Of Clif And Carmelo

27 Mar

Dear Jeff,

It’s been a couple of months since I last wrote to you, so I thought it was time to get you up to date on things.   Overall, I guess I’d characterize things as being stable.  Mom has been remarkably strong, as have Drew and Brett.  I, the former rock of stability, have certainly shown some chinks in my armor, but I’m hanging tough.  As I wrote about in one of my February blog posts, we have seen several tangible signs that your spirit is alive and well, and I want you to be assured that we know you it was you who turned out the lights at the Meadowlands, nudged Brett’s last shot through the hoop against Harrison, etc.).  We always know when you are sending us a message or communicating with us in any way, so don’t ever worry about whether those messages are being recognized by us.  They are.  Every single one.

First, I guess you should know that Clif was diagnosed with lymphoma during the first week of February.  Talk about kicking a family while they’re down.  Apparently, this disease has become increasingly common in dogs, but there are a couple of silver linings here, I think.  First, we got him on chemo immediately and, as the oncologist told us he would, he went into remission right away.  The typical treatment for cancer in dogs is to put them on low levels of chemo drugs (much lower than what people receive) for 6 months so that they maintain a very high quality of life.    So we hopefully have a good bit of time to continue to love and cherish him, and so far he seems comfortable and happy.  He just enjoyed his 10th birthday on March 17th, as you know.   The second silver lining ?  You know how much we adore Clif and how devastated we will be when he dies.  But I am comforted to know that he will be with you again.  I can’t stop thinking about how much time you spent during your last few months lying beside his bed, petting him and being soothed by him.  You always said that although you were initially not too excited about getting a dog, Clif was “the cutest and least annoying dog ever.”  Well, at the end, he clearly went from being the least annoying dog to the most soothing one ever.  So even though you are out of pain now, I will still be happy to know that when the time comes next year, Clif will be reunited with you, licking your face, cuddling you and continuing to be your faithful and eternal companion.

How did Mom handle the news about Clif, you ask ?  Well, she freaked momentarily because she jumped to the erroneous conclusion that he was going to die within a few days.  Once she realized that wasn’t the case, she took an action step to ensure that we will always have a dog well into the future.  She led the effort to adopt a greyhound !  Not surprisingly, she insisted on a girl, since we haven’t had a girl anything in our house other than Mom.  Her name is Dobi (Mom hates the name), but I’m reluctant to change it on her, since she’s already almost 2 1/2.  She’s an absolute sweetheart, just the kind you would have loved, and Clif is being stoic about the whole thing.

Clif and the boys, circa 2001

Did the deafening buzz about the Carmelo trade make it all the way up there ?  The Knicks basically blew up their existing team to get Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.  They gave up Gallinari, Chandler, Felton and Mozgov.  On February 22nd, I sent the following email to Brooke, Julie, AB and Elon: “Can you guys even imagine how Jeff would have been blogging away on this Carmelo Anthony trade ???  I know exactly what he would say, and I almost wish I could take over Talkin’ Sports and write it for him.  BTW, he would have thought it was an absolutely terrible trade to blow up the team for essentially one guy.  Even though we get Billups, Felton is six years younger and having the best year of his career.  Jeff would have been beside himelf.”  Well, was I right, Jeff ?!  Is that what you would have said ?  Nobody knows the way you think about sports better than I do, and I know that’s what  you would have said down here and HAVE said up there.  You are all about how important team chemistry is, and you never would have approved of Dolan destroying that.  Elon and AB begged to differ.  Elon felt that you have to give a lot to get a lot and that this had to be done.  AB also liked the trade and made the good point that in a league of superstars, having two on our side will help us get more later from the future free agent pool.  Well, Jeff, the very early returns would say that you and I were right.  The Knicks are a terrible 7-11 since the trade (including another ridiculous loss to the Cavs), while the Nuggets are 12-4 including a win over the Spurs !  We must acknowledge, though, that it is way too early to judge, and only time will tell.  I’m just happy that I will finally see a playoff game (maybe) with our mini-plan tickets after all these years and heartbroken that you won’t be with us for that.

