You Should Have Been Here

6 Feb

“Eli Manning is more elite than Tom Brady.  Eli Manning is more clutch than Tom Brady.  It’s just that simple.”

PatriotsPlus.net, Feb. 6, 2012

 

Dear Jeff,

Four years ago, in an email to me that I shared in my pre-Super Bowl blog post, you called Eli “a little girl” prior to the playoff game against the Packers because he admitted that extreme cold temperatures adversely affected his performance that year.  Then, in your Super Bowl preview article in The Middlebury Campus, you acknowledged that Manning had “grown up infinitely” in that year’s playoffs and would lead the Giants to the ultimate upset victory over the Patriots.  And on Super Bowl Sunday in 2008, you and I, Mom and Gram, Brett and twenty of his 13 and 14 year old friends, sat down to watch Eli become a man, David Tyree become a one-catch legend and the Giants become world champions in an improbable upset that you predicted would happen.  Drew was next door with his buddies at Justin Krim’s house, and all was right with the world.  It was one of those glittering moments in time that make life worth living and enable one to forget about the every day trials and tribulations that we all go through.

After a horrible week during which we had no choice but to have our beloved Clif put to sleep so that he could join you, and Brett’s basketball team lost two heartbreakers to arch rivals Fox Lane and Briarcliff, we sat down once again to watch the Giants and Patriots go at it for the Super Bowl title.  So much about this day was eerily similar to the one four years ago.  There I was again with Mom and Gram, with Brett and twenty of his now 17 and 18 year old friends, as we hosted one final Super Bowl party before they all head to college in the fall.  Drew was with his buddies once again, though this time they were the Widener University brothers of Theta Chi.

Brett (top row, far right) and his wonderful group of friends at our final Super Bowl party, which has been an annual tradition at our home for years

But all was not right with the world this time, and as a direct consequence of what you did 15 months ago, it never will be again.  This time you weren’t here, and there were no predictions from you in advance, not even in any of my dreams, which is where I had hoped you would again talk to me.  The way I chose to feel connected to you this time was to take out that customized Giants jersey from the locker in your room and wear it all day and all night during the game.  It’s the one that you got for Christmas several years ago that has Eli’s number 10, but with the name “Klein” on the back.

Of course I realize that even if you were still here, we wouldn’t have watched this one together.  You either would have been watching it at Ryan’s apartment in the city, with Elon, Lisa and others, or with AB and other friends at the bar where they took it all in.  That would have been exactly the way things should go in the progression of life, and I would have loved that and anxiously awaited and enjoyed your classic texts throughout the evening.  But more than anything, it kills me that you missed what would have been yet another glorious night in a long list of joyous times in your life—watching your Giants win another title while partying with your closest friends.  Four years ago, we jumped around the upstairs TV room together like maniacs and hugged each other hard when the upset ended.  This year, I was enveloped in a group hug with Brett, Matt Meshberg, Evan Lippmann and Matt Statman.  I hope you at least got a couple of licks from Clif. 

Perhaps the most poignant moments of all came immediately after the game when our good old-fashioned land line phone started to ring.  The first call was from Elon, your dear friend and now mine, just as his was the first call seconds after UConn won the NCAA basketball tournament last April.  I am overcome with emotion over the fact that he is so kind and sensitive to reach out to me at these moments that not only have your memory written all over them but have your hands all over them too (more on the latter in a minute).  Elon is a Jets fan, yet he called to talk about this incredible Giants moment, because he knew how important it was to our family and to you. 

I have to say, I love every one of your friends, and they truly have become my friends as well.  We enjoy each other’s company, and staying in touch with each other clearly keeps us very connected to you, which I see is important to everyone.  In the last two weeks alone, I have had coffee with Julie, lunch with Elon and AB, talked with Ryan on Facebook, and I will see Jackie for lunch this week.  Do you know that virtually every one of your closest friends wished Drew a happy birthday on Facebook on Saturday?  That is a clear statement of how much you meant to them and about how much they care about our family in the aftermath of losing you.

Minutes later, your cousin Chris called.  Chris is a Ravens fan, but he called to say how happy he was about the Giants for all of us and especially for you.  Chris has been amazing in his support of all of us since you left.  He misses you tremendously, and the blog post he wrote about how memories of you have inspired him to take his running to new heights was beautiful.  His call meant a lot to us.

