The nightmare made real
Vail CO, Colorado
Sprinkling a handful of dirt on the casket in the grave, that was the hardest part.
Of course, I was spared the late-night call, the hurry he’s still alive, driving in dread for two hours, being the one to lift the sheet to identify my son’s body. My pain was nothing by comparison.
Two of our community’s families are living through this nightmare this horrible March. We know intellectually that our roads are dangerous. A Vietnam War’s worth of Americans die every year in automobile crashes, too many of them young like Andy Given, 20, and Jake Brock, 19.
It gets a lot less intellectual when our children reach a certain age. Old enough to vote and enter combat. Young enough that we haven’t grown quite used to them outside our control as they were, more or less, in their first 17 or 18 years of life.
We know that statistically that the scariest time is now, from ages 18 to 25, especially for young males. We also take some comfort from our fears in those statistics showing this danger still is rare. Still, dread lurks with every late-night call. This is life for we parents.
I confess guilt at the news about each young man. Thank God it wasn’t my son, 19, a teammate of both Andy and Jake in high school. Followed by, God how awful for these families.
Andy ran cross country with our Ben for Battle Mountain High School, and graduated in 2005. His car plowed into a light pole in the Denver area late at night March 13. No drugs or alcohol was suspected. He probably was just tired, at precisely the wrong second. We didn’t know him well, only that here was a bright kid with a ton of promise.
Jake ran track with Ben at Eagle Valley High School, where they both graduated last spring. Andy’s death was a shock and hurt. But we knew Jake and his family better, and this wound opened large and raw with his bizarre death just after midnight March 23. An allegedly drunken ex-cop being chased by the State Patrol rear-ended the compact car Jake and his girlfriend, Jennifer Kois, were driving. Both died. And here we are, sprinkling dirt and saying goodbye.
My wife and I liked to tease the red-haired Jake that he was our son’s carrot on the track, where they competed together in the mile and two-mile runs. Jake set the two-mile record for Eagle Valley.
I never saw him play hockey, his favorite sport. But I judged him one of those game players who steps it way up when it counts. He certainly ran that way. “How come you can’t catch Jake?” we’d ask Ben. “He’s crazy,” our son would answer with a shrug. Pacing? Forget it; he just ran with the leaders, no matter what. If you’ve ever run a distance race, you know what mental strength that takes.
We’d see Jake working at Mi Pueblo restaurant in the summer and ask if he was running. He flash a sheepish smile, admit not enough. “You know, Ben sees a big target on your back,” we’d say. “He’s running every day, pretty much to try to catch you.”
Here’s the part about this kid I valued the most about him, and which makes his passing all the harder: He’d say, seriously, earnestly, “Ben can really run. We’re just waiting for that day he breaks out. I won’t be able to keep up with him.”
At the services last week, there was a lot of remembering of Jake’s fire, his seize-the-day, have -a-ton-of-fun, full-tilt approach to life. But here also was an adolescent with the perspective to tell a friendly rival’s parents encouraging things about their kid. There was an awful lot of class in that kid.
His father, Vern, at the funeral told of the secret deal he made with God when there was trouble with Jake’s birth. He asked God to let this baby be born healthy, and he would give the child to God’s service when the time came.
He surely didn’t have this moment in mind, but I hope that it is of some comfort that he understands God called, however painfully.
I can tell you Jake was special to our family, our carrot now more poignantly in death than in life. So we say this as we did cheering him on the track, as excited for him as we were for our son running behind, now chasing a ghost.
Run, Jake, run.
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Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season.