6/29/2004

A Sort of Remembrance, pt. 1

I never liked Coach Cash, especially. Or perhaps I should say I never really trusted him, which maybe amounts to the same thing, when you’re fifteen. I didn’t trust anyone who smiled that much. I didn’t think grown-ups should care whether or not we liked them. Respect was all that mattered, I thought. And it’s certainly true that I didn’t respect Coach Cash.

God, fifteen. I thought I was the world’s Last Honorable Man then, back when that still meant something, and if my honor meant not warming up to the assistant coach who so clearly, outside of any consideration of moral fiber, smiled because he was basically a nice guy, well, damn it, I would, behind my own smile, remain cold.

Coach Cash was actually only the assistant coach. As such, he was given a desk much smaller than the desks of the head coaches. It was wedged into a corner of the windowless cinderblock office, right next to the minifridge where they kept the Gatorade and the IcyHot. There weren’t, that I remember, any personal effects on the desktop. No pictures of family or religious items. Nor was there much evidence that he ever really used the desk. To sit at it would have meant facing away from the door and from the other coaches when they congregated to talk shop and verbally towel-snap one another. Would have meant, I guess, a kind of loneliness, facing that blue wall, and being alone was manifestly not something Coach Cash was interested in. If the coaches weren’t in the office, he’d move out into the rest of the gym complex, to shoot baskets with the seniors—he was terrible—or flirt with Jenny Stilley the head cheerleader or show off for the younger kids in the weight room. He could bench 300 or 350, I can’t remember which. Nor did I respect it. Being alone was character-building, I thought. Anyway, the only things in the office that gave any sense of Chris Cash, the private man, were a map of Maine sticky-tacked to the blue-painted cinderblock above the desk and, below it, a small framed cartoon from his days as a Recon Ranger. It showed a couple of leathernecks hoisting mugs of steamy coffee atop a pile of human corpses. “The Fighting 105th,” it said. “We kill more before 9 a.m. than most people kill all day.”

Now that Cash is dead at 36, his Humvee incinerated by a rocket-powered grenade on a dirt road somewhere south of Bagdhad, I suppose the memory of that cartoon should reveal something to me. A moral, or at least an irony. But I’m a different person now than I was at fifteen. And when I think of that empty chair, that empty metal desk, those meager attempts to leaven the dullness of that cinderblock, all I feel is sad.

Maybe nobody ever learns anything. Maybe nothing is ever revealed. Maybe life is a zero-sum game, in which the object, instead of winning, is merely not to lose. And maybe Chris Cash did that as well as anybody else.

Maybe that, at this late date, is worthy of something like respect.