Okay, Andi Explains It All Readers, thank you for sticking it out with me as I work through these many losses. I had mentioned there were three – and this is that third – but suddenly there was also a fourth. That will be coming soon.
For the past 18 years, I have spent time down at the neighborhood bar and grill and have met numerous characters. I wish I clearly remembered when I first met the guy we all knew as Coach. But somehow it is like he was always there.
None of us knew his real name. He was always just Coach. Okay, a select few of us were gifted that knowledge. But because he was such an intensely private person, I managed to block it out of my mind, even though I had the privilege of hearing it a few times. I do wish now I could remember it.
He was a baseball fanatic from Boston. Red Sox and Patriots were holy words in his eyes. So I made sure I regularly talked about my Detroit Tigers and Buffalo Bills. I am a Michigan fan as well, so he delighted in ripping on them while also questioning why I thought Tom Brady was a tool.
He had also coached in his younger years – hence the name.
Politically, we were polar opposites. Instead of battling, though, we agreed to disagree and battled on other life fronts.
He was one of those guys who was humble and hard up for cash, but would give you the shirt off of his back in a heartbeat. He got burned by this on more than one occasion, but kept right on giving.
He was also a very proud man and hated what he perceived as any kind of charity. He would ask for a ride to the grocery store, as he no longer drove, but hated it if you gave him food or bought him a meal. If you wanted to buy him a beer, you had to whisper to the bartender while he was outside smoking so that it would magically appear upon his return. He’d feign being annoyed, but if you listened closely, you would hear a grunt of gratitude.
One of my early memories of him was a night where I was upset because my annual OB/GYN visit resulted in having a biopsy done. It was around the same time that two of my friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was scary, especially because we were all just in our 30s.
There was no good reason for him to do so, but he sat there while I cried and talked and then also worked to distract me. That process repeated over the years as I went through other illnesses and losses. Occasionally he would share some of his own stories, but preferred to keep most of them to himself.
We had a most unlikely friendship with plenty of affection dripping with sarcasm. But I cherished those evenings when we ran into each other. He even told me a few times that he wished he was years younger so that he could ask me to marry him.
Before COVID hit, it was clear that his health was starting to fail. His heart was giving him trouble and he was in the hospital a few times. But he didn’t want to worry me with any of it and would quickly change the topic.
After COVID hit, I was able to inquire here and there as to how he was doing. I knew he lived alone. The love of his life had passed away some years ago. We were all on lockdown. But there wasn’t much I could do, especially after I got sick.
I wish I had.
Last summer, the night before my birthday, I went into the bar and grill. Later in the evening, in came Coach. It was his actual birthday and his friend wanted to make sure he got out.
I was so happy to see him. We exchanged our health woes, as well as our usual banter. I snuck in a beer for him. And I remember him telling me that he didn’t want me to see him like this.
Fall flew past. I had my surgery. Michigan had an amazing football season. I kept waiting to hear shit, but got nothing. It was weird.
The night after my great uncle died, I was in between dogsitting gigs and decided to distract myself by going down to the Row where the neighborhood hangs out. (This consists of the bar and grill, an Irish pub, and a bowling alley.) I was at the Lanes as they were wrapping up when someone mentioned Coach in the past tense.
“Oh yeah, he died months ago. They even had a thing for him at the bar and grill. I thought you knew.”
NO, I DIDN’T KNOW AND WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?!?!?!?!
I had a moment. I cried. I admitted it was hitting harder because of Bob. And I was so mad that no one had bothered to tell me.
I mentioned it several people, both in person and via Messenger that night.
Everyone thought that someone else had told me. I was so mad. This is what happens when you are friends with everyone, yet are not part of their intimate inner circles. Story of my life.
But I have spent the last few weeks piecing things together and am finally coming to terms with it all.
It turns out that the farewell party that they’d had for him came about around the same time I was frantically prepping for surgery and had a million appointments. He died soon after. And he had said to another friend my age who used to help him out that he didn’t like for us to see him in this state.
So I try to take solace in the fact that we did celebrate our birthdays together one last time and didn’t have that super emotional farewell. I will forever feel his loss, but am grateful we were part of each other’s lives at all.