I am super excited to share the cover art of the fourth and final book in the Avery & Angela series with you! I know the book was supposed to be ready in June, but I'm blaming Covid and 2020 in general.
So, while it's been delayed, the book is coming on December 8! There will be loads of promotions and giveaways and all sorts of fun between now and then, but the series is concluding.
Anytime there's a end to something, there are some bittersweet feelings and this ending is no exception. That said, they are wildly tempered by the level of excitement I'm feeling about sharing this final part of the story with you all.
So, you'll have the book in just a few weeks, and should you need to catch up on the series, HERE's A GOOD PLACE TO START, but without further ado....THE COVER!
So, it's been 230 days and we are still going strong with our daily reality board! I think this collection has some of our best work to date. It's been a lot of fun. We of course, have to thank our recent marker benefactor, our good friend Beth, for her donation to the cause!
What would you like to see in the coming weeks? Please comment below with your requests!
Also-my latest novel LOVE WILL COME TO YOU is coming out on December 8. Stay tuned!
Thirty years ago, today my father died. I was seventeen years old.
I’ve written about this before in this space. It’s been a topic that in many ways haunted me for years, dominated my thoughts and development for years but now lays claim to less of my head space than it used to. I’ll include links to the previous columns about my dad in the comments, if those are of interest to you.
But thirty years is a long time and I’d planned to write about that milestone. But then, something else happened.
My friend Bruce died suddenly this week, leaving behind a wife and two sons and countless friends and family who are reeling in the devastating wake of his loss. Bruce was an amazing man who’s impact on the lives of those around him will be difficult to measure, unless one were able to count the tears shed, the toasts raised, the chuckles shared in his memory over the coming weeks.
I think if you added up that number, you’d still have to multiply it pretty significantly to have some way to comprehend the impact that this man had on the people in his life. Maybe then, one could grasp it.
But I doubt it.
In thinking about Bruce and my father and the other people that I’ve lost along the way to here, I’m reminded of the fact that, at least to me, every time I encounter the loss of someone in my life, it brings me back to every other loss I’ve experienced. It’s like every loss is that last loss, and all the others along with it. I’d like to think that that is part of why Bruce’s loss is so devastating. But I think there’s more to it than that.
This one’s just not fair.
As my father was dying, I remember telling my mother that it wasn’t fair that he was so sick. It wasn’t fair that this was happening to us all. Not for the last time she told me, not unkindly, that “life isn’t fair.”
That hurt at the time and it hurts now just as much. It’s not fair, especially with the year that we’ve all had, the year we’ve all joked about. “Oh, that 2020 again…”
We’ve all said it and we’ve all thought it and yeah, it’s been a tough year, but this one’s just not fair. It hurts because we didn’t see it coming and it hurts because thinking about a world without Bruce in it is simply not a world any of us were prepared to be a part of.
Bruce and his family were among the first friends we made when we arrived in Northern Virginia ten years ago. His oldest son and mine were in scouts together and a few other activities. They got along well and have remained friendly to this day. Bruce’s younger son was often a classmate of my youngest daughter, and so together Bruce and I became the unofficial “Dad Brigade” for school field trips and activities. We survived Smithsonians, nature centers, science museums, amusement parks, concerts, track meets, soccer matches, scout meetings, field days, class parties, you name it.
I remember a few particularly challenging, all-day field trips where I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about my day, only to have that whole plan get upended and turn into something that might be fun after all when I heard Bruce’s voice behind me say, “OK, I’m not the only dad here. We’ve got this!”
On one occasion, I remember him gripping my shoulder and leaning in to say, quietly, just to me: “Rob, thank God you’re here.”
I’m not too proud to say that that made my day at the time. I keep thinking about that moment this week as I try to process what’s just happened. That moment was really Bruce in a nutshell. An unexpected warm and friendly comment, given by a true friend when least expected, with a smile and a shared sense of, “we’ll get through this together.” Always smiling, always giving of himself.
I can feel every head nodding in agreement across Springfield and beyond as you read this. I know you all understand. That shared understanding is unique and special and while I’m so glad we have it together, I’m also very sad because that aspect of our lives is gone, suddenly and yes, unfairly.
I never saw Bruce angry. I’m sure he had moments of anger, or disappointment, pain, like we all do and are having now, the Bruce I knew was gregarious, hard-working, ceaselessly dedicated to his family, supportive of everyone, and just really, really kind.
