I've had a piece percolating for days now, and I had expected it to be ready this weekend. It was only a matter of sitting down and pouring it out. In my mind, it had everything: pathos, ethos and logos. It would cover my most recent experiences at regionals and how an inadvertent collision had resulted in a gash to my upper lip, a gash so reminiscent of one I suffered the first time I ever played that it bookended my career perfectly. That piece will have to wait. Curtis Wagner died, and a piece of me died too.
I can't say I knew Curtis well, because I didn't. We were teammates only briefly, and I expect we actually lined up on opposite sides of the field more than we did on the same side. I knew precious little about him personally, although I knew enough to think that his girlfriend and he were a perfect fit. Little surprise that they remained together all these years.
Of all of us on New York, Dave Mathison knew him best. He has written a marvelous memory that you may wish to peruse, although you do so at your own peril. It is that memory that has sparked the fires of my melancholia, and has me wondering what the hell happened. I'm sure my feelings are so familiar that they exceed even the most stereotypical crises of middle age in banality, and yet, because they're my own and unfamiliar to me, they sting deeply. Curtis Wagner died. He has been absent from my life for close to twenty years, so his loss is not one I should feel so deeply, and I suppose in truth I don't. What I feel, what cuts me so is what his death means. I look at a picture of us after our first nationals victory. We were so young, so bold, so confident. We believed in ourselves, in our greatness, in our invincibility. Over the years, whenever I've seen that picture, I still believed. But today, with Curtis gone, I saw it differently. Like a man who looks in a mirror and for the first time sees what he truly is and not what he used to be, I feel old. More to the point, I feel lost.
Several years ago, I embarked on an extensive renovation of my three-bedroom ranch house here in Garner, NC. Renovation doesn't even describe it. I completely gutted the place down to the frame and rebuilt it. The task compelled me to learn an entirely new set of skills and took far longer than I ever imagined it could, but eventually I managed to (almost) finish it. So now I live in a home that is light years removed from my old one. The differences are too many to recount, but the one that strikes me today is the loss of memories. Gone are the photos of old friends from New York. Gone is the picture of Pat, Blair and Crib from the post-game celebration of that first title in Miami, glowing with the satisfaction of accomplishment. Gone is the photo of Davey-Dave Mathison and me arm in arm, smiling broadly, standing in front of the scoreboard from the semifinals of Worlds the following summer, when our late game blocks had brought us back from the brink of disastrous defeat. Our smiles suggest we had it all along. We were young. We were bold. We were confident. We were full of ourselves, and something else to boot. But what ties those photos and all the others from that time together is the very thing that made us, makes all great teams, successful. We were one. No, we weren't best friends and we didn't always know each other that well off the field, but we were one between the lines.
Oneness. That oneness is what prompted me to put those photos up the day I moved into this house in December of 1998, even though the events they depicted were ten years gone by. Although I didn't know it then, the loss of that oneness is what allowed me to so easily take them down and pack them away when I began the renovation some years later. They remain in that box, in storage in my attic. Physically, they are a few yards away. Figuratively, the distance is considerably greater. Dave Mathison posted the group photo from nationals with his poignant memory of Curtis. I hadn't seen it in years. We were so young, so confident, so bold. We were one. Now one of us is gone. Some day, perhaps some day soon, there will be another. What will I feel that day? Will I be able to feel at all? Tomorrow is promised to no one. Nor is oneness.
Dave Mathison wrote that Curtis' passing makes him feel like going out and playing again. I have no such feelings. Instead, I want to go up into my attic and open up a box. I know I'll find some old pictures in there. I'm hoping to find something else as well.