I worked in education for many years before life took me where it has taken me. Early in my career I worked at a boarding school in the Hudson Valley, NY. I spent four years there and met some truly amazing people. Pat was one of them.
I wrote this several years after he was killed.
I still think of him nearly every day.
Memorial Day: Remembering Pat
I’ve never written about this before. To be honest, I think about it almost every day, though it’s never something I’ve written about. Being Memorial Day, I think that it’s time.
October 12, 2000. The United States Navy Destroyer USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers while in port at the Port of Aden, in Yemen. It was a Thursday.
When I first heard that the attack had happened on the news, I was of course sad to hear about it. But something bothered me, on the very edges of my mind that I had no explanation for until the wife and I got home from a night out.
I had left SKS, a boarding school in New York and was now teaching at PJRHS, a day school in North Jersey and going to Graduate School at Seton Hall, so I had fallen out of the loop a bit, but I remember the last time I had talked to Pat. He had visited SKS in his uniform and to me, didn’t look much different, except for the uniform. I already thought he was a pretty solid young man by that point. I had been the Dean of Students for his graduating class and remember really taking pride in that.
There are days that I wish I had stayed on in that role. But I didn’t. I remember shaking his hand as he prepared to leave, telling him to take care and to keep in touch.
The wife and I came home on that Friday evening from dinner at the Dublin Pub in Morristown, NJ and a movie that I don’t recall, to find a message on our machine from Billy, my good friend at SKS. I remember it like it happened this evening…
I was just walking into the room scratching the ears of our dog, Gracie, as the wife hit the message button after having seen the blinking light.
“Kugs…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but, that ship that got hit out there, well, I don’t know how to say this, but Pat was on it. It looks like they can’t find him…call me.”
I remember leaning forward and just catching the edge of our bed and managing to find a way to be seated. Gracie came up and laid her head on my lap and I scratched her head. I remember saying “I just knew…” and then I cried a lot.
Pat was the kind of student that makes me miss teaching. He was not a spectacular student, but a good one, truth be told. He worked very hard and he gave me some of the best teaching moments I’ve ever had.
He was also the kind of athlete that makes me miss coaching. He was not an amazing athlete but he worked really hard there as well. He loved lacrosse and did things on the field that were amazing. He was a coach’s kind of player. I remember hearing the head coach remark once, “Man, Kugs…give me a team full of kids like Pat. That would be a fun team.”
Pat became a student of the game, throwing himself into Lacrosse. I remember well the times that he simply willed our team on to victory or times when simply had a better idea than everyone else. There were also times that he simply threw himself in front of the ball as it was shot towards the goaltender. I remember he asked me early in one season to track that sort of thing for him, as I kept the game stats. I did, though I remember telling him he could easily track it himself with the bruises on his legs but he grooved on making the play, so I tracked his blocked shots for him. I was glad to, since Pat had asked.
Pat made some mistakes early in his time with us, including an incident where my car was shaving-creamed and the air was let out of all the tires. I was much younger and less mature then and I was pissed off at what had been done to my car. I was living in the dorm then, which lends itself to hard feelings and small worlds in which to express them.
I was seriously pissed off. No one else from the offending group stepped up, except Pat. He was sorry, and he made that clear. So, as a result, I was able to write the whole thing off as a goof, because of Pat. He looked me in the eye and as no real damage had been done, we all moved on.
There were other times during his time at school where I saw him stand up in a manner that was way beyond his years, but they are not stories for this space. Those are stories that belong to those who lived them.
But there are some that I can share: I was trying to teach Hamlet to a group of seniors that had little interest and less motivation to study Shakespeare. Pat was in the class as we were trying to read aloud the “Folger Library’s” excellent translation.
It was not going well. At all.
After a tremendously unsuccessful class, Pat happened to stay behind a moment, I believed because the young lady he was dating was in my next class, but as I was the assistant Lacrosse coach, and he was our Coaches Captain, he seemed quite comfortable telling me:
“Kugs…this reading aloud thing is not gonna work for everybody.”
He was right. I was trying to teach a play in a dead and overly artistic language to students who came from such disparate academic backgrounds and in some cases, countries, that everyone was amazingly uncomfortable. The last few days where I’d tried to have them read the play aloud had been a colossal waste of time.
I asked him, as I too had felt it hadn’t been working, “Well, you got any ideas?”
And he did. He always seemed to.
