difference that was priceless and impossible to quantify.
Garrett and I were in school together from the start until junior high. We were friends and he being on the team made all the difference. I was able to step out of the car and began to participate in the practice, and life to an extent. We would go on to play a few seasons of baseball together before he would stop playing. By that time, though, I had made other friends among the teams, and the resistance to play never posed a problem. No matter what team I would play on, there were friends among them, as we were the same core people playing through the leagues together. However, if not for Garrett, I may not have played. Playing in baseball throughout my childhood will always be a cherished time in my life, and since Mom died a few years back, it’s also a great way to remember my mom and dad as well. In his own way, and most likely without knowing it, Garrett made a difference in my life. The memories are priceless and I know it filled my mom with happiness.
We were friends and spent time together both playing baseball and being at school. As people grow, sometimes they change, and for a while we were friendly, but grew apart. I interacted with a few of my other friends, and he fell into another group. We never were angry, nor was there any hard feelings, there was just some distance. Like many friends that go for a long time, there will be doldrums in the friendship.
I think by the time we entered the seventh grade, we began to converse more frequently. He was notorious for making gestures behind the back of the nuns that were our teachers (we went to a Catholic private school), and was always able to get away with it. It always brought a smile to my face, and normally I had to hold back a laugh. It was nothing bad, just having fun in the back of the classroom. We were altar boys and we goofed off sometimes. Nothing bad, but just what young boys will do.
On the summer break before we began the eighth grade, I remember it well. I was working in the yard, picking up the pine needles we had raked up when I heard. He shot himself. I think we heard it from his older brother calling up my brother (they were in the same class as were Garrett and I). I brushed it off. He’ll be fine, I thought to myself, nothing to worry about. But the severity of the situation quickly became apparent and distinctly remembering my mom hearing about it a little later and reacting the way she did. Suddenly, things became much more real. He was in a bad situation, not only just shot, but in a struggle for his life.
After the fact, I found that he was essentially brain dead, and there was nothing that could have been done. The damage too severe but at least his organs were used to help out people in desperate need of a transplant. Some good came out of it, but the cost for Garrett and his family were terrible. A family rocked to the core, never to be the same again. I remember the viewing at the church, and then the funeral. It was a shocking and terrible way to see the nature of life for a boy entering the eighth grade.
Life went on. Eighth grade came in went. I was a freshman, then a sophomore in high school before we moved up to Raleigh, North Carolina. My Junior and Senior vanished with a snap of the finger. I struggled through college, successfully, and then entered the work force. I blinked my eyes, and was in my thirties. I blinked again, now I’m forty-three. I almost fear to blink a third time.
I think about Garrett from time to time, wondering about the lost opportunities. When I hear of a suicide, or someone young tragically killed, I invariably reflect on Garrett. He never had the experience of high school, or possibly college. Never was able to find love and dreaded heartbreak of love lost. I wonder what kind of man he would have become. Would he have been a father? As I look at my own life, would he now be a grandfather? The tragedy of loss is beyond words or feelings. He will always be the young boy. The loss of someone before their time is beyond description.
I’m not sure it’s guilt, but I do lament the way things turned out. He helped me in ways he was never able to realize. Sure he didn’t do anything heroic when Mom pulled up to the baseball field, but he was there and accepting. We warmed up with playing catch before I took a fly ball off my forehead, as I was playing for the first time and not very good. Sometimes just smiling and accepting someone can enhance a life in ways that you may never realize. I lament that while he helped me, I was not able to help him.
If I could turn back the clock to 1985, I would hopefully be able to talk to him. Just be there to listen to a problem he was working on. I could have let him know that what seems like a problem to a thirteen year old boy will most assuredly seem trivial as he got older. Why did he feel like he couldn’t speak with anyone, or felt he had no options that to take his own life. I would have told him that ending it all is a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Maybe I could have been able to change his life. Sometimes you don’t need to do anything drastic, but to simply be there or to listen to a problem. I can’t help but think that all of those who took their own life, especially the young children, that is someone just listened to a problem and gave them a pat on the back, something that simple may have made a difference.
Garret, my friend, I’ll have to thank you one day. Hopefully not soon, but hopefully when I’m a wise old man, hobbling along, I’ll be able to tell you about the memories that I had that you helped to create. I could thank you for my mom and dad for the memories we have. I would thank you for playing catch and not laughing when I took the ball off my head due to my lack of skill. Although it was kind of funny now that I think about it. I mean the ball was right there and I had my glove off target, talk about no hand-eye coordination. You made a difference and the impact of it is still felt so many years later. Take care, my friend, I hope you found the peace of mind that eluded you so many years ago, and one day, we’ll play catch again.