As the troop leader for my sons’ scout troop, he was for years inundated with an often wild and motley crew of boys, many with their own strong opinions on how to do (or not do) things as a group. I often left the meetings with a headache and I wasn’t leading anything. I never saw him lose his patience with the boys. He never snapped. It was always, “OK, let’s get back to…” whatever the task at hand was: a birdhouse or a tool box or a skit for the pack meeting. He was always patient, always kind, like that verse from Corinthians, which everyone uses for weddings.
That verse is very much in my head this week. While most people think of it as a statement on romantic love, it’s really not. (Being married to a clergy person has subjected me to this conversation after every wedding we’ve attended.)
Paul was writing to the church at Corinth because they were fighting amongst themselves. They were not treating one another well and he was trying to remind them that love was the most powerful force for connection and community available to them, and that they really ought to try being a little kinder to one another.
Part of that passage reads:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
I’ll admit, I’m emotional about this, but I feel that while Paul may have been talking to the church in Corinth, he might as well have been talking about Bruce.
His amazing wife and phenomenal sons face a much harder road ahead than do any of us. It’s road I know well and one I would never wish on anyone. But I find myself thinking, if this had happened to another from our group of friends; to another parent we all know and care about, what would Bruce do?
I think he’d show up, as he so often did. Not only to events and field trips, but to my mother’s funeral, which he and his family did when she passed a few years ago, helping my kids immeasurably by not being the only kids there at church.
I think he’d find a way to quietly lead the rest of us. I could see him organizing a “Council of Dads” to try and step in and help, not only in the first weeks of this change for the family, but long-term, with a “going forward” approach. I think he’d have given of his time, his seemingly limitless energy, and his immeasurable kindness.
He might have thought, perhaps it’s not enough, but it would be what he could do for his friends, and he’d do it without hope for reward or acknowledgment, and more importantly, without hesitation.
I would like to be more like Bruce.
The last text message I got from Bruce was just over a week ago, regarding my attempts to get our kids together on a Monday for a socially distanced lunch hour. They weren’t able to make it, but he went out of his way to, well, to answer it like Bruce. “Thanks for thinking of him and inviting him and please keep him in mind if you guys do it again.”
A simple, “We’re swamped, maybe next time,” would have been fine. That would have been the response that most people would send.
Bruce was a dedicated, selfless man. He was fun to be around and while he had a big personality, it always seemed like he was just to the left of the center of the conversation, passing the ball with an alacrity and quick wit that made him fun to be around. He was a fierce and loyal friend. He loved his family.
We will all miss him, none of us as much as his wife and children. I’m glad that our paths crossed and that for a short time, our lives intersected and we had the chance to know one another and become friends.
I know I’m a better person for that friendship.
WOW! We've been doing this Reality Board in our home for 185 days so far! I think it's been a lot of fun and truly apprecaite all the great feedback. (Especially on the one's I've drawn :)
Please let me know which ones are your faves and if you have any requests, as we still have yet to repeat ourselves. I think my kids were already pretty talented, but I've improved too, right?
Be well, stay safe, wear a mask, go vote, all that good stuff!
So, we're up to 152 days of sharing our daily Reality Board with you. It's been fun and to date we haven't repeated ourselves. (Yes, there were two Jokers, but they are from different cinematic worlds and very different characters, so there. :)
We even got a tweet back from the Official Kool Aid Man on his appearance. (He said, "OH YEAH!")
And I've finally figured out how to post these to the blog so they appear in order. It's only been months.
Hope you continue to enjoy. We'll keep doing them until I need the whiteboard back for, you know, actually scheduling things. So, no time soon, I imagine.
Stay safe! Let me know which ones you love!
One hundred and twenty eight. That's how many of these daily "Reality Board" art projects we've posted since lockdown started. That seems like a lot.
It has been fun for us and honestly, I'm super impressed with the fact that we haven't repeated ourselves yet.
I hope you have enjoyed them. Which ones have been your favorites?
Stay safe and stay healthy. Washing hands is good too. So is wearing a mask at times. :)
Greetings all-I hope that this finds you well and staying safe and healthy! I recently visited my beloved Wildwood, NJ, which as you may know is a setting of major importance in the Avery & Angela series. I took some time to scout out a few choice locations that I had in mind for a rough shot of what I hope will be the cover photo for book #4, the final book in the series.
