First Birthday — Chapter 14.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

            I got off the plane in Philadelphia, and felt some uneasiness as I walked through the terminal.  It had been a long time since I had seen Avery, and even though we had spoken on the phone I was expecting there to be some tension between us.  The last time we had seen each other it had been a trying experience and conversation.  It was as if we were staring at each other, trying to find the persons that we had fallen in love with.  We finally agreed that we had lost sight of it, whatever it was that had brought us together.  We walked away from each other like we had just negotiated the terms to end a great war, and although we said we would stay in touch, we did not.  For me, it was easier to push Avery further into my memory, to not make that call.  Avery, I believe, immersed herself in her work.             

            During law school Avery had secured internships in the Philadelphia area to at the very least give us the same home base during the summer.  I appreciated the concession, especially at first, but in the end it turned out working well for her.  During a casual round of golf she had met Marylou Dowd who ran a boutique Real Estate firm that catered to wealthy clients looking for Main Line mansions or Chester County acreage.  Marylou took one look at Avery, and saw herself.  With a little grooming Avery would be her protégé, and a connection to a younger, but just as wealthy group of clients.  Avery latched on, and her dreams of working in her father’s management firm faded quickly.  In her mind, Marylou desperately needed her, and that was something she never felt from her father.  Avery finished law school, but soon after was following Marylou everywhere she went, and not long after creating her own little real estate empire. 

            I wasn’t surprised by her success.  Avery always had an idea of who she wanted to become, and with that vision there was a salary attached, or at the very least a way of life.  Marylou had empowered her to create this environment for herself, and she had flourished.  She didn’t need her father, and certainly didn’t need me to help with the vision any longer.  The changes that this brought about in Avery started slowly, but eventually became less subtle. 

I came through the secure section of airport, and scanned the signs briefly to make sure I headed in the right direction.  I was not expecting to see Avery at all inside the terminal, and if I did I would have thought she’d be in her professional attire, dressed as if she was coming from a meeting, or a big closing, but who I saw, leaning against a nearby wall was the girl that used to routinely beat me in putting contests. 

            She wore white shorts, and, a pink sleeveless golf shirt.  Her legs and arms were tanned a golden brown, and her hair had been braided, and pulled through a pink visor.  She waved in my direction, and once I processed that it was Avery, I smiled, and approached her. 

            “I thought you were going to pick me up outside,” I said, still a couple steps away from her. 

            “I guess I was anxious to see you.”

            I was pulling a rolling carry on, and didn’t quite know what kind of greeting to expect, but before I could think too much about it Avery had wrapped me in a hug. 

            “It’s good to see you again,” she said. 

            “Um, thanks,” I stumbled over my words slightly.  “Did you come from the course?” I asked. 

            “No, we’re playing, remember?  You brought your clubs didn’t you?” 

            “Yeah, I have them.  I just, I guess I just wasn’t expecting you to be here ready to go.” 

            I knew I wasn’t making a whole lot of sense so I suggested we head down to pick up my golf clubs at baggage claim, and we could be on our way.  Once I got my clubs we walked to the garage where Avery led me to a sleek Lexus coupe.  It looked like she had just pulled it off the lot.  I barely squeezed my luggage in the small trunk, and then closed it carefully.  Avery was waiting behind the wheel while I folded myself into the passenger seat. 

            “Nice car.”

            “Oh, thanks.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Do you remember that place out in Malvern that Marylou had for a while?  It was eighteen acres, huge stone farmhouse, and everything else?”  Avery asked me while backing quickly out of the parking spot. 

            “Maybe,” I said.  I didn’t know the house.  Avery had started talking about her listings and clients like children towards the end of our relationship, and I mostly blocked it all out. 

            “Well, it was on the market for a long time, and finally the seller just pulled the listing.  We thought it was a lost cause, but then I met these new buyers, and they start describing that place, without knowing it existed, and my mind is spinning,” Avery stopped the story to pay for her parking, and then sped down the highway onramp before continuing.   “So, the short story is that I got the deal done, and it was a really nice commission.  Marylou said I should get myself a present.  So I got the car.” 

            “You give nice gifts.” 

            “It was my birthday,” Avery emphasized.  “I remember you used to give me pretty nice things on my birthday,” she looked over at me and smiled. 

            I had given Avery a nice gift or two over the years, but I had also proposed to her on her birthday.  I wasn’t exactly sure to what she was referring.   I decided to change the subject.

 “How’s your game?”  I asked.

“Oh god, awful,” Avery shook her head in disgust.  “I am terrible these days.  I never play. Well I play some, but I don’t practice.  Of course, some of these ladies I play with don’t know any better, and they think I’m the greatest,” Avery laughed at this thought. 

I admitted that I knew what she meant, and I did.  Golf success is quite relative.  I was sure that Avery’s worst shot was better than anything most of these women could ever hope for, and she probably had to be careful about how she reacted to her results.  No high handicapper likes to play with someone who shoots 75, and then pouts about it.  I knew this routine myself fairly well, and was getting even more experience with it at the Lake Club. 