Chris and Jeff: first cousins and best friends

And then a little after midnight today, your oldest friend Jack wrote on the Friends of Jeff Klein Facebook page, “Can’t help but think Jeff had a hand in this one, another huge Giants win!”  And of course, I know he is right.  Let’s face it—Wes Welker doesn’t drop passes that are right in his hands, and especially not ones that could have sealed a Super Bowl victory.  As he himself said after the game, “That’s a play I make a thousand times.  It’s a play I never drop. Most critical situation and I let the team down.”  Wes shouldn’t have been so hard on himself.  He obviously couldn’t know about the invisible hand that I and many others know was there to tip the ball away.  You had those long fingers, and you put them to good use on that play.  And that Hail Mary pass by Brady to try to pull it out on the last play?  There was never a chance it would be completed, as I know you were right in the middle of the pack, helping to make sure that ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

I want you to know that I received your sign loud and clear on Friday night, indicating to me that you were with us on this important weekend of Drew’s birthday on Saturday and the Super Bowl on Sunday.  I broke out laughing when, just after the first half of Brett’s game at Briarcliff High School ended with our team down by 2, the lights over one entire half of the gym went out.  I don’t know what it is with you and electrical power, but since you’ve left, the lights went out at the Meadowlands last year when the Giants were getting crushed by the Cowboys, Brooke’s speakers went on one night while she was reading Kleinsaucer, without her turning them on, and the lights went out during the 49ers-Steelers game in December.  Hey, if that’s your preferred way of letting us know you’re there, that works for me, and in this case, I am pretty sure you were giving us a confirmation that Clif was in fact by your side, just as we had hoped, and that you were psyched for the weekend.  I have to say, it was a bit annoying having to wait 20 minutes for the guys at Briarcliff to figure out how to get the lights on again, but that’s ok. 

You know, I remember the conversation we had in October 2010 when I came to visit you in the hospital when you were being weaned off of those horrible meds.  I remember explaining to you that you expected too much from life and that it was unrealistic to think that you should never trip, stumble or even fail from time to time, just like everyone else does. Life had been pretty smooth sailing for you all the way through August 2010, but holding to that high a standard was too great a burden to place upon yourself.

We also talked about how I wanted you to go for your greatest passion, which for you was probably sports writing, or even writing about politics.  And if you weren’t able to attain jobs in those areas, so be it, but you’d never look back with regrets.  But my main point of it all was that, even if you started out in a job or career that wasn’t particularly rewarding but still paid the bills, you would live life for “the moments”, those times that make it all worthwhile.

For you, every weekend would have contained those moments, those times with friends and family that you cherished.  And when you went to work on Mondays, even if the job wasn’t ideal, there would always be those weekends to look forward to, as well as the special times and celebrations that would always have been an integral part of your life–like the annual tradition that was developing of going with your friends to the Belmont Stakes every year, going to Middlebury and Duke reunions, March Madness parties, etc. The list of those types of things could go on for pages. Yesterday, watching that amazing game with your amazing friends would have been one of those moments. 

Jefff (crouching) and his friends at the Belmont Stakes

 In our texting exchange this morning about the game and about how you would have been in your glory watching it down here, AB wrote, “Well, times like these, we just have to savor the moments for him, and stick together.”  What a moving, poignant statement that is.  Because, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what Elon and Chris were doing when they called last night, what Jack was doing when he posted that message on your Facebook group page, what all your friends were doing when they wished Drew a happy birthday on Facebook, and what 20+ people were doing when they “liked” the picture that I posted the day before the game (the amazing one of you, Ryan and Lisa standing in front of Giants Stadium in your jerseys, with Coors Light in tow, before a game last fall).  They were all savoring the moment for you, and sticking together, with each other and with our family.

And while I wish that everyone was savoring these moments WITH you and not FOR you, you have left us with no other alternative.  There is great beauty in this sentiment, though, and you should be moved by the fact when “the moments” happen, you are always at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  It is a testament to the impact you had here on earth that this is the case, and it makes me so proud of you all over again. 

I have to tell you, I really have enjoyed this Giants playoff run with Drew and Brett, Mom and Gram, and of course the twenty 17 and 18 year olds.  It’s been a raucous month long journey, full of screaming, laughing, tugging and hugging (look out, Clyde Frazier).  To be able to say that is a big step for me, because for a long while after you left, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to truly enjoy anything again. I can now, because I am surrounded by love and support at every turn, I still have two beautiful sons here with me, and I have a one-in-a-million wife.  But yet, there is an unmistakable hole in my heart, a piece of my soul that is missing, and I don’t know how to handle it or what to do.  I miss you desperately and intensely, and everything always comes down to “can you imagine if Jeff was here” to see this or that, or to be with us when we do whatever.  And so it was with yesterday’s Super Bowl, and so it will be on your birthday in a few weeks, and during March Madness next month. 

This is the new normal, I suppose, and there is nothing any of us can do except to remember what it was like when you were still here screaming and celebrating with us.  And after the house cleared out last night and the last of Brett’s friends left, I stood in the basement alone for a few minutes, closed my eyes, and did just that.  In an instant, my mind was filled with the vision of us hugging and jumping up and down exactly four years ago after the Giants had shocked the world.  I saw your joyous smile and vibrant eyes again, so vividly, as if it were yesterday.  And for a brief moment, in the quiet of our testosterone-scented basement, all was right with the world again.

I pray that you will savor the Giants win up there, while we savor it for you down here. 

All my love,

Dad

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