The book, who's working title is LOVE WILL COME TO YOU, is a bit behind schedule as a result of the pandemic. I'd initially hoped to launch it this month, but we're not there yet. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, take a look at what I think is the best of the photo series I generated last week. I think this will be the cover but would love your input: what does it make you think of? Where do you see the story going with this as the cover? And yes, I know I need to crop out the crane....
Be well and please let me know what you think!
Tomorrow, June 7 will be the 80th day that my family has posted a daily doodle/reality check on our family whiteboard. It started as something of a goof, but it's now something that's a big part of our day. Each day, one of the five members of our household are responsible for creating a new drawing, and posting the day and date, since that's something hard to keep track of lately.
We've gotten the dates wrong a few times, but the drawings have always been interesting. The earlier versions are posted on the blog here too and are easy to find, scrolling back in time. I hope you're enjoying them.
Stay safe and I hope this finds you well. Cheers!
Readers of the Avery & Angela series know that the series is rich in music. In many ways Avery sees the world through the lens of music, his entire life feeling as though it’s scored or sound tracked in some way. As such, there are a LOT of musical references in the series and I thought it would be fun to give readers a little primer/listening guide, should they want to “listen along” to the book. Each link will lead you to a music clip or further reading if it’s not a song itself that’s referenced.
Page #3: This is the first mention of the Indigo Girls “Closer to Fine,” which appears later in the book as well.
Page #11: “Madam Marie” is not a song, but a reference to a character in the Bruce Springsteen song “4th of July, Asbury Park.” He mentions how “The cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.” The character is widely considered to be based on the real Marie Costello, who’s story is fascinating in its own right.
Page #20: The Grape Street Pub in Manayunk, PA is a real music club that I had the privilege to perform during my brief stint living and working outside of Philadelphia in 1995-96. I played there at least once a week for that year, which was a really hard year for me. I got to know some amazing artists, like JUNE RICH, who are mentioned in the book a couple of times, especially their bassist who I was friendly with during that year.
It’s not overstating it to say that that club may be the only reason that I got through that year.
Page #22: Don McLean’s “American Pie” is mentioned here, along with a story about Avery forgetting the words to the song. This happened to me during a show at The College of Wooster in either 1992 or 1993. It’s the only performance of mine from the 1990’s of which there appears to be no audio recording. There are still too many words in that stupid song.
Page #47-John Mayer plays Albert King at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is referenced
Page #68: Astronaut playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in outer space is referenced.
Page #73: Closer to Fine performed, without using any of the words in the manuscript, because they wanted $300 for the rights.
Page #78: The Smiths song “There is a light” is referenced.
Page #79: Avery’s original song “There is a light that never goes out” is performed.
Page #92: Bobby Rydell “Wildwood Days” plays on the boardwalk a lot.
Page #93: John P. Kee’s “Jesus is Real” performed at the chapel. It's not performed this well in the book.
Pages #96-7: “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” performed at the chapel. I was able to get rights to this for the manuscript. The clip is the one I watched repeatedly as I wrote this scene.
Page #102: “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” plays at Winterwood. I've ruined this song for my eldest child. Ask me how sometime. It's funny. (to me)
Page #122: A Reggae version of the Beatles “Twist and Shout” is played by young upstarts “Skipping Detention.” Fun fact: the band I played with during the summer of 1991, “The Simpletons” used to goof around with the song in this way. The name “Skipping Detention” was created by a friend in response to a contest I ran on Facebook to find a unique name. The winner got nothing but bragging rights.
Pages #127-128: The songs “Into the Mystic,” “Good Riddance,” “Sweet Caroline,” and both Sam Cooke and Bruce Springsteen’s versions of “Mary’s Place” are referenced as being part of the evening set list for THE Cozy Morely’s at the Anchor Inn.
Fun Fact: Cozy Morley was a real entertainer in Wildwood, NJ for decades. There’s a statue of him to this day on North Wildwood. Also, the Anchor Inn was a real place. It’s gone now but I loved it, so I put it into my book because it’s my world.
Pages #132-133: AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” Beach Boy’s “I Get Around,” Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Beiber’s “Love Yourself,” Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” and Flogging Molly’s “What’s Left of the Flag” are referenced as past of THE Cozy Morley’s set.