You know, I really am considering continuing your blog under the name “What Jeff Would Say”.  So many exciting and controversial things have happened in sports since you left that I long to read your views about.  I am so confident that I know exactly what you would say about all of them, and I would love to give your views the voice they always had through Talkin’ Sports.  Maybe it’s a dumb idea, since there is only one Jeff Klein.  I don’t know.  I’m going to consult with your friends and brothers before doing anything, and I’m going to trust them to be completely honest with me.  I just want to take every opportunity I can to honor you and to keep your energy and spirit prominently among us.

Drew and I went to Los Angeles for the NBA All-Star Weekend that you and Brett were also supposed to attend.  I couldn’t commit to buying Brett a ticket, because his basketball playoffs were starting that Friday night (our flight was Saturday morning), and we mutually agreed that there was a 90% chance that Greeley would win at home against a low seeded team and continue on with their season.  Brett was willing to take the 10% risk of being stranded at home with his season over if Greeley lost.  I guess nobody told Clarkstown South that they were supposed to lose, and sure enough, they were in control from start to finish in their stunning upset win over us.  I can’t tell you how proud I was of how maturely Brett handled and accepted the situation with no complaints at all.  He told me he knowingly took the risk, and he would simply watch all the action on TV with his friends, which he did.

Remember that evening in September when I gathered the three of you in Brett’s room to give you the great news that the four of us were going to go to LA for All-Star Weekend ?  You seemed so excited about it for so many reasons- an amazing event, adding Staples Center to your list of stadiums/arenas visited, and a weekend together with your brothers and me.  I guess that excitement waned over the next couple months.  Well, Drew and I had an awesome time together.  We had great seats, the slam dunk contest was crazy, the game was spectacular, and spending that weekend with Drew was very special.  We talked about you (as we often do) over Sunday brunch.  You know, I am so incredibly proud of Drew and Brett.  They have demonstrated inner strength that has been way beyond the call of duty.  It’s actually breathtaking to me how they continue to succeed in school, participate in extracurriculars and stoically move forward, all the while expressing their grief and love for you in their own quiet ways.  They adore you and always looked up to you, and you hurt them very much.  I am having a hard time forgiving you for that.

Brotherly love at Midd graduation, May 2009

Staying on basketball for a minute, the Knicks game against the Magic that you were going to take Brooke and Julie to (if part of the Garden roof didn’t decide to crumble) on November 2nd has been rescheduled for this coming Monday, March 28th.  Since you did not honor your promise to Brooke to take them to another game (this was contrary to your chivalrous nature), I have made good on that promise for you by giving them our tickets for the rescheduled game.  AB and Dan Reisner will join them.  I am really happy that they’ll be there for this game, and I know you will be there in spirit to help the Knicks in this tough match-up against Dwight Howard.  Even you might have a hard time helping them pull this one out.

Brett took the SAT exam for the first time on March 13th.  Mom and I went out to dinner the night before, and he was asleep by the time we got home.  When Mom woke him up early the next morning, she looked on the floor and saw that he had already laid out his clothes for the day.  Poignantly, he had put out his Middlebury T-shirt, the only shirt he would have even considered wearing on such an important day.  He then went downstairs and had hot chocolate in our Middlebury coffee mug.  I was deeply touched by this quiet demonstration of sensitivity and love for you, and I am sure you are too.

