"There’s no crying in baseball"
The phone call came at 9:08 am from your Uncle Brent. Before I picked up the phone, I knew what the call was about, but was still in denial. I knew who was on the other end of the line, despite the caller ID not popping up. But again, I didn’t want to believe it. I knew the words I was about to hear would change my life forever, but I answered the phone anyway, hoping that maybe.. just maybe.. it would have been better news.
I met your Uncle Jerome in November, 1993 when I was the editor of my college paper. I was writing a story about a play that he was in and took a group photo of the entire cast. A few days later, he and a few other friends, went out and I was invited along. We were instant friends. It seemed everywhere I went, Jerome was there with his friends, or was there with mine. Soon, we were everywhere together. There was something about Jerome that I didn’t have with anyone else. We could just stare at each other and make faces, but always know just what the other was thinking. I saw past his shortcomings (and he had a few) and into the huge heart of his that always took care of me, no matter what.
He was the big brother I never had. He took me out for my 21st birthday. He threatened to beat up a boyfriend who broke my heart. He’d call my answering machine knowing I wasn’t home, just to sing a song into it. When I went away to Wisconsin to finish my Bachelor’s Degree, Jerome would come visit almost every weekend. On the weekends he didn’t come to River Falls, I’d go to his apartment in Saint Paul. There was a diner within walking distance of his place.. very old fashioned looking.. with a small jukebox at ever table. Late at night, we’d walk over there, insert a quarter into the jukebox and play Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. We didn’t care if people stared. We would sing along.
I remember one weekend, my car broke down as I was leaving to spend the weekend at his place. I was still going to go see him, no matter what. I managed to hitch a ride 15 miles to the Minnesota/Wisconsin border and from there, I found another ride to downtown St. Paul. It took me 3 hours, but I eventually got to his place. He drove me back to Wisconsin the next morning. I remember singing songs by The Cure in the car all the way back to my dorm.
Jerome was flamboyant and full of life. If you dared him to do something he wouldn’t back down. He had no fear. He jumped into icy waters on Christmas Day. On my 20th birthday, he streaked down the street in downtown Minneapolis. Shame was not in his vocabulary. He didn’t care what other people thought of him. He was himself and that’s who he’d remain.
He was also very easy to talk to. Whenever something upset me or weighed heavily on my conscience, he was always the first person I called. Whenever I cried, he’d dry me off and make me laugh. Quoting a line from a popular movie, he’d say to me “There’s no crying in baseball”. It was his way of telling me to straighten up and turn off my water works.
One summer, Jerome went to work at a camp for people with disabilities. It was his passion. There, he met a girl and was completely serious about her. He and your Aunt Johanna were engaged by that Christmas. He showed me the ring before he asked her and said “What do you think?”. I approved. They married the following October, but because the wedding was in Dublin, Ireland, I could not make it. I promised him, however, that he would be in my wedding should I ever get married. “Do I get to wear a dress?” he insisted. “No,” I replied.. each and every time.
In 1999, he and Johanna decided it was time to move to Dublin. She had recently lost her father and the desire for her to be closer to her family was understandably stronger. She left shortly after his birthday that summer. But not before celebrating turning 25. I recall Johanna trying desperately to tell me something in the days before his birthday, but I didn’t pick up on her clues. She told me she’d been sick off an on with nausea for a while and wasn’t sure when it would go away. I told her I was sorry to hear and asked if it was contagious. She said no. I remained clueless.
On the night of his surprise party, Jerome dropped the last surprise. Johanna was pregnant. The baby was due that spring.
Jerome moved to Dublin two days before my 25th birthday. After dropping him off at the airport that night I cried. I pulled my car over and cried. My rock was no longer within arm’s reach. Each phone call to him would be that much more of an effort. I had very recently broken off a long-term relationship and I felt alone.
Then, I met your father.
Their son, Aidan, was born a few days later. I remember Jerome calling me that April morning to tell me all about him. He had dark hair and was beautiful. I remember Jerome cried. He had a son.
Later that summer, Jerome came out for a visit. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. I was living in Massachusetts by this time and flew from there to Minnesota to see both him and your father. Your dad and I grew closer and, though it was just for a few hours that night and again the next night, I was able to catch up with my best friend. As expected, your Uncle Jerome went up to your dad and said “Let me tell you something, boy… you break her heart, I’ll break your face. OK?”
Your dad and I were engaged four months later. I moved back to Minnesota and immediately started putting everything in motion for our wedding. The first person I called, naturally, in my anticipated wedding party was Jerome. I told him I needed his measurements and that he had 18 months to plan on flying back to the states to be in my wedding.. on my side.. in a tux.
Two months before the wedding, I got an email from your Aunt Johanna at work. It was Hodgkin’s. She said for me to just pray. They were going to start chemotherapy quickly and aggressively and most of all, to keep calling him because phone calls from the States were precious to him.
And so, I kept calling him. Because of the illness, he wasn’t able be at our wedding, Kathryn. I was saddened, but understood. He called me early that morning, though, to wish me luck and how he wished he could be there for your dad and me. I remember he told me he loved me. I remember I hung up and cried. If you look in my wedding book, though, I wrote that my first happy memory from that day was him calling me. During our reception that night, the DJ played “Crazy”. Again, I cried, but didn’t want the song to stop.