Page #135: “We’re Having a Party” is performed in the Southside Johnny style as opposed to the original Sam Cooke arrangement.
Page #139: "Everlong" by Foo Fighters is performed. I really wanted to get the rights to this but couldn’t afford them. I think the scene works well regardless and the clip I linked here is the one I watched over and over again writing this scene. Sorry about the spitting.
Page #144: Avery performs his original song, “The Garden” for the first time.
Page #193: “Jungleland” by Bruce Springsteen plays as Avery and Angie sit in the Tracer in Pin Oak Manor . Bruce was kind enough to allow me to use a few lines of his epic song. He and his people were simply amazing to work with.
Page #211: Flash Mob dance party on route 130 North to Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” The video (which is super fun) linked here is the one I watched as I wrote the scene, driving my son nuts. Fun fact: Pam and Kelly, who Avery dances with, are real friends who won the right to appear in that scene in one of my Facebook contests.
Page #221: Benny Goodman’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is referenced in backstory.
Page #252: “Penguin Dream Warriors” are not a real band, but they should be. I got the name as a combination of a Facebook contest response and a “Bloom County” book.
“Thunderegg” on the other hand a real band that you should be listening to right now. Their lead singer is a pal from childhood.
Page #258: Bruce’s “The Ties that Bind,” and “The Price you Pay” from the iconic “The River” album are referenced as is Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Fun Fact: The title of book #3 in the Avery & Angela series was almost “The Price you Pay.”
So, now you have a way to listen to every song in the book! There are original songs in books #2 and #3 as well that you can check out HERE!
Like and comment below and let me know what your favorites are! Thanks for your support and stay safe!
What if this (pandemic) happened in my day? Part Five-1991, Senior Year. Also, some final thoughts and lessons learned
Hello again friends! As always, I hope that you and yours are well and managing this current crisis well. I’ve appreciated your feedback over email and social media to this series, of which this is the final part. I may write an afterword if the spirit moves me in the future but, we’ll see how it goes.
To be honest with you, dear reader, this is the one I’ve been a little afraid to write since I started this project. My senior year of high school was among the most difficult and heart-breaking years of my entire life. While I’ve written about it in other columns in the past, including what was once the most read blog of my career and the Don Henley/Duster blog, I’ve never looked at it in this particular “What if?” manner.
If you’re just joining us, here’s what I’m doing: For the purposes of this series, I’m going to examine my journals and albums and memory banks to explore how, on the first of March of the specific year in question, my life would have changed given current events. I will focus the examination as though it ran parallel in time to what our experience has been, so “stay at home” begins on March 13 and assumes that the remainder of the school year is cancelled. For each year, I’ll give a summary of what was happening and then I’ll discuss what might have been different had this pandemic happened then. I will also look into the months to come and summer and postulate about how things might have been affected.
I’m nervous about how this all might go. There are a few items in here that I’ve never really discussed publicly or written about.
Twelfth Grade: March, 1991
By the time we get to March of 1991, my life was a complete and total mess. My world was falling apart. Nearly all of my friendships and relationships were on the outs and I was barely keeping my head above water.
My father had died in October after a brief and intense battle with cancer, which we discussed a bit in part #4 of the series. His death and the way that I responded to it would have a dramatic impact on the course of my life for the next decade.
Outside of his illness and eventual death, I had been deeply involved in the band, music and drama programs in the fall. The marching band season in particular was significant for me in terms of having an outlet and connecting with my best friends at the time. The season had been a rousing success and I’d actually learned to play the trombone a little.
I had had a lead in the fall play, a quirky show called THE FOREIGNER. I had been cast as Owen Musser, who was the bad guy. I loved the part. I got to be a blisteringly awful character and I was having a blast with it, especially in light of the tumult I was living in my home life with a father dying of cancer and a mother watching the love of her life die of cancer. I hadn’t planned to do the show, with everything that had been going on, but the director at the time showed me the role and really encouraged me to come out for it. “I think you’ll have fun with this part,” he’d said, and he’d been right.
The day that my father died, I came into school in the mid-morning to pick up my books since I’d be out of school for a few days, and to tell a pair of select friends that my father had died. As I entered the building to get a pass from my house office, the first person I saw in the hallway was the director. Our conversation went like this:
Him: “What’s up?”
