A Canyon of Heroes State of Mind

10 Mar

One year before Jeff left us, I was fortunate enough to reconnect with him for the first time in a long time. It was a Friday evening in November of 2009, and I had just left the UN (where I was interning) to meet with Jeff’s dad inside his Bryant Park office. Rich and I had never crossed paths before. But we had recently discovered, via email, that we shared a unique hobby together—-collecting archival news and sports films—-and that we lived very close to one another. To say that I was excited to meet the man was a glorious understatement.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jeff was also on his way to his dad’s office. The Yankees had just held their World Series parade earlier that day, and so Jeff, donning his Yankees paraphernalia and exuding a radiance from his face, was in a “Canyon of Heroes” state of mind. He was also on the threshold of beginning his new job as a paralegal—-something extra to cheer about, no doubt, especially given how tough the economy was. As I settled into an empty conference room, waiting for Rich to get out of a meeting running overtime, in came Jeff to see me and keep me company. It was great. We chatted for the first time in ages, exchanging our favorite Yankees moments, reflecting upon college life, and remembering old Greeley classmates.

It was a conversation which passed by too quickly, and yet will forever be etched in my mind. Here we were, the two of us, always friends from a distance but never in the same group of friends, living what turned out to be parallel lives with SO much in common. We both shared a passion for history and politics. We both enjoyed rallying around the underdogs and the disenfranchised in our community. We both relished good food and good drinks. We both were entertaining the possibility of applying to law schools the following year. And we both were concerned over the uncertainty of our respective futures.

Above all, we both lived and breathed our favorite sports. Jeff’s devotion was to NBA basketball and mine to NHL hockey. But we learned how much each of us loved to write about and offer up commentaries about the games we loved. We held strikingly similar suspicions when it came to officiating—-both on the court and on the ice—-and we each detested our leagues’ commishes. (BTW, if David Stern and Gary Bettman are reading this, a brief message: please resign, marry one another, and move to Hawaii.) We each learned how much the other savored the epic moments, the clutch shots, the first-round upsets, and the miracle runs.

Rich joined us at the table soon thereafter, and the conversation inevitably shifted to our mutual hobby. Rich told me how those films which he and I collected brought back so many memories from his own childhood; how Jeff and the rest of the family never really caught on to this sense of nostalgia; and how some of the videos were particularly rare, expensive and difficult to unearth. Jeff was a great sport, sitting and listening to this unrelated conversation for some time, and then quietly left in the middle of it.

In the weeks and months that followed, I developed a growing relationship with Rich, filled with many more email exchanges and office visits. We talked about different things, and he was always one to go out of his way to help and give advice. Though I never admitted it, nothing ever interested me more than hearing about what Jeff was up to, and how father and son spent time going out to dinner, attending a sports game, etc. I wouldn’t hesitate, every once in awhile, directly dropping Jeff an email or message myself.

My memories of Jeff in his final year, though scattered, are crystalline. I remember a young man—-tall, dark, handsome, athletic and intelligent—-who had an absolutely awesome personality, a joie de vivre that was contagious, a loving family, and so much to be thankful for. I remember bumping into him every so often at Rocky’s, Club Fit, the Millwood bike trail, Chappaqua train station, and other local spots. I remember him continuing his streak as being the only friend of mine who wished me on my birthday every single year since high school graduation. I remember him telling me, multiple times, how he hated his paralegal job because of the insane workload and constant all-nighters. And I remember sitting beside him in October at Pace as we retook the LSATs (after which, he remained seated to tend to a missing signature, or perhaps something else amiss on his test). My final memory of him.

When I think of Jeff, I cannot help but rewind all the way back to the 7th grade. I was new to the Chappaqua school system back then, having just moved from Ossining, and it was a painful transition for me personally, with health problems and no friends whatsoever. Jeff was in a couple of my classes, and he was one of only a handful who bothered to pay any attention to me. He saw that I was doing poorly in these classes, and that I was struggling to stay afloat in general. It was Jeff who first began to call me by my nickname “Veek” on a regular basis. I wouldn’t be surprised if he even coined the nickname for starters. I thought it was terribly corny, but it was great insofar as it quickly gave me an identity, and at a time when I desperately needed one. (I tried donning a red Yankees cap to serve that purpose, but alas, friends kept on plucking that off my head.) The nickname stuck with me for the rest of middle school and for all of high school.

I always wished, deep down inside, that I got to know Jeff better. And it pains me that I never was able to share in the good times that so many of his closest friends were able to cherish. It pains me deeply, because I knew that he and I would have hit it off. Since he left us in November, I have come to know of only more similarities between the two of us—-some too personal for me to post here. But, at the end of the day, I am truly grateful to have developed a close friendship with his dad. Rich is absolutely awesome, and has enriched (no pun intended) my life in so many ways. And I am comforted with the belief that Jeff and I will someday reconnect again in Heaven.

Vikash Khanna

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