I meant to write an entirely different post today, then life happened.
On Thursday, a childhood friend died following an 11-month-long courageous and painful battle with gastric cancer. My heart is broken for his family – as he was only 37 years old and the father of three young girls, ages 2, 4 and 7.
I first met Junior in middle school. He whizzed a ball at me in gym class. This is absolutely fitting, as Junior was known for his love of soccer – he played for our high school team and traveling teams around Lancaster.
The last time I saw him, he had convinced me and several others to join him for a midnight swim in the Atlantic Ocean. None of us stopped to think about sand crabs that emerge when the sun goes to sleep. Ouch!
In the past few days, memories have been flooding to the surface.
Christmas Eve dinner with Barotti family was quite the event. We all gathered around the table to break bread – and felt incredibly luxurious when his mother placed several meaty main dishes on the table. She’s an amazing cook, for the record.
Junior once convinced me it would be great fun to “borrow” my sister’s car and drive around the high school parking lot while waiting for our siblings to emerge. For the record, I had my license and a set of car keys…. and we had been waiting nearly an hour for them. Of course, they walked out the school as I pulled into the parking space. (Sorry Sissy!)
My sister and his brother dated for several years, so we were often thrown together and we’d chat the time away. About what? I have no clue. But those conversations were gold.
His father was from Brazil, where Junior was also born. Mine was from Ecuador, where as I child I had never been. He encouraged me to do so, telling me that our heritage, our family, our roots, were important and to be cherished.
Junior married the love of his life one week after I married mine. We laughed about it, and compared details in planning and shared many “ME TOO’s” – as our wedding receptions were at the same site.
The day I learned his name wasn’t actually Junior was a hoot. I’m named after my father, he said. But your dad’s name is Mario? Your real name is Jose? I questioned. He laughed and shook his head. Right. Jose Mario Barotti, Jr. JUNIOR, silly.
At a time when so many teens are – let’s be realistic here – self-absorbed and difficult, Junior was the opposite. He was kind. He was thoughtful. He was fun-loving. He was genuine. His older brother Chris was just the same. And as you’d imagine, both brothers grew into incredible men.
I don’t understand why Junior’s time was so short. Why he was only able to know his three daughters briefly and why cancer forced him to leave his incredibly strong and loving wife Alli behind.
Another childhood friend proposed a beautiful, comforting image. Junior, who passed away while in hospice care, with his family by his side, was greeted in heaven by another childhood friend who died in a car accident in 1994, just weeks before Christmas.
The two men – both free of their pain – hugged and were reunited after nearly 20 years apart. And they are now waiting, with open arms and open hearts, for the rest of their loved ones to someday join them.
If you knew Junior, please share a memory of him. (silly or serious) Rest in Peace, my friend.