Me: “My father just died.”
Him: “Oh, wow. Are you still going to do my play?”
These are direct quotes. The play was over a month away. We’d already started rehearsals. I hadn’t even considered dropping out and told him so, in a bit of a daze before I excused myself to do what I’d come to do. I missed a few rehearsals but returned the next week.
I’d also been rehearsing since the previous April as a member of the New Jersey All State Chorus. It was a huge honor and apparently I was the first performer from HHS to make an All State Ensemble of any kind in decades. I missed one rehearsal the week that my father died, but I’d been able to meet the performance and memorization deadlines. Being part of All State had been a great experience and as October rolled on, I was looking forward to the two performances coming up in November. There was the long weekend in Atlantic City where we performed at the giant convention center in early November for the NJEA Teacher’s Convention and then the final performance up north at Roxbury High School a few weeks later, the day after THE FOREIGNER was set to close. (These details will matter in a moment)
We held two services at Trinity Church for my father. A prayer vigil on the 11th and a funeral service on the 12th. Both services filled the large Princeton church to capacity. Mourners from every corner of our life as a family were there. People he’d worked with, people from church, friends and family from all over. My friends came, my sister’s friends came, some of my teachers even came. We were surrounded with love and sympathy and attention. I accepted so many hugs that I wish I’d been able to bank them and feel them later. I gave the eulogy and it was well-received. It turned out that I ended up using it as the basis for my college essays later on.
After the services were done and everyone went home, soon, perhaps too soon, it was just me and my mother in our now much-emptier home. The loss of my father loomed large in our house, so we both, without even discussing it, simply spent as much time away from it as possible. I went to school and spent time with friends, went to rehearsals, started playing pool at the pool hall that used to be above that restaurant near Peddie Lake. I joined every musical group they’d let me into at school and dove even deeper into playing the bad guy in the fall play. It felt good to be the bad guy. It felt like a healthy outlet for what was going on inside of me: all of the things that I wasn’t talking to anyone about.
Two weeks before opening night, the director called the entire cast and crew together and announced that he was adding a Sunday matinee performance to the run of the show. This had never been done before, at least not in my four years in the program or my sister’s four years before that. Under normal circumstances, the chance to do another performance in front of another audience would have been exciting, and the rest of the cast and crew applauded and cheered the idea. I, however developed a brand-new pain in my stomach, completely unique to the ones I’d already been feeling for the previous month.
I couldn’t do a Sunday matinee. I was already scheduled to be at the final All State Chorus concert that day. I had given this date to the director when the production had started, along with all of my other conflicts, because it would mean that I couldn’t take part in the “striking of the set” which we always did the day after a show closed. I felt bad that I would have to miss that as it was always a lot of work and a lot of fun and we’d get pizza. After the announcement I went to speak to him. The conversation (I didn’t write it down so I’m remembering it from 30+ years ago) went something like this:
Me: Uh, Mr. _______, I can’t do a Sunday show. I’ve got the All State concert.
Him: Oh, well I guess you’ll have to quit then.
Me: Um, what?
Him: Didn’t you just have that performance last week?
Me: There’s two. One in AC, the other in Roxbury.
Him: Well, you’ll have to miss it, then.
Me: I can’t miss it. It’s a required performance and I’ve been working on earning my spot in the group and then rehearsing with them for over a year!
Him: Well, I guess you’re out of my show then.
And I was kicked out. While I did my best to help my friend who’d been thrust into learning the role in two weeks, that event, for a variety of reasons, was the end of my time as a part of the drama program, the end of my friendships with that entire social group, and the first of what would be many more endings to come.
The All State Concert went well. I completed my obligations and was offered spots in three National Choirs. There was a small article in the local paper that my guidance counselor wrote. It ran in the bottom left hand corner of page nine, next to a nearly full-page advertisement for a local liquor store.
Later that month, I was voted a captain of the swim team and had enjoyed a pretty good season, earning my fourth varsity letter. The team had been a source of great comfort that season. It was a group of guys I liked and got along with and they were generally low-maintenance. At the time, I wouldn’t have named any of them my best friends, but we were a tight group and cared a lot about one another. I think, as I consider it now, that that team might have been the only group with which I didn’t have some sort of falling out during the year. I’d never considered that before. My season officially ended on March 9 at the State Meet, after which we all piled into our cars and drove to the Sweet Sixteen of a wonderfully awesome young woman who was a member of the diving team. It was a really great night, one that would take on new meaning about a month later.
