My race began...
on February 10th, 2008. I was still a kid, albeit a 22 year old kid in the second semester of my first year of law school and in a new, but promising, relationship. My life was on track and had been easy thus far.
The 10th was a Sunday. I woke up that sunny morning in La Jolla, California after spending a long weekend with my new long-distance girlfriend, Emily. Emily and I kept delaying my inevitable departure, she back to studying for the second test of her CPA exam, I for the 500 mile drive back home to Sacramento. In the late morning, my brother, Aaron, called to ask if I’d hit the road yet, curious as to when I’d be home. Aaron is just under 3 years older than me and my only sibling and at the time, we were living together with his girlfriend (now wife), Kathleen. Emily’s sister, Liz, was with us in La Jolla and the two of us were car-pooling back from Southern California to Northern California with a planned quick stop at my Dad’s house in Lodi where I was going to pick up my car before heading home. Soon after my brother’s call, Emily and I said our goodbyes and Liz and I started the monotonous journey north.
Having lived in Southern and Northern California, the drive up and down I-5 was one I’d done countless times. The climb up to Tejon Pass followed by the winding descent through the Grapevine can be particularly intimidating for the uninitiated and for good reason, I couldn’t begin to count the number of abandoned cars I’ve seen over the years that failed to make the journey. Following the “excitement” of the Grapevine lies a long, straight stretch; just two lanes of black asphalt flanked by the flattest most unattractive scenery one can imagine. But if you stay patient and focused on the road ahead, you get to your destination before you know it.
Although the drive up I-5 on February 10th, 2008 was familiar, my destination that day was not. The sun was setting as we passed Little Panoche Road about an hour south of Stockton and by the time we were pulling into my Dad’s driveway in Lodi it was dark. I spent my late youth and impressionable teenage years living at my Dad’s house which sits on a flag lot, aptly named as seen from above it looks like a flag: a long driveway leading to the house tucked in the back right corner. It is “my Dad’s house” because, although my mom, dad, brother and I moved there in 1994, my mom left our family and moved out of state in 2002 when I was 17. My Dad made the house a home for my brother and I; the constant support I knew I could always count on.
Liz pulled into the driveway behind where I’d left my white 2001 Ford Mustang. I got out of the passenger seat, grabbed my backpack out of the trunk and waved goodbye as she backed out of the driveway. I planned to pop in and give my Dad a hug and tell him about the weekend. My Dad and Emily hadn’t had a chance to meet yet and I was excited to tell him about the trip since things with her seemed to be going well.
Walking up the driveway to my Dad's front door I noticed Aaron's car parked out front, which was strange. If he was coming into town for dinner I would've thought he'd have told me when we talked that morning. The view of the front of the house was all too familiar from the countless times I’d walked this same stretch growing up, and the porch lights created a warm yellow glow in the front yard, reminding me that I was home. Walking up to the front door I peaked through the sidelight window and saw Aaron and Kathleen, two family friends, and two neighbors gathered in the kitchen.
Aaron saw me through the sidelight before I opened the door and he turned and when he met me in the entryway I noticed his eyes were watery and bloodshot. Did my Dad have a dinner party and Aaron’s eyes the result of an overindulgence of wine? His demeanor did not seem intoxicated. Aaron seemed relieved to be able to hug me but I sensed that he was also concerned, scared, and saddened. Before he said anything, I knew that this was not a happy social gathering. Why was Aaron here? Why were my Dad’s closest friends over? Where was Dad?
My big brother hugged me tight and felt like he didn’t want to let go. As we hugged he started to cry and without releasing me from the embrace he told me that Dad had unexpectedly died that morning. This was my destination on February 10th, 2008: the abrupt end of adolescence and the start of a new chapter in life.
I immediately sat down on the couch in the entry way. Although my brain was processing thoughts rapidly, time stood still...
How could this have happened so quickly?
Dad was fine three days before when I dropped off my car.
What is this feeling of emptiness?
The warm feeling of home turned cold and empty.
Does my brother feel the same way?
What do we do next?
I need to hang on to the love I felt from my Dad.
Is this real?
Like I said, life was on track and had been easy. My heart had always felt whole and there was always a home to come to.
The next few weeks, perhaps even a few months, were a blur. My emotions were bombarded internally and externally, decisions needed to be made about funeral arrangements and aspects of my Dad’s self-run business. At times I needed a shoulder for support, and other times I needed to be the shoulder. I was emotionally trying to deal with this huge change of life event and at the same time I was trying to finish my first year of law school.
Now, almost nine years later, I can appreciate the journey of my race that began February 10th, 2008. I believe that the other Runners who have contributed to Race to 30 would agree that the satisfaction of a race does not come at the starting line. Steve’s college experience was not gained the moment he received his college acceptance letter, Sarah’s satisfaction of motherhood was not fulfilled the moment of the positive pregnancy test, Holly’s sense of achievement didn’t come from her first day hiking the Inca Trail, and Amelia’s gratification wasn’t instant when she plunged into Lake George. As Whitney put it in her piece, it’s finding the prize in each footstep. As I read these stories, I couldn’t help but notice a commonality, life is about the journey.
Now, I’m a slightly more mature and more grown up 31 year old kid. I married that girl I started a long distance relationship with at the beginning of 2008 and I’m a partner at a law firm. Life is still on track and while the road has not always been easy, the journey has been remarkable.