It took us about a half hour to get to Avery’s club.   When she told me she had joined Hillcrest I wasn’t surprised.  It was one of the area’s older and more respected clubs, and was widely known for its top of the line amenities.  The clubhouse facilities, pool, restaurant, and tennis complex were all top of the line.  The golf course lacked a national reputation, but was solid enough to attract some of the areas better players who had an equal interest in the club’s social calendar.  I had played several rounds of golf there, and never thought much of the place, but it was the kind of club where Avery would fit right in, and be comfortable.  Upon arrival she gave me the guided tour, and then said she’d wait on the range while I changed in the locker room. 

I got dressed quickly in front of a guest locker, and sat down on a plush leather bench to change my shoes.  When I took my golf spikes out of bag, and set them in front of me I noticed a piece of paper was resting in the right shoe.  I pulled out the paper, opened it up, and saw that it had been torn out of a book or tablet.  I didn’t know what it was until I had read a couple lines.  It was a page from Cait’s journal.

 It was what she had written after the night we spent in Dune Harbor, the night we had water ice, and she kissed me in her driveway.  I read the page, and the words made me realize the first thing I was going to do when I got back to Michigan was to going to be to tell Cait about Avery, and hope she understood.  At the bottom of the page she had drawn a heart, and written that she missed me.  I read it through two or three more times before sending her a quick text message telling her I found the journal entry.  I wanted to call her, to read the page one more time, but I knew Avery was waiting, so I tucked the note into a pocket on the bag, and headed to the range. 

We played a quick nine holes.  Avery didn’t hit it quite as straight as I remembered, and had some rust on her short game, but she still made putts from all over the place.  She rolled in long ones, and slammed in six footers with the confidence of a pick pocket.  Avery seemed very impressed with my play, but I felt crisp contact slipping away as the nine wore on.  Something had gone drastically wrong by the ninth hole when I rope hooked a driver into a stand of pine trees off the tee, and had to hit out sideways.  A wedge, and a lucky putt had saved my par, and given me a rough around the edges thirty-six.  Not bad for someone fresh off a plane, but aside from a cold shank, there isn’t much more unsettling then a quick hook. 

During the round Avery had mostly talked about her work, or golf, and she continued on as we shared a quick drink after the round.  I had made plans to meet my sister for dinner, and I sensed that Avery wanted to join us, but knew I probably needed to spend some time alone with my sister as well.  She did convince me to have a drink though, and while I drank a beer at what I thought was a normal pace, Avery was making quick and significant dents in her second vodka and cranberry juice.  I had never known Avery to be a heavy drinker, certainly a social one, but never one to set the pace.  Her drinking wasn’t the only thing that surprised me about the setting.  I expected Avery to know everyone, to be the life of club, but she seemed to move around the perimeter, almost acting like the guest that I was. 

“I’m really glad you came, and we got to play,” Avery said.  She was rattling her ice cubes around in her empty glass.

“You’re playing well,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not.  You’re game looks good, though.  Do you want another beer?  One more before we go?” 

“I should probably get going.  I don’t want to keep Danielle waiting.” 

 “You sure,” Avery looked at me closely.  For the first time that day she looked more like the woman she had become than the girl I had fallen in love with during college. 

“I’m sure, tomorrow,” I paused for a moment.  “Tomorrow, we’ll have more time.” 

“All right, it just seems like you are going to be gone again before I know it.” 

While Avery thought about this statement, I excused myself to get my bag, and set in motion the process of leaving.  When I returned from the locker room, Avery was ready to go, but was holding a plastic cup that I assumed contained a drink for the road.  I was about to say something, to make a joke, but Avery’s flat expression stopped me.  She didn’t see up for a laugh, and we walked quietly to her car.  The short ride to my sister’s condo was quiet as well.  We pulled to a stop out front, and Avery popped her trunk, then looked over at me, and frowned slightly. 

“We’re going to visit Chris in the morning, right?”  She asked. 

“Yeah, I think we’re aiming for about eleven, but I’ll call you in the morning,” I unbuckled my seatbelt, and opened the door a crack. 

“Are you sure you don’t need a ride?” 

            “Yeah, Danielle is coming, so I’m fine.” 

            “All right, well don’t forget to call me in the morning,” 

            “I won’t,” I said.  I turned to look at Avery, and thought that there might be tears forming in her eyes.  I certainly didn’t want her to start crying.  Not there at that moment, and so I leaned across to her, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.  I told her I would see her the next day. 

***

            I said that I hadn’t seen Chris since I left him at that bar the night Danielle broke up with him.  In one sense that is true, but in another I suppose it is slightly misleading.  The details of the day after Chris and I returned from Florida are a blur.  I don’t think I’ll ever recall exactly what happened, and even the days that follow seem to run together.  I remember doing specific things, all the phone calls, the trip to the hospital, but I could never place them in any logical order.  I wasn’t thinking properly, and that was a condition that stuck with me for the weeks, or even the months that followed. 