Christmas, normally a high point of our family life was a bit more reserved in the wake of dad’s passing, but I worked really hard to try and pick up the slack. Dad was always ALL ABOUT Christmas, and I worked to have us continue some of our regular traditions while starting some new ones. I think it went as well as we could have hoped, although Mom insisted that we leave town right after the holiday and visit the Homestead, a resort in Virginia where we could ski if we wanted to, watch movies, meet rich people and dance with your grandmother after dinner in the grand ballroom. I did all those things, despite almost dying (twice) while trying to impress a redhead from Richmond with my first time-skiing skills. (I did not impress her.)
I barely finished my college applications on time. My guidance counselor, who was an absolute angel, had gotten my application fees waived so that I could apply to anything that moved since I hadn’t had a chance to do any college visits. “Apply now and we’ll figure it out later,” she’d said, and I did, applying to ten schools, one of which I’d visited.
I’d had a huge falling out with another group of friends around New Year’s and found myself, as we moved into February, largely connecting with friends from other schools or looking for new groups of people to hang out with.
I was alone a lot. I’d made some new friends and really cherished them before I seemed to fall apart and screw things up with them too. I was a mess. As we discussed in part #4, I know now that I was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks back then, perhaps never more acutely than I did senior year when I lost my dad, almost all of my friends, and several different communities I’d been a part of, both theater and music.
So, if the world had shut down on March 13, 1987,
how would my life have changed?
Short term? Probably not much. By the time we reached March, I think I was mostly looking forward to graduating and getting the hell out. I stopped regular journaling in January, which I regret. The only things on the horizon aside from graduation and Prom were the music program trip to Maine, which piggybacked the senior trip to the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School. All of that would have been cancelled.
Losing the trip to Maine would have been a real loss. Outward Bound, in particular was a really good experience. With the exception of Band Camp back in September, that trip was really the first time I’d been able to get out of the house and away from everything that was going on within my house, which was largely sad. After an initial burst of energy and support from our friends and families, the “How are you holding ups?” and the “We’re here for you’s” dried up in the months after the funeral, as they are wont to do. It was difficult for my mother in that first year in particular as friends that my parents had known for years fell out of touch, as does happen when one part of a couple is gone. We realized who were “Dad’s friends” and who were “Mom’s friends” and there were moments that the clarity of that was painful. Outward Bound and the time in Maine was really centering for me and I returned from that trip with just enough peace and energy to finish the year. Sure, I felt like I was limping to the finish line, but I’d made it despite my feelings of ostracization.
My Prom date was awesome and I’d have been sad to miss the honor of escorting her. Knowing her, we likely would have made plans to dress up in our Prom outfits whenever things opened up and go to a diner and make that our Prom, complete with flowers and pictures and our own brand of “intellectualism.”
I accepted a small part in a friend’s one-act play at the end of the year. I played a douchebag. It was the easiest part I ever had to prepare for since that was very much how I felt most of the time. There were jokes made about “typecasting” at the time. I saw a video of the show recently and it’s funny. I wore Z Cavaricci pants, so there’s footage of that out there now.
I was angry and miserable and lonely by the time we got to graduation, so I would have been fine missing it. If it weren’t for my mother and sister attending, and me needing to actually obtain my physical diploma, I might have skipped it and driven to the beach.
The last events of note before things would have been locked down would have been the state swimming championship meet and the Sweet Sixteen party I mentioned above. Her party was Saturday, March 9. It was a great night that the team arrived at late. When we arrived, she ran across the room to hug us and tell each and every one of us how happy she was to see us and how grateful she was that we could make it. Her parents went out of their way to greet us and thank us as well and I can’t speak for the rest of the guys, but I danced all night, including a couple of slow songs with the guest of honor, including one dance to The Drifters, “Save the Last Dance for Me.” As I generally did anytime that I danced with a young lady in those days, I sang the song to her as we danced.
Less than a month later, she would die in a tragic accident. She was an amazing young woman. I can’t hear The Drifters today without thinking of her. I named a character in the very first novel I ever wrote after her. I wish it were a better novel so that it might see the light of day someday, but that’s unlikely. Before today, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about either of those two things.
