Perhaps every parent thinks twice before taking any 5-year-old to a memorial service. I know I did. When I heard Nick Vecchione had died, I really wanted to pay my respects…the last time I’d seen him, three years ago and twenty years since he mentored me in college, he’d treated me like an old chum, remembering my college self better than I did. But still…Dar at a memorial service? And at a college reunion?
Wifey and I considered driving to Santa Cruz for the weekend, but, you know…Dar. The service was scheduled for 1:00, and Santa Cruz is only roughly a 90 minute drive, so we also considered a family day trip. Dar is good in cars, but they make his little brother cranky; the latter is better with 3-hour day naps at home. I liked the idea of giving wifey a little break – a Sunday afternoon where she could rest with one kid asleep and her other two guys out of the house. One mitigating factor was that the memorial had been scheduled for the same weekend as UCSC’s all-class reunion – and not just any such thing, but the commemoration of the university’s 50th birthday. As an occasional donor, I had heard much about this before Nick’s untimely demise; I had seen the flyers saying “The Original Authority on Questioning Authority,” rolled my eyes, and figured to stay far from such a scene. I didn’t like them shoehorning Nick’s service into this weekend for all the predictable reasons. But then, hey presto, I went anyway.
As the tribes gathered in the old dining hall (now the “event center”) of my college (Stevenson) at the university, I was struck by how good it was to see old friends. One of them told me in hushed tones about his own child with a disability – just one more bridge this blog has helped build. Meanwhile, Dar zeroed in on this one guy, clearly a student, almost certainly Latino, who was just helping with programs and such in the back. Dar would barely let go of this guy’s hand; he kept burying his face in it. Lucky for me the guy couldn’t have been nicer about it; he just laughed and said it was okay. The whole thing was so strange, as though they knew each other in another life (or this one). No, none of Dar’s therapists look like this guy (that I know of). But he was SO into him – like an old Disney fairytale where someone is just Chosen, and that’s it. I had to peel Dar off of him, and I did.
Dar and I settled into the final row of chairs, so that I could skedaddle out of there the minute Dar started yelping. And sure enough…that minute was one minute into the service. It’s not that Dar was/is upset, it’s just that when Dar sets himself to his “normal,” not happy but not sad, he makes a lot of noise. He tee-tee-tees. My wife and I sometimes shake our heads at each other: so much use of his vocal cords, so little comprehensibility.
Now, lucky for me, Nick Vecchione was a salty old New Yorker with no illusions about himself, and he’d lived a long rich life (he was 93), so I knew that the service wouldn’t have the somberness of one dedicated to, say, a recently slain teenager. To put it another way: Nick would have wanted Dar there, or certainly he wouldn’t have minded. One of my friends later told me that if she heard anyone complain about Dar’s noises she was ready to hit them – I thought that was very sweet. But I still felt awkward. So I watched Dar from the door and tried to listen to as many eulogies as I could.
When Dar tee-tee-teed too far in the wrong direction, I had to follow him around what you might call “my old stomping grounds.” We walked among the newer dorms, we walked to the knoll and looked down at the massive athletic field, dwarfed by Monterey Bay, which is in turn dwarfed by the biggest thing on Earth, the Pacific Ocean. Despite the relatively confessional nature of this blog, I think I generally suppress thoughts about how Dar and I may be similar, and also about how my college years affected me. On that day, I felt a rush of I’m-not-good-enough and I-haven’t-done-enough feelings that are normally polite enough to come only at 3:00 a.m. Why did I waste so much time at college wishing I was somewhere else or someone else? What could I have done differently that wouldn’t have led to Dar? Don’t think that, I thought, because that’s really not fair to him or you.
The truth was that Nick remembered me because of my Newsweek piece – he loved that a Banana Slug had made a media splash (back when Newsweek mattered). Not sure I lived up to Nick’s expectations, or mine.
After the service, people gathered outside for chat and photos, and I thought, oh good, I’m not the only one taking pictures at a funeral. For just a second, I lost Dar and absolutely freaked – Daniel don’t worry he’s wearing the GPS! But does it work in these situations? There won’t be an intersection in the middle of this campus!! – and then I found Dar amongst all my gathered friends. It was like panicking about your glasses only to find them on your head. Dar was the only kid to be seen, but he was doing fine. We were all doing fine. Even Nick, in death, was doing fine.
As with the birthday party that I described last week, this was one more time when Dar…well, kind of surprised me by not freaking out during an event. Trust me, he HAS done poorly at events like these. Am I underestimating him? Is he getting better? Just yesterday we realized he hasn’t hit or bit himself in at least two months – that we know of. (This also used to be much more common.) Perhaps Dar is realizing that when you see new things in life, you should stop, look, listen, and get the most out of them that you can. Perhaps Dar has more to teach me than I know.