For the past week I've been seeing the same image in my head.
(And it needs to go away.)
There we are, sitting at attention in our long rows on the green grass, trying to comprehend something I know I will not be able to comprehend. Unable to understand so many lasts at one time.
(Lasts can come before you even know they're lasts.)
After one name--somewhere in the C's--a knowing murmur rushes over the crowd, hundreds of people, sitting and standing and now craning their necks and squinting their eyes towards the canopied stage in the middle of Chambers lawn. Sunlight glinting through. And it's like we all take a deep breath at once, this entire big-hearted little town, preparing for how loud we're about to shout, whoop, cheer. My legs tense in preparation to stand, because there is not a question-- I will stand. We will stand. Even the silence prickles tears in my eyes and suddenly I can't stop smiling. Clark Ross shuffles his papers and clears his throat. Tom Ross stands a little straighter.
And then a name. Announced into the air.
("A 6'3 senior from CHAR-lotte, North Carolina, number thirty--")
The sudden roar of noise makes me think of banging my numb hands on the back of blue plastic seats in a massive football stadium with 16.8 seconds left on the clock.
And he strides across. Ducks his head. Glows his grin. Takes his diploma, shakes hands amidst our bellows, as we stand for this man, for so many reasons.
(Okay, quit it.)
I think the thing is-- what it is really-- is that even in trying to convince myself over and over last week, repeating it like a little song in my head, "Hesleavinghesleavinghesleavinghesleaving--"
I always thought he would stay. I never ever believed he would actually leave. Never. I had reasons, I had theories, all stemming from my disbelief that anyone would want to leave this place before they have to-- only one year left there's just no way, can't end in the NIT, can't leave his best friends, McKillopMcKillopMcKillop, so close, too special, I knew...
Dunno why. Just did. Thought I did. Projected myself onto him, I know-- all of us did.
It really made no sense for me to do that. I don't know the guy. Yet on a very significant level, he has made my college experience what it is. And he's going away.
So on Tuesday, I waited after class.
Because I had to say something, as sloppy and inarticulate as I knew I would be. If I didn't, I would never-- I would be--
"Just wanted to say congratulations," I began as he walked out of the row.
He ducked his head and glowed his grin. "Thanks, appreciate it."
The same three words he has spoken to me so many times. Holding the door of Belk open for me on our way to hear "#4 Maryland will take on #13 Davidson--" getting drinks in Commons the day before we took over Bobcats Arena and the preseason #1-- passing each other in the January dark as he walked back from Wofford beatdown '08-- standing calm in the middle of Union chaos, soaking in "Now to games to be played Friday and Sunday in Raleigh, North Carolina--"
It felt different today.
It felt like-- I've watched him play baseball on Belk lawn and hitch rides on golfcarts, seen him in the halls, had two classes with him--but now--he's in the NBA. He's going into a million-dollar business. He's not a college student.
(But he is. He so is.)
We walked down the stairs together.
"We're going to miss you so much, but I'm excited for you, just-- thank you so much."
For loving it. For giving me immeasurable joy and moments that have transformed my life. For bringing us together in a way that can never be broken no matter how many years pass. For being normal through it all, my classmate. For jumping up and down, for cackling with laughter, for singing with us. For pointing up. For letting us claim you, and for claiming us. For impacting my life so deeply that I burst into tears when I got that fucking text message--
He is leaving.
"It was fun while it lasted," he said, hoisting his #30 backpack over his shoulder.
(He is leaving.)
And I said something about the next thing being fun too (do I mean it?), then asked:
"You gonna be around for graduation?"
Because I just wanted to know. Because I don't wanna give him up.
"I'll be here," he said in his cheerful, easygoing lilt, still smiling.
Because I know I'm not going to understand that this has really happened for a long time. Because still seeing him in the halls and in class almost negates it.
On Monday, I stood in the middle of the bookstore, not knowing quite what to do with myself. Looking at those jerseys that have always hung in the front, trying to picture them being gone for good. Trying to imagine a wintry Belk Arena Saturday without little kids (and grown men) with #30 on their backs.
I really can't.
To make myself feel better, I bought a poster. A closeup of red and white sleek shoes with thick scrawled sharpie on the sole.
I can do all things...
Thirteen months ago, Kruse wrote an article entitled "What It Means." And the ending hit me so hard that last summer I printed out the words and glued them to a frame that's sitting on my desk, enclosing a picture of our barrage of signs joyfully cluttering the lower bowl of Ford Field with destiny (you can see me holding the I of GOSSELIN):
"It's a very small place," said Steph, "a unique place, where, I guess--the way we enjoy things all together, with everyone knowing each other, I think the joy is more real. More deep."
No matter where he goes, I wrote at the time, what he does with his life, he said it because it's true; it will always be true, we all made it true.
No matter where he goes...
I am frustrated, disappointed, and unbelievably sad that my goodbye had to be leaving biology class our junior year-- not that green grass sunlit stage day that will happen without him. Not in a tournament game where we chant his name one more time. Not in downtown Charlotte when he cuts down another championship net. Not in Belk Arena-- my favorite place on campus in part because of what he's helped to do--when Bob takes him out for the final time.
He said it because it's true.
I think I will come to realize in time that THAT is the truth of Wardell Stephen Curry II.
We all made it true.
The truth of the Davidson family-- something I know he understands and honors, even if he's chosen to leave.
We all make it true-- that real, deep joy.
No matter where you go, Steph, no matter what you do with your life--may it go with you.