The text message that popped up didn’t contain a single swear word or insult.
I knew immediately that something was wrong.
I’ve known Shawn since the fall of 1994. We met while working together at The Lantern, the official student newspaper for The Ohio State University. We were blessed enough to have been handed the Ohio State football beat, which meant we would spend that entire fall following the Buckeyes across the Midwest, writing about all their highlights (and, considering John Cooper was the coach back then … their lowlights, as well).
Shawn and I would spend a lot of time in one another’s company that year. In addition to covering the games together, we would attend press conferences and media luncheons together (if there’s any two sweeter words to a college kid’s ears than “free lunch,” I have yet to find them). We would also go on road trips together, squeezing as many Lantern reporters and photographers as we could into one hotel room in an attempt to cut down on the costs.
At the end of the season, we were rewarded with a trip to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., to cover the Buckeyes during their bowl loss to Alabama (like I said earlier, John Cooper was the coach). We were there with our sports editor, Joe, where the three of us learned phrases like “per diem” and “business expense” and “media bar” in short order.
We also learned a few other things while we were down there, but I’m not sure any of them are fit for print in this sort of family publication.
All of which is my way of saying that with as much time as Shawn and I spent together that fall, we grew as close as brothers.
Brothers who like to insult one another, preferably through the use of profane and vulgar language that often suggests the other person do things that are, as far as I know, anatomically impossible.
Really, though, are there any other kind of brothers?
Over the 20-plus years since we graduated from The Ohio State University, Shawn and I have kept in close contact and been there for one another during as many of our life milestones as possible. I was there when he got married. He was there for my first book signing. He was there for my dad’s funeral.
Every time we’d see one another, text one another or talk on the phone — no matter the situation — we greeted one another with an insult. Over the years, it became a sign of affection. It was reassuring when he called me a very bad word (or series of bad words) and I know he felt the same.
That’s why, when the text came across my phone last week, I knew my friend was in pain.
“When does it stop hurting?” was the simple text he sent me.
On July 9, Shawn’s beloved mother, Georgia, had passed away. Her husband, and Shawn’s father Jon, had passed away in 1982, just five days before Christmas. She spent the next 30 years following her husband’s death serving as both a mother and father figure to Shawn and his sister. She was, by all accounts, an incredibly strong and wonderful woman.
As a member of the Bishop Rosecrans High School Athletic Hall of Fame and lifetime trustee of the school’s athletic boosters program, I have no doubts she helped instill in Shawn his deep passion for the world of sports. I know she was as big a fan of Ohio State as Shawn and I put together.
I can’t possibly fathom how much he misses her. On Aug. 26, the day of the first high school football game — and more than a month after his mother’s passing — Shawn sent me that text. Those five simple words told me all I need to know. My friend — my brother — was suffering.
People my age, in our 40s, all are starting to realize our time with our parents grows short. Many of us already have lost one parent. Some, like Shawn, have lost both. My contemporaries and I all are quickly coming to the grips with the fact the people who brought us into this world, threatened to take us out of this world and made sure all of our needs would be met either are already gone or soon will be.
Saying goodbye is never easy, but I hope Shawn realizes how much he meant to his mother. I know how what a profound impact she had on the lives of him and his family — but so, too, was the impact he had upon her. When I attended his wedding many years ago, she cornered me at one point during the festivities and simply gushed about her son and how proud he made her.
You know what? He makes me proud, too. I’m proud of his strength. I’m proud of his accomplishments. I’m proud to call him my friend and brother.
Just don’t expect me to tell you any of that the next time I talk to you, Shawn.
I think I’ll stick to the insults … just so you know for sure how much I love you.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong