Today has been a day I’ve been dreading for awhile since James died. It’s the opening day for the University of Virginia Football team, and normally it’s the happiest day of the year. But for this sports fan, who is missing her guy so much today, and in so many ways today signals just how much I’ve lost.
Opening day is usually a celebration – he and I would already be on the road heading towards Charlottesville – to a grassy patch on the corner of Cabell and McCormick called Camp Wahoo. Camp Wahoo is a tailgating group that we first discovered when we would park on the Corner in Charlottesville and walk past, and I would look and tell James, “man those guys are having a ton of fun.”
Life at Camp
We joined Camp Wahoo during the 2011-2012 season quite by accident. My favorite UVa blog, Streaking the Lawn tweeted that Camp Wahoo planned a lot of fun activities for that season. I retweeted that I wanted to go to Camp Wahoo – and Camp responded: “come on down.”
We’ve gone there every home game since.
Camp Wahoo provided more than just tailgating – it provided our insurance agent, provided countless memories and drunken happy moments. It provided some of my best friends – and one woman, in particular, Angie Quick who in the year before James died became one of my best friends and in the days after he died ensured that my children and family were taken care of when I barely knew what day it was. So many folks from Camp Wahoo came to the funeral – some a far away as five hours, driving for a two-hour visual and wake who only saw me for a brief moment.
It meant so much.
Today, Angie and some of the crew are arranging a toast to my big guy – part of me just wants to do what I do best, ignore and push down the feelings. But, these people loved James too, and he loved them. He loved going to Camp, playing corn hole, beer pong, seeing what antics some of the guys came up with including beer Olympics. But more than anything I think he loved that I was my happiest, surrounded by oodles of people covered in blue and orange with just a bit of hope that this was the year Virginia Football would turn the corner into consistent winning.
James and I had the same seasons tickets for six years – Section 528 in the uppers, Row J. It was on the home field side, on the endzone line. When you sit in the same seats for six years, you get to know your neighbors. There was a family with three children who quickly grew into sullied adolescents and their mother, a nurse at the University of Virginia hospital who cheered loudly and often. One funny story was a Duke game where the Blue Devils scored a touchdown, and the nurse who was one of the nicest people on the planet screamed: ” get your Duke scanks off the field.” Another fan, who had a small child with him pointed out said a small child, to which the nurse screamed back “hey buddy all three of my children are here.” We always reminded her of that.
Then there were the parents of a University of Virginia student who purchased season tickets, and brought family and friends along. That family also became close, and even helped James get an excellent job.
The Changing of Seats
This year when it came time to renew the seats, James and I had discussed changing our seats. The section wasn’t as much fun, and a new family was sitting on our row that spread out too much. For the last football game, James and I would attend live, it was also Frank Beamer’s last regular season game. As my personal anti-Christ (yes I went there unapologetically) we had originally sold our regular section tickets because I didn’t want to attend yet another Virginia Tech win at Scott Stadium. But then he announced his retirement and well we had to go. James got us amazing tickets in the lower section – and we sat next to actually decent Hokie fans (who attended Radford University which explains why they were decent) and saw up close and personal the interception that sealed Virginia’s and Coach Mike London’s fate.
After that, there would be no returning to the uppers, especially after UVa’s Athletic Director Craig Littlepage announced that Bronco Mendenhall as the new head coach. James and I discovered this during a family trip to ChristmasTown at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, and along with my stepfather probably spent a bit too much time talking about what an amazing hire this was instead of participating in the Holiday festivities.
I know there will be other moments, there will be constant reminders of his absence in my life. But for us, and our friendship and marriage – football and college basketball seasons are the two places I’m going to feel it the most outside of those truly family moments.
The One Time We Sat, in Different Sections
I’ve never attended a University of Virginia game without him – the closest would be last year’s opening game against Notre Dame – in which my husband who was a lifetime Fighting Irish fan came in his customized Rice jersey. We had purchased ten extra tickets for the game in 527 row J, so he was direct across from me, but I wouldn’t let him use our season tickets. Instead, my sister came with me and every once in awhile as Virginia teased us with potential greatness I would glance over and see him staring at me the way a man does when he truly loves the person he’s with in life.
When we lost that game in the last 12 seconds, he didn’t rub it in my face; he just gave me a hug.
I don’t regret making him sit in the section next to us; it’s pretty fucking funny. He did it because his best friend Matt was supposed to be at that game with him but he had died in July 2015 from Pancreatic Cancer. Then six months later, my James was in a hospital bed too.
There are so many mixed emotions for today – so many thoughts I could share, but instead, I’ll share this – having these memories having a place where we loved to go to visit and remember him is so bittersweet. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I walk on Grounds and see the Camp Wahoo flags flying. I’m not sure how I am going to feel not climbing the ramp to head to 528. I don’t know what’s it’s going to feel like all season when I sing Good Old Song and the weight of his arm isn’t around my shoulders.
I just know that I miss him.