A quick story about your impact on my recent performance in the Club Fit tennis league.  When I summoned the strength to start playing again in the new session starting in January, I began a routine of putting your picture on the inside of my racquet cover, which I always place on the bench next to the court.  This way, I can look at it during the changeovers, and I have been drawing great inspiration from looking at your smiling, handsome face when a match is not going well (and even when it is).  And guess what ?  I have not lost a match since you left.  I am undefeated and in first place in the men’s “B” league.  My streak has included wins over younger (and probably better) guys, like Paul Powers.  I had Paul down 7-2 a few weeks ago, but he got hot and won 5 straight games to tie the match at 7-7 with just 5 minutes left before the bell.  I went to the bench and looked at you, and it was as if you were beseeching me to go out and win it for you.  I sensed that so strongly.  And at that moment, despite Paul having all the momentum, I knew he didn’t have a chance.  I went out and blasted him in the next game to win the match 8-7.  It was all you, Jeff.  It was all you.  After every win, I text Mom, Drew, and Brett the result, and I always end with the same sentence: “Still haven’t lost since Jeff died and don’t intend to.”  You think you can help me make the cut to enter the U.S. Open this summer ?

Jeff was the Under 14 tennis champion at Island Lake Camp, 1999

With respect to tennis, I really thought that your decision to join the USTA this past fall, in the midst of the difficult time you were going through, was an extremely positive and optimistic step.  I think one of the best nights of the fall was Friday, October 15th, the night of your first USTA tournament.   You were placed in a 4 player bracket (Reisner was also in the bracket), and when you came home that night from your match, you were so excited that you had won and were advancing to the finals the next night.  Drew was home for his midterm break that weekend, and the three of us then had a blast watching the Yankees win Game 1 of the ALCS playoff game against Texas in dramatic fashion, scoring 5 runs in the 8th to win.  We were going crazy watching that comeback !  It was a great night.   Although the Yankees ultimately fell to the Rangers and didn’t repeat as champions, I am happy and thankful that you did go to the Yankees World Series parade in 2009 with Alex Feintuch.  That was something you had always wanted to do but were too young when they last won it in 2000.  I was so proud for people to see you when you came from the parade to my office in your Yankees garb.  Such beautiful memories, Jeff.

I trust that you had an uplifting birthday when you saw the overwhelming love and support that you received on your Facebook page.  Your friends really turned out for you in a big way, and it was heartwarming for me to see it on what was otherwise a brutal day for us.  Brooke emailed me that day to say that your friends were meeting up at Michael’s that night to celebrate your birthday.  I decided to take Drew over there for one drink just to toast you with your friends.  The funny thing, though, was that I wrongly assumed that since it was a weeknight and at least some might have to go to work the next day, everyone would already be there when we arrived at 9:15.  So we walked into the bar, and the place was virtually empty !   I texted AB to ask if the plan was still on for people to go out, and he replied that he told everyone to come at 10pm.   He said he’d shoot right over, so Drew and I sat at the bar and watched the Knicks blow out the Hornets for your birthday.  Then AB came, and they put on the Duke game, and Brooke arrived soon after.  By the time Drew and I left at about 10:25, only one other person had showed up (Hannah Friedman) !  AB explained that people were just fashionably late and that he expected a full house.  I said to give them my best, but I had to be coherent at work the next day.  I must be getting REALLY old to think that people your age would go out that early, even on a weeknight !  I hope you read my birthday blog post, because I need you to know that having you as my first-born son here on earth for 23 1/2 years was a blessing, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  Having you here for the rest of my life, however, would have been the preferred alternative.

I have to say that as difficult as your birthday was to endure, the opening day of March Madness might have been even worse.  I mean, Morehead State beating Louisville in the final seconds in an epic upset, Kentucky barely hanging on to beat Princeton, Butler surviving on a buzzer-beating tip-in, UCLA barely holding off Michigan State by 2, 11th seed Gonzaga and 12th seed Richmond pulling off huge upsets, and Temple beating Penn State on a buzzer beater.  Dear God, Jeff.  You LIVED for a day like this on the opening of March Madness.  Yes, I understand that you saw it all from a great seat, but the point is you could have been sharing all the excitement and craziness with me, your brothers and your friends.  It would have been a day of frenzied texting, moderate (?) drinking and incredible fun.   But I guess in November, this was four months away and not yet on your radar screen.