            I remember that Danielle woke me with a phone call.  I had been so exhausted from the day before that I had fallen into a deep, and disorienting sleep.  The phone startled me, and when I came to it took me a moment to realize I wasn’t in Florida.  When I answered, Danielle was in a panic.  She was hysterical, and I couldn’t understand her through her wails and tears.  I finally understood that she was saying there had been an accident, and then I heard her say Chris.  Over and over again she said his name through gut wrenching sobs.  I felt my own stomach turn while I listened to her, and all the remnants of my sleep had disappeared in a few seconds.  I was getting dressed without thinking what I was doing.  Before I knew where I was going, I was ready to go.  I finally decided that I would stay on the phone with Danielle while I drove to her place.  I couldn’t think of anything else to do. 

            Danielle was waiting outside when I pulled up.  She flipped her phone closed, and rushed into the car.  There were still tears in her eyes, but her mood had shifted.  She was angry.  I had never seen her so enraged. 

            “What took you so long,” she screamed. 

            “I got here as,”

            “Shut the fuck up, and drive to the hospital.  Jesus Christ.  How could this happen.  Why did this happen?  I thought you were with him.  What happened?  What the fuck happened Dave?” 

            “I was with him,” I tried to answer calmly, but I could feel the tension rising in my own voice, and I opened a window while I pulled back onto the street.  The car suddenly felt hot and claustrophobic.  My heart was pounding. 

            “No, you weren’t with him.  No one was with him,” Danielle seethed, but then collapsed again in tears.  She didn’t say another word the rest of the drive. 

            All I knew when we got to the hospital was that Chris had been in a car accident.  I didn’t know who was driving, or where, or when it had happened, but I knew the situation was grave.  We hurried into the emergency room, and while we frantically looked for someone to point us in the right direction we spotted Chris’s mother.  She sat alone among a group of chairs.  Her face was devoid of color, and she stared into the distance, focusing on nothing at all.  When her eyes met Danielle’s, it looked for a moment as if she might smile, but then silent tears began streaming down her face.  Danielle rushed over, and sat next to Chris’s mother.  They embraced, and cried, and consoled each other while I stood to the side.  I’d never felt so alone in my entire life.  No one came out and said what had happened, but I knew.  I knew that Chris was gone. 

            When we realized that we couldn’t stay at the hospital forever, and when the reality of the situation began to sink in, I found myself sitting in my bathtub, letting the spray of the shower cascade over me.  A shower had always cured my minor ailments.  It was always a simple cure for a hangover, or ailing back, but I think that day I just wanted it to drown out the sound of my tears.  Ten years of friendship flashed through my mind while I sat there.  I thought about what Chris had sacrificed for me, and how I had for the most part let him down.  I remembered his cocksure arrogance, and the quick smile that had calmed a million tempers.  I remembered the best times we shared, our run through Oakmont, but mostly I remembered his unflappable loyalty.  He was the one person I knew I could count on, and without him I felt rudderless, completely lost in life. 

            The cruel twist of fate that had sent the drunk driver crashing into Chris’s cab in the early morning hours of the day we lost him still haunts me.  I think about the series of events that had to occur in perfect order for the accident to happen, and I am confronted with hundreds of things I could have done differently.  I shouldn’t have left him at the bar.  I should have insisted he come back to my apartment.  I should have played better in Florida.  If I hadn’t made such a quick exit, we wouldn’t have even been in Pennsylvania that night.  I should have practiced harder, or I should have realized what I was doing, and set Chris free of his commitment to me.  I had taken Chris along on my aimless ride through professional golf obscurity, and he hadn’t made it out on the other side.  I wanted to forgive myself, but I found it terribly difficult. 

            At the funeral was where I saw Chris for the last time, where I said my official goodbye to him.  I struggled deeply through a eulogy, and eventually had to excuse myself from the podium.  I wasn’t the only speaker that found tears intruding upon their words.  The memories were all fond ones though, and several bursts of laughter punctuated the funny stories that recalled Chris’s humor or spirit.  At first I found myself laughing along with the other, but as the ceremony progressed to the gravesite, and then at the reception I found myself withdrawing from the crowd, laughing a little less at the stories, and missing Chris a little more. 

It was a day, a series of events that completely changed my life.  Overnight I had become an adult.  The greatest reminder I had of my youth was gone, and I was forced to stare reality in the face.  I don’t think I would have been able to immediately return to the golf course without Chris.  Hitting balls, or trying to escape for nine holes would have been completely futile.  In my mind there was no golf without Chris, or at least no serious golf.   Golf as a lifestyle no longer had meaning.  I found myself visiting his grave often in the weeks after his death, and it provided some comfort, but I also knew that I was still leaning on him too much.  One day while walking out of the cemetery I knew that I needed to leave Chris behind, at least for a little while, and that is what sent me to Michigan.

One thought on “First Birthday — Chapter 14.

  1. and wondering, a non-romantic chapter, huh? You anti-romantic, you?? i have a theory to try and discredit that theory of yours…

    envious of your talent. jqturnbell

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