He thought that the class would be able to get it if they were able to follow along in their Folger editions as they watched it onscreen. I remember his saying: “If everyone can see what’s happening, I think they’d get it.” And he was right. I never taught Shakespeare the same way again.
Pat forced me to think differently as a teacher and I did for the rest of my career. Remembering the way his class changed after I took his advice makes me miss teaching, as it was among the most satisfying experiences I ever had as a teacher. That was a fun group, especially once we were all on the same page, thanks to Pat.
I think my favorite memory of him might be the words he spoke at halftime of the championship match of his senior year, which was held at the Harvey School. The team was not playing well and was starting to get down on itself, as it was losing somewhat dramatically for the first time all season.
It was a crisp and clear day and I can still see Pat in my mind, leaning on his longstick, as the Coach asked him if he had anything to add. I remember it much like this, as he said “Guys, I’m going to be on a ship somewhere in a year, and I don’t think they’ll let me bring my stick, so this is like my last game ever, and I’d rather remember going out there with my friends and having fun playing lacrosse and leaving it all out there on the field.”
And they did. I think we lost that game, but I know I remember the second half being genuinely satisfying. And I remember Pat smiling at least a little on the way home on the bus.
There was another time when a group of students had pulled some kind of prank on me, which again was not uncommon in those days. I reacted badly, which I’m embarrassed now to say was also not that uncommon in those days. I was younger then. Anyway, I decided who was at fault and pretty much lashed out at the group. They lashed back and it was an uncomfortable few days as these were young men in my classes, in my dorm, and some were on my team. It was Pat that sought me out, and told me, “Kugs-I’m not going to tell you who pulled that on you, but I will tell you that it wasn’t the guys you flipped out on.”
And I believed him, because it was Pat. I found those guys and apologized. They were less than enthusiastic about my efforts and actually got kind of snarfy about my even approaching them. It was Pat, again, who said, “Let it go guys-he stepped up and said he was wrong. Let it go.”
And we all kind of let it go. Because of Pat.
Yes, I may have been the adult here, but those lines get very blurred in a boarding school environment like SKS. I was young and impulsive and so were most of the kids I dealt with. It made for some interesting times and interesting relationships.
When Pat was killed, I remember feeling that my life as a teacher had just grown less magical. I’d never lost a student before, much less one that I thought as highly of as Pat Roy. I remember showing up at PJRHS that next Monday having missed a morning department meeting. My boss at the time found me just before classes started and voiced her displeasure at my absence. I had only been there a few months and didn’t really know anyone that well. I remember standing in the hall just outside my classroom thinking that there was no way I was going to get through the day and I told her so. I said, “I just lost one of the best I ever taught…”
They held a memorial service for Pat sometime in the next few weeks and I went up and spent the weekend on campus. It was a very strange weekend as I was definitely an outsider returning. The staff had changed and the kids had changed too. The weekend went by in a bit of a blur. I remember standing on the field where they planted a tree for him. This was the field that Pat had roamed as a defenseman and even run balls for me when I coached the soccer team. It was a beautiful day and a lot of the old crew returned to campus to honor him. Pat’s family was there and I recall being genuinely moved by their grace and humility.
I took a picture that day of the tree they planted, which looked out on the field and the Hudson Valley. I kept it in my classroom and then my office. When I left education, I brought it home, where it sits on my desk today.
Now and then, I would look at that picture, seeing that little yellow tree and it would be just the right message at just the right time. Perhaps I was dealing with a really tough discipline problem and seeing Pat’s tree would remind me to be fair and hear the whole story.
I remember other times when the students were driving me out of my mind and looking at that tree would remind me that whatever my current crop of students were doing, it would pale in comparison to some of the stuff Pat and his pals pulled and that would make me laugh every time.
And other times, I would see it and it would make me sad for the loss of a beautiful young life, so full of promise and talent and humor, to such a senseless act of violence. No parent should have to bury their child. And I am sad to think of his family, his younger brother in particular, that lost far more than I did, having to move on without him. I still have an image of Pat coming into my office at the end of his senior year with his little brother on his shoulders, saying, “Kugs-this is my little brother,” and flashing a proud smile. It was just about the happiest I’d ever seen him. And it makes my heart hurt.
And then, I think of Pat and something he said to me as I, in one of my heavier stages, was running laps with the team. I’m sure I looked winded and I can still hear him laugh, and call out, “Suck it up, Kugs!”
And that makes me smile, even now, all these years later.
This essay, along with many others is available in The Best of Aloha Kugs: Volume I, available HERE!