Looking for a little air conditioning on our L.A portion of our family vacation we decided the Hard Rock Café was the shortest wait and coldest place near the Hollywood stars walk of fame we had been touring. It was a perfect spot to get a trusted burger and a few minutes to cool down. It had been a long day for us, for me especially, but that is a story for another day. I just need to wait for the statue of limitations to expire before I can write on that story.
My wife, sensing I just needed to smile, let me know she had to tell me something. Both kids put their drinks down and looked up and I knew something was up. The next stop on our tour was to be in Santa Barbara CA. It was where my cousin, my idol, lived prior to his death at the age of 33, 19 years ago. We already had a hotel booked and we had planned to visit a few spots we had heard he loved. Honestly, I just wanted to walk a few steps where he called home. If you know me, you know Chris. Even if you never met him, you know who he was to me. This was going to be a bit of an emotional 24 hours for me. Well, my wife tells me she reached out to a friend of Chris’s asking for a few spots to visit and instead of just sending us cool spots to hit she organized a visit with her as the tour guide. You ever cried in a Hard Rock Café? I never had either, but that sure has changed.
We basically left L.A. right after our lunch meal. Whatever we were going to see in L.A wasn’t going to mean anything to me. I needed to just be in Santa Barbara. We were told to visit State Street in the center of town. We parked the car, and let me tell you, it could have been 30 degrees and rainy and it was going to be my favorite place I’d ever been. But it was a perfect day. We walked and talked, and I told the same stories to my kids they had heard a billion times about my friend Chris. I think the kids and Amy could feel how happy I was, just to be where his feet were. We shopped and we ate at his favorite Mexican food place, had a ton of laughs and walked the pier. It was really a perfect night. My cousin has been gone 19 years, but, as he has been lots of times for me, he was walking right next to us. I think for the kids it was a great memory. Something they will look back on and remember fondly. Just as I can picture my Dad sitting at a card table surrounded by his brothers, friends and a couple of his sons’ belly laughing at the damn dirtiest jokes. I can see my Dad right now not being able to control his laughter trying to deal the cards and it brings a great big smile to my face.
The next morning with met up with Genny, one of Chris’s very very good friends. She took us to his memorial, and to a few parks they had loved. We walked and talked and told stories with her and her son Blake. Again, Chris was right next to us. Hearing the stories from her side and all the memories they had shared was music to my ears. I could feel how loved he was here. At the memorial site I stole a few minutes alone and as the tears began to run down my face I smiled. I was finally here, I was finally able to grieve for my friend. Although, I’m not sure if the girls playing softball 3 feet from me needed to see a 42-year-old man crying his eyes out in front of a tree, but that’s not important to this story!
Genny organized a trip to the house Chris lived in when he died. The owner of the house then still owned the house, and they all were still friends. Was I dreaming? We met the owner, Amy, and she could not have been nicer. The first room she showed us had a giant portrait of my cousin Chris and his dog Lander walking towards the ocean, surfboard in hand. I looked over at my wife who was crying, she knew that this was my heaven. She knew how monumental this day was for me. Genny invited her husband and another friend of Chris’s to come hang out. We looked through photo albums Amy had, and we were able to hear the stories about his California adventures and we told our East Coast stories. We were able to tell them, this picture of Chris you love, with those two adorable boys in it were my brother and me. I just listened in awe and ate up everything they told me about him. It was so obvious he was loved out here. It’s like they took all the black and white pictures I had and put color on them for the first time. Since none of us were really connected on social media they didn’t know that in our family the first boy was born. We got to tell them there was a Chris in our lives again. We talked of his college roommate Wayne and how he is still a regular in that same card game I talked about before. They were in awe of all these revelations and connections we all had without ever really knowing each other.
We ended the day with lots of hugs and thanks you and a few tears. We mentioned how good this was for my family. How Dad wasn’t making up all these stories about his superhero cousin. And they mentioned just the same. How they loved learning more about Chris and seeing how just as loved as he was in their homes, he was loved just the same in ours.
It’s been 19 years since, but that day in Santa Barbara California he was blushing in the corner alive and well listening to all these people who loved him talk about even though he was basically chiseled by God, he still couldn’t fix a car or install a light bulb. For all his great qualities his farts still stunk. God, it was magical feeling the love in that room talking about my friend, my idol, my Chris. I felt home even though I was 3000 miles from it. I learned so much from the people who still keep him alive just as I do.
I’ll forever be grateful to my wife for making a day like that happen. It’s not a gift I’ll ever be able to repay. But, something tells me that day was just as good for her as it was for me.
God damn, sometimes life is so good…
I’ll forever miss my friend Chris, but now I live knowing where he left his heart.