The last time I saw your Uncle Jerome was in November, 2002. I had just gotten over pneumonia and was worried that I would get him sick. He came over our apartment in Minnesota, where we lived when you were born, and had dinner. The next night, several of us got together and had dinner with him. Deep inside, I had this sinking feeling that I would never see him again. When I hugged him good-bye that night, it took everything I had to let him go.
One year later, on June 6, 2003, I called him first thing in the morning to give him the good news. Johanna answered. I told her I hadn’t been feeling well and had bouts of nausea. Jerome apparently felt the same. He was on another round of chemo and hadn’t been feeling his best, but was thrilled to hear that your dad and I were having a baby the following Valentine’s Day. He called me twice between June and August to get updates on myself and the baby we were expecting.
Johanna encouraged us.. please.. keep calling. This round was awful on him and he was down and out. Any words of encouragement would help him.
I called him again in August, on his 29th birthday. Kathryn, he sounded so tired, so worn out. He asked about you. He asked about your daddy. I remember he said his mom was visiting from Alabama, but he had been so sick from time to time.. and had been spending so much time in the bathroom being sick that he didn’t have as much time as he had hoped with his mom. I told him that within a month, we’d know if you were a boy or a girl and he made me promise him that we’d call him right away and tell him.
Wake me up when September ends
I was at work on the afternoon of September 18, 2003 when an email from a friend came through. It was her 30th birthday, so I thought it odd that she email me. Your Uncle Jerome caught pneumonia and was not expected to live through the weekend. I got up from my desk and left. I looked at my co-worker sitting next to me and all I said was “It’s over.” I got into my car and drove from west of Minneapolis across to Wisconsin. I couldn’t tell your Uncle Brent over the phone. It just wouldn’t be right. The three of us were always together. We were a unit. Though all three of us were married now, there was still a strong bond between all of us. I knocked on his door, I sat him down and told him.
Uncle Brent caught the next flight out to Chicago. He got a passport overnight and was in Dublin by mid-morning their time. Because I was pregnant and had used all of my time off for you, Kathryn, I was unable to join Brent.
That night, I had a dream though. I dreamt that several of us were standing outside of his hospital door, except, Uncle Jerome wasn’t sick. He looked just like he always had. He looked at my belly and said “Look at you! You’re showing!” I said yes.. I was five months along. He touched my belly. I started crying and told him not to leave us. He looked at me and said “I’m not leaving you..” He pointed to my heart and said “I’ll always be right here..”
The phone rang at 9:08 am on September 20, 2003. It was Uncle Brent. “He’s gone, Emmy.”
Kathryn, I’ve lost my grandparents. I’ve lost my aunts, uncles and I’ve lost friends. But nothing… Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. That loss was unequivocal. I felt a part of me break that morning.
I fell to my knees and wailed. For several minutes, I wailed. Brent eventually had to hang up because he was calling me from Dublin. Within minutes his mom called me asking if she needed to come over to keep me company. Your dad was leaving for work within ten minutes of that call and couldn’t stay with me. It was only his first week at his new job.. the one that moved us here to Arkansas and he couldn’t miss work. I told her I was fine, that I had to make several phone calls.
Over the next several hours, I called all of his friends that I had the phone number for. I looked up the phone numbers for several more. If I couldn’t call them, I emailed them. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.. repeating over and over again that your Uncle Jerome had passed away and hearing others cry just as I already had.
But, he’s not gone
That Friday, September 26, 2003 your dad and I found out we were having a girl. I had known it all along, but the doctor confirmed it. I called our parents and told them. I told Uncle Brent and Aunt Gail. But, that night, as I laid down in bed, I cried again. I couldn’t make the one call I promised to make. Your daddy rolled over and said to me “He already knows”.
The Christmas after you were born, Aunt Johanna came to Minnesota with Aidan. It was the first time I’d met him. He was four and a half. You were almost 1. Seeing you and Aidan play together meant more to me than words could ever express. Johanna handed me a gift and said “Jerome picked this out for you last summer. I didn’t have a chance to ship it to you before now.” I opened it up and inside was a pink pair of shorts and a pink tank top. Under those, a red Christmas dress was neatly folded up. It was exactly your size. We still have that dress, packed up with your baby blankets, coming-home-outfit and all other important baby items of yours.
I still cry, but it happens less and less. At first it was every day. Then, it became every week. When the same tragedy happened to two close friends of mine earlier this year, I remember I was down to once a month. Now, it’s every few months.
The gap doesn’t close, Kathryn, but the pain dulls. I hope you never have to feel the pain I did on that Saturday morning. I don’t wish it upon anyone. Unfortunately, however, people endure it every day and I’m certain you will, too, whether it be when your daddy and I die or when your own spouse passes away. Perhaps you, too, will be lucky enough to have a friend like I had in your Uncle Jerome. I hope you are.
I know he’s still here watching over you. Sometimes I see you say things he would have said. I know he’s somehow whispering to you. I feel his presence sometimes. I can hear him teasing me for little things from time to time. I know he’s still right where he said he’d be.