Do You Remember Your First Play Date?Christine Coppa
I just wrote about JD’s first big kid play-date, so I thought I’d tell you about mine.
I was 4 and a preschool student at Our Lady of the Valley in Wayne, NJ. I asked my mom if I could invite Chris Doheny over. She smiled and said yes and casually mentioned to my dad that I was having a friend over that week.
Back then we didn’t have “play-dates.” We had friends over, or our parents just told us to play in the yard with whomever was outside, not get lost and come home for dinner. We drank from the hose, ran around barefoot and yard-hopped.
Chris was my first friend. He was freckle-faced with light-hair. He was skinny and coughed a lot.
Chris was born with Cystic Fibrosis and when I was little, I just knew Chris had a condition and needed a nebulizer. Uncle Brian was diagnosed with Asthma early on, so I was used to seeing the nebulizer around and sometimes Chris would do them at my house.
I didn’t understand how sick he was and that’s because in his words via glamour.com: I was not a shielded child, one whose parents hid the reality of my situation from me. As my parents became, by their own efforts, more informed surrogate patients, so did I. But they also pushed me to believe that anything is possible, they pushed me to live like I would be around for a long time, they treated me like I was any other kid (as best they could) and at the same time did everything possible to make that the reality of the situation.
When my dad got home from work, Chris was in my mint green bedroom sitting on the honey hardwood floor playing some board game with me. We had our backs against my bed that was covered in a mint green, lace-trimmed spread (not duvet or comforter). We faced the windows. Later, I would learn that my first “play-date” with a … boy would be a joke, Chris and I would live out forever. Well, until today.
I came from Chris’ funeral just hours ago.
Last night at his wake I spoke of this joke, of our friendship that started when we were four, unassuming, little cherubs with the world at our heels. We graduated eighth grade in 1995. All along sitting at the same lunch table in the gym-auditorium-stage room. (LOL, gotta love Catholic schools.) I remember the cocktail of pills he’d take with lunch and IV in his arm. He was unphased.
We remained friends in high school, chatting in the hallways, but Chris was a gifted child and while I was in Earth Science making Cs, he was in Calculus getting ready to run the world. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but ditched law school, for a great career at Audible Inc. in Newark, NJ.
He went to Georgetown. I went to The University of the Arts. We both graduated in 2003, and thanks to Facebook and the world-wide web, we never did lose touch. On April 14, 2009 my book, Rattled!, came out. Nervous as all hell, with JD, not even two, hugging my leg, I looked out into a big audience. I saw my family. I saw my friends. I saw the Executive Editor of Glamour magazine, there to introduce me—and I saw Chris. Still freckle-faced, with light hair, sarcastic, witty, a huge ball-buster. He winked at me.
A group of my friends took me out in the West Village to celebrate the book, Chris among them.
Cystic Fibrosis is a sh*tty disease that took my friend away. But, it’s also a disease that is backed by one of the greatest medical charities there is, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Because of medical advancements, while Chris died at 31 having thrived on a double lung transplant for nearly three years, he lived well longer than anyone could have imagined.
In his own words: I’ve played Little League. I’ve been through high school and college. I’ve loved. I’ve lost. (Shakespeare, anyone?)
This morning the priest said Chris wouldn’t want this to be the unhappiest day of anyone’s life and I believe that. As I sat in the church that connected to our grammar school, where we made communion and confirmation together, I thought about his his last words to me: I wish you all the happiness you can handle.
Chris chose this poem on the take home mass card. It’s who he is … was … who I hope I can be.
To laugh often and much: ¨to win the respect of intelligent people ¨and affection of children: to earn the ¨appreciation of honest critics and ¨endure the betrayal of false friends: to appreciate beauty: to find the best¨in others: to leave the world a bit ¨better, whether by a healthy child¨a garden patch or redeemed ¨social condition: to know even¨ one life has breathed easier because¨ you have lived. This is to have ¨succeeded.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hearing JD talk about his first play-date without me, brought me back to my mint green bedroom, honey hardwood floor and a freckle- face boy I will never forget and who has taught me so, so much. I hope you’re drinking up there, old friend.
Thank you for reading, friends. XO
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