The Great (Annual) Escape

“July, July, July! Never seemed so strange”–“July, July!” The Decemberists


More than any other month, July has been, throughout my life, full of milestones; there’ve been memorable events, wonderful evenings I will never forget and days I wish never happened.


July 17 is one of the few days I wish could be deleted from the calendar, or at least my memory. Sometimes it really sucks to have such a good memory where dates are concerned, because every year, July 17 shows up and, no matter what else is going on, for that day, or at least a large portion of it, I am an emotional wreck.


On Tuesday July 17, 2001 my father was killed in a single vehicle car accident in his neighborhood as he drove home from work. He had a diabetic attack behind the wheel and became disoriented, passing by his own home and driving the car to a dead end, where he lost consciousness with his foot still on the gas pedal. No one knows how long it took for the engine to overheat, catch fire and engulf the car, but I would guess the fire burned for an hour or more before the fire department was contacted. When I got a phone call that night from his second wife Kathy, I immediately thought she was calling to tell me that my grandfather had passed, as he had been in ill health. When she told me she had to tell me something about my dad, I knew it wasn’t good news; we barely spoke unless forced to in social situations, so I knew it had to be something cataclysmic for her to reach out to me.

And, cataclysmic it was.

It’s funny how I don’t remember the rest of that conversation beyond her telling me my dad was dead, agreeing to meet her in the morning to start ‘making arrangements’ and then getting off the phone. I don’t remember if I called my brother or if Kathy told me she was going to do that. What I do remember about that night as my mom made phone calls to her friends and family is that Greg Maddux pitched a complete game shutout for Atlanta against Tampa Bay. Even though I loathed interleague play (and I still do), I was thankful for baseball like never before because, in that moment, I could truly escape. I always loved baseball from a very young age, but that night, I understood how important and necessary it was as a means of escaping ‘real life.’

Every July 17 since, on that day, for those 24 hours, I am a man looking for an escape.

My relationship with my father was complicated, but it’s not an exaggeration to say every day something makes me think to myself, ‘I wonder what dad would’ve thought of that?’ That trigger is usually music or sports related, and it usually makes me smile. There is still a lot about that relationship that will forever remain unresolved, and that’s okay. He had his demons and his faults, and he handled things the best he knew how to at the time. It took me a long time to come to that realization and be at peace with it. 

I have written here before about how I didn’t speak to my father from April 12, 1996 until sometime in June of 1999. I was working in radio and he heard me on air and called me one night literally just as I was walking into my apartment, and I picked up without checking Caller ID.

That ‘chilly’ conversation broke the ice, and we eventually met for dinner a few times a year up until his death. I chose to forgive but not forget the reasons for our estrangement, so we were able to mend things as best we could. I spoke to him for the last time the Friday before his death and we agreed to meet for dinner the following Friday (July 20). Instead, that day was his wake, which meant my brother and I, along with his first wife Tara met dozens of people who knew my dad. Some I knew, some I only knew the names from conversation, but they all knew me. If you have ever been in that situation, I don’t have to tell you that it is exhausting.

That summer of 2001 was also the summer I became very well acquainted with vodka. Working in radio, coupled with emotional trauma I couldn’t really process meant I was drinking on a nightly basis for the first time in my life. It was something I knew I shouldn’t be doing, but I really didn’t care. Remember, this is before 9/11. Once that happened, it’s no wonder I quit my job in radio and when New Year’s Eve 2001 arrived, I quite unapologetically drank myself into oblivion.

I leaned on old friends and new friends to ‘get me through’ that time. Some of those friends I still talk to often, some I haven’t seen in years, but they all played a part in helping me, and I thank them for all they did.

Many years later on a July 17th afternoon, while I was in my annual emotional funk, I received news that a dear friend had passed away. That was when I began to wish that the calendar would just skip July 17th every year. As I mark the day, remembering my father and that dear friend, I know that no matter how much time passes, some wounds never heal, they simply scab over.

Whatever your own ‘July 17’ is, I hope you have an army of friends to help you through it, I hope you have an escape hatch nearby that you can use, however briefly, and I hope you know that the next day will be better.

Thank you for reading,