If we’d been stuck at home starting on March 13, short term, my life wouldn’t have been very different. I spent most of my time in my room back then, playing my $5 guitar and listening to music and doing homework. I’m not really certain how my mom would have managed. She’d just started a new job as the director of the Senior Citizen’s center in our town and was very good at her job. It followed the same closure schedule as the school district, so she would have been closed down too. She poured herself into her new position that first year; without that outlet during that time, I have difficulty imagining how Mom would have been. Alone at home with only me and her grief? I really don’t know. Maybe I just don’t want to.
The longer-term impact of the pandemic would have been centered solely on my future. I’d applied to nine colleges: Hamilton, Drew, Wooster, Susquehanna, Haverford, Bates, Rutgers College, and Denison. I’d only officially visited one of them, Hamilton, back in the fall. I’d become infatuated with the school and had earned the interest of the swim coach there, so I’d applied early decision in hopes of improving my chances for acceptance. (It didn’t work) I’d visited Rutgers to hang out with friends, but didn’t really have any interest in going there at all. I just applied because I could and it was close. RU was much bigger than what I was looking for in a school. Plus, half of my high school was going to go there and I was looking to get away.
Acceptances and rejections were coming in mid to late March and so plans got made to visit the ones I was actually interested in. At the time, none of them thrilled me. It might well have been that I was still just too broken to really take much of an interest in the process, but my mother pushed me. She was relentless in getting me to write the essays, fill out the applications, all of that, and she didn’t relent when it came time to pick someplace. Many of the schools I’d applied to were on the “Common Application” so I just checked a box if the school seemed remotely like a good fit. Some, like Haverford I applied to because my dad was from the area, but I knew I was unlikely to get in. (I didn’t) Others, like Bates and Susquehanna, I thought I’d get into, but I only checked their boxes because they sounded interesting after reading the entire Peterson’s Guide to Colleges several times. I got into both but never planned a visit there. Denison and Wooster had been schools that my sister suggested, since she’d gone to a school in the same Ohio-based conference. The early leader in the clubhouse was Drew. It was a small-liberal arts school that was in Jersey but not super close to home. They had a great theater program and were close to NYC, where a lot of their students got work later on. That, and they wrote a personal note on my acceptance letter referencing my essay about my father. I learned later than they did that to every kid’s letter, but I was touched by it. I took a visit there sometime in March or April, and loved it with two exceptions: No swim team and no football team. But I figured I could live with that, especially because my mom had said I could take my car with me if I went to a school in Jersey.
So, that visit probably wouldn’t have happened if we’re on lockdown. Nor does the trip in April out to visit my sister in Columbus, Ohio when we visited Denison and The College of Wooster. I didn’t want to go, but as I’ve said, Mom was relentless about me picking a school. I was ready to just put the Drew sticker on the car and be done with it, but she insisted that I see the Ohio schools. “You might like one of them better and maybe they’ll offer a better scholarship,” she’d said. And on we drove.
We started with Denison. The swimming coach there had taken a very aggressive interest in me, setting up a formal meeting with me after my tour. My times were good for a high school senior, but his interest seemed excessive. I was getting a letter a week and numerous phone messages. I never seemed to be home when he called. Never one to shirk attention, I went to the interview. Short version of the story is this: My times were good for a high school male. They were national championship level for a female. My middle initial is “A” which when accidently combined with “ROBERT” makes “ROBERTA,” who the coach was really fired up about. He’d brought the women’s team captains to meet me, which I really enjoyed as they were all gorgeous and I was seventeen and single. Alas, once his error was made clear, he had no interest in me whatsoever. Neither did the young women, alas, but this was fine because I hated the campus and wouldn’t have gone there anyway.
I told Mom that we should just drive home to Jersey, that I’d just go to Drew and call it a day. I didn’t want to visit Wooster. I’d had enough. But she was driving and we had an appointment for a tour and an interview, so we went. I was grumpy when we arrived at Wooster, but something unexpected happened as I walked the campus with our tour guide. Every time our group passed someone on the pathways in-between buildings, they said hi to her.
After a while I asked her, “Do you know all these people saying hi to you?”
“Not all of them,” she said, “But most of them. It’s a small school, people just do that here, I guess.”