In closing, Jeff, I must tell you that our grief over losing you has not abated one iota.  If anything, it has just gotten more complicated, because I can now say from firsthand experience that the following old saying is absolutely true-“with grief comes anger”.  I won’t dwell on it, because my love for you overcomes all other feelings, but the fact remains that there are so many things that you should have and could have done and been planning to do down here in 2011.  So much to live for.  You should not have stood up Irem from Middlebury who was planning to fly here in January from Istanbul, for goodness sake, just to see you.  You should be down here passionately blogging your heart out about the world of sports.  You should have gone down to Salem, Virginia with Andres, Kyle and some of the KDR brothers to see Middlebury’s basketball team in the NCAA FINAL FOUR.  You were the beat writer for them for three years, and you would have been in your glory watching them go for the national title.  And although they lost in the semis by 2, what a game !   You should be playing racquetball with the guys, entering more tennis tournaments  with Reisner, drinking beers with pretzel sticks at the Garden and getting ready for the first Knicks playoff game in seven years, watching March Madness, going to Classic Michael’s, and enjoying weekends in the city.  You should be planning your road trip to Middlebury in May to be at Thao’s graduation and getting ready for summer weekend days at Chappaqua Swim and Tennis with Brooke and Julie.

But what about your future, you counter ?  Ok, so you told Weil, Gotschall to go pound sand.  Good for you.  It was then the perfect time to take out a blank sheet of paper and think about how to fill it with ideas that you could be passionate about.  For example, I never saw you more fired up than when Obama was running for President in 2008.  You could have gotten involved as a volunteer in his re-election campaign, which may turn out to be a real battle.  They could have really used you.  Then you could have parlayed that into a job down in D.C.  That’s just one idea, and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of that one while you were here.  But the list of possibilities was endless…

But I know, son, it’s easy for me to say, isn’t it ?  I wasn’t the one who was fed the misprescribed meds that completely clouded your thinking and from which you never recovered.  It was not your fault.  And I’m sorry, I just needed to vent a little.   It’s just that, as your father, I know better than anyone the limitless potential that you had.  And when I talk about potential, I’m not just talking about the potential to succeed in a career.  I’m talking about the limitless potential to have been happy, to have continued to touch lives, and to have been an amazing husband and father some day.  The good news, though, is that you continue to touch lives to this day, even from where you are now.  All anyone needs to do to see that is to read this blog and the emails and letters that Mom and I continue to receive, and to hear about the memorial for you that the KDR brothers have thought about creating.

And so despite the edge to my tone in parts of this letter, which is borne solely out of the pain and frustration that I feel over losing you, I love you more than words can express.  Every day, I stare at the gorgeous close-up photos of you that I have on my desk at work, particularly the one in the dark blue shirt and red tie and the close-up of you in your Middlebury cap & gown at graduation.  I feel as if I should be able to reach inside the photos and pull you out of them and into my arms for a big hug, from which I would never let you go again.  I’ve actually tried to do this, but to no avail.  But the one thing nobody can ever take away from any of us is the vividness of all the beautiful memories of you and the times we had together, which will never, ever fade.   As long as I have that, as well as your precious brothers and my one-in-a-trillion wife (your one-in-a-trillion mother), a few chinks to the armor can not break me, and I will stand strong.  I know that you would expect nothing less of me, and I promise that I won’t let you down.

All my love,

Dad

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2 Responses to “Of Clif And Carmelo”

  1. Sam September 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    I didn’t know your son (although we went to Greeley together and are “facebook friends,” but I feel as though I’ve gotten to know him through your posts. I’m sad that I will never get the chance to get to know him – and even more sad for your loss.

    I think it’s so important that you keep his spirit alive through this blog and through his facebook page. You’re giving yourself and his friends and family the opportunity to celebrate him and keep his memory alive. He deserves to be alive and celebrated, and I am grateful to get to know him even if only through your words.

    All the best to your family, in this time of grief.

    • kleinsaucer September 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

      Sam- Your comment is a gift to me. Writing about Jeff in order to keep his spirit and memory alive is what keeps me going. Thank you very much for taking the time to share those beautiful thoughts. It is appreciated more than you can imagine.

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