Posted by: Kevin | October 30, 2006

The Things I Carry

There is a well inside of me.  Into that well, I throw my worst memories, my nightmares, my deepest humiliations and failures.  There, these burdens lay quiet, undisturbed for long periods of time.  Until something happens that, for whatever reason, causes that water to rise out of the well and release some of the turbulence with.

For me, that something was the death of Red Auerbach.  Why get worked up over something as natural as an 89 year old man, who lived a full life, passing on?  It started a stream of conscious that lead me down the well.  I grew up in Boston and was once a huge Boston Celtics fan.  It’s impossible for me to remember the glory days and the brilliance of Red Auerbach without also remembering the one that got away.

As has been written numerous times, the death of Len Bias in June of 1986 marked the beginning of the end of the Celtics dynasty.  It also left a scar on anyone who truly cared about the Celtics in the 80’s.  That someone so young and with so much potential could die so suddenly was a shock.  This wasn’t some nameless, faceless statistic on the news.  This was someone I watched on TV, someone who was going to become a big part of my favorite team.  People like that don’t die, they get hurt or suspended or traded.  But he did die, and he wasn’t the first.

In those days I was also a big hockey fan.  Of course I loved the Boston Bruins, but I also liked the Philadelphia Flyers, especially their goalie, Pelle Lindbergh.  Maybe it was because I had played goalie or maybe it was because he was one of the first Europeans to make it big in the NHL and I thought that was cool?  I don’t know, but for whatever reason he was my favorite hockey player.  And then he got drunk and drove his car into a wall in November of 1985.  He and his passengers were killed.

I was heartbroken, how could this have happened?  I watch reports of it on the news, I read about it in the paper.  If we had ESPN back then I would have watched it there and if there was an internet I would have read it there, anything for some scrap of illumination.  Over the next few weeks I imagined that I had come up with some way to save him or to bring him back.  I didn’t want to let it go.   I didn’t even want to think about the other people he killed by driving drunk.  But he was dead, and he wasn’t the first.

I loved street hockey when I was little.  There were a group of teenage boys who would play on my street.  I was nine years old and I looked up to them, especially the oldest, Kevin King.  Even though I was years younger than any of them, they let me play too.  Maybe it was because I was a good goalie, but I think it’s more likely because Kevin was a good person. 

That year, as nine year old kid, my hockey team would win the only championship of anything that I’ve ever won.  I was the goalie and I’m pretty sure we beat neighboring Canton.  I think the final score was 3 – 2.  I don’t remember any details of the game though.  I’m almost positive that it was Easter Sunday, but that’s a little fuzzy too.  It was also the day that Kevin King died in a car accident, and that I can never forget. 

It was my fault somehow and it was unfair.  I had no right to enjoy such a good day while someone I looked up to and admired was dead.  I can’t remember what my parents told me to try and comfort me.  This was the first time a death like this had touched my life and it hurt.  Words of comfort were meaningless.

These are the things I carry with me, hidden in a well.  There are days, when I’m sick (like today) or depressed or both, when I think that these things do more to define me than anything else.  I am not Kevin Robinson so much as I am a compilation of Kevin Robinsons.  I’m the 9 year old who cried when his neighborhood hero died.  I am the 11 year old who simply refused to believe that the Challenger just blew up while he was watching with his classmates.  And I am many others as well, a collection of griefs in uneasy alliance with a veneer personal triumphs and happiness.

The title of this post is inspired by the best book I’ve ever read on the Vietnam War.  “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

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