After the year I’d had, I found that the more I walked the campus, the more I felt at home for the first time in a very long time. A school I’d only applied to because my sister said I should check that box on the common app would become among the most important places in my entire life. I actually got mad once I realized that I’d have to go there because I’d resigned myself to Drew, and now there was something so much better, but it was a change. I got over it pretty quickly.
That trip likely wouldn’t have happened if the pandemic hit in March 1991. In all likelihood, that would have meant that I never went to Wooster. I would never have met the guys who became my best friends. I would never have had any of the amazing experiences that I packed four years on the campus having. And I would not have met my wife.
If the world had locked down on March 13, I’m almost certain that a path to get to Wooster would have never materialized, especially if the colleges closed down as they have and may remain into the fall. Without a visit to campus, I can’t see any logical scenario that ends with my ending up at Wooster. Perhaps I would have taken a year off and tried to get a job. Maybe I would have gone and taken some courses at the local Community College. Maybe I would have revisited a late-breaking interest in the U.S. Coast Guard. Maybe I would have just gone to Drew, when things opened up. It’s hard to guess what I would have done, but it’s equally easy to anticipate that I might never have really considered Wooster. I was so broken and so ready to move onto anything, I would likely have found a simpler way forward. And I would have missed out on the most formative experience of my life, and several of the most important relationships in my life.
The impact of that would have been life-shattering.
What about the Summer?
That summer was pretty unspectacular in my memory. I worked at the summer camp at the community college again. I drove around. I spent some time with the few friends I had left. I was counting the days until I would leave for Wooster. I had everyone’s address that I wanted to write to and planned to write letters when I got there. I listened to music. I wrote songs. I gained confidence in my ability to write and perform my own stuff.
Everything was focused on going to college. If this pandemic happened then, I don’t know that I’d have been going at all.
The summer was a difficult one for my mother and me as well. The year had obviously been hard for both of us, but I think we were both in need of change, and dynamic change at that. I think she was as excited about my leaving for school as I was. If that summer had been the two of us stuck at home or in some form of social distancing, I imagine we’d have driven one another crazier than we actually did.
The bigger issue for me would have been the loss of Wooster and possibly the loss of college at all. I had to get out of that house. The truth is, I don’t really know what would have happened, and that, coupled with the consideration of the crippling loss of my time in Wooster, meeting and falling in love with my wife, making my very best of friends, really learning how to write and how to live on my own, has made this part of the series the most challenging to write for me. I’m kind of glad it’s done now, although a look at post-freshman year at Wooster would be entertaining. (I’m not doing it though.)
In the end, of all the years I examined, from 1987-1991, clearly our current crisis would have had the largest impact on my life in 1991.
You might say, as my children did when this all came up at dinner the other night, “Well, Mom lived in Jersey then. And she was interested in Drew too, right? Maybe you guys would have met there?”
Alas, my wife is ahead of me in almost every way, but most notably she was a year ahead of me at school. So, she would already have been at Wooster. She was a sophomore when I was a first year and while we knew one another, we didn’t start dating until my sophomore year. So I think it’s a safe assumption that my landing at Wooster is at best unlikely had this pandemic happened in 1991.
Realizing that makes me both sad and appreciative. I’m sad to think that there’s any version of my life that doesn’t result in my being with her and raising the children we have and living the life that we live together. It’s almost soul-crushing to consider. But it makes me appreciative of the fact that it did happen. The tendrils of our lives came together in such a way that we found one another, at just the right time and in just the right place. That fact that it happens at all is the miracle. It’s one I’m eternally grateful for.
So, as I bring this thought experiment to a close, I think I’ve learned a few things:
I’m sure there’s more, and maybe if I do an afterword after I’ve had a chance to sit with this a little longer, let it germinate as a whole five-part series, maybe I’ll have more to add to that list. I think in the end what I’ve really learned is that I’m very glad this didn’t happen in my day. I feel great empathy to the high school seniors and the rising ninth graders who will face particular challenges of transition during all of this. At the very least, today’s technology allows us all to maintain some kind of contact. I really struggle to think about how my schools would have handled distance learning in the late 1980’s.
I think we’ll get through this. I hope we’ll get through this. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. It’s been a challenge for me to write but honestly, it’s the kind of challenge I needed to get back on the horse to finish the next novel. This was a fun thought experiment.
Let’s never do it again, OK? 😊
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