In the years before Kevin, I was vaguely aware of football.
In my years with Kevin, it became such a part of my life that I automatically checked with him — and the Cowboys team schedule — before making plans during football season.
In the years that I am in now — the years without my love — I am in a weird holding pattern. I know it’s football season, but I can’t bring myself to watch the games without Kevin. I miss the sounds of the raucous crowd and confident announcers blaring from the television; Sunday afternoons seem so bleak and quiet now. I miss hearing him yell, “Yeah, ‘Boys!” after a spectacular play. I miss a part of autumn that had been such a big part of my life, but has now fallen away, like the leaves from my sweet gum tree.
I miss Kevin.
I miss football.
I miss…so much.
Now it’s the second football season I’m living through without Kevin, and I’m feeling as lost and sad as I did last year, when I wrote this:
How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?
I asked Kevin one time why there was a hole in the roof of the old Texas Stadium. Like a true Dallas Cowboys fan, he replied, “So God can watch His favorite team play.” And he wasn’t joking.
I’m sure Kevin didn’t watch much football the year he was born, but he always found it exciting to recount that it was during that 1970 season that the Cowboys went to their first Super Bowl. He was less excited to admit that they lost in the final seconds to the Baltimore Colts. I teased him that if his first words had been “Go, Cowboys!” instead of “Mama” maybe the outcome would’ve been different.
We started dating in August, and by the time football season started in September, we were in love and planning our future together. That’s when I learned our future would include football every Sunday…and occasionally Monday nights and Thursday nights, not to mention Thanksgiving Day. Go, Cowboys.
I sometimes play a game with myself, trying to decide what day I would pick if I were offered the chance to spend one more day with him. Obvious contenders are our wedding day, the night our daughter was born, the night he proposed, and of course, those were all extraordinary moments of love, but I can’t discount the ordinary days of quiet joy.
Like a cold winter Sunday afternoon. Home from church. Lounging on the couch in sweatpants and a Cowboys t-shirt. Listening to the announcers on the TV; their voices became as familiar to me as Kevin’s. I’d make it through the first quarter, a little longer, then around halftime, I’d lay over on the arm of the couch and let the roaring cheering crowd lull me to sleep. When Kev noticed, he’d get up and tuck a star-emblazoned team throw around me and kiss my forehead.
“Take a nap, baby doll,” he’d whisper. “I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
And so we passed the lazy afternoon. Him watching the game with chips and a Dr. Pepper, and me dozing on the couch. Particularly great plays would rouse me briefly and I’d glance at him grinning broadly as the ‘Boys celebrated on the screen.
“You look happy,” I’d murmur from the couch.
“Hey, I’ve got a Cowboys game and my girl…I’m doing great, baby doll!” he’d exult from the recliner.
I loved those days.
Gradually, I picked up football terminology and the rules and names of coaches and players and the odd smattering of Cowboys history and fan lore and I understood the joke when someone would ask for one good reason he was a Cowboys fan and Kevin would hold up his hand, wiggle his fingers, and say with a twinkle in his eyes, “I’ve got five reasons!”
When the little Bear joined our team, one of the first things he purchased for her was a Dallas Cowboys onesie, bib, and team logo baby bottle. When football season rolled around that year, a new family tradition was born: the Dallas Cowboys opening game day family portrait. I’d set up the tripod, we’d deck out in our team gear and pose on the front porch. Go, Cowboys!
It snuck up on me this year. I’ve never had to look up the football schedule before; that was Kevin’s job. I watched some leaves drift lazily to the ground one afternoon and it struck me that fall was coming and I panicked. What if I’d already missed the opening day? I cried, thinking that I might’ve blown it, that I might’ve let a family tradition die and how could I do that to Kevin?
This past Sunday, we came home from church. She changed into her favorite team shirt and we set up the tripod and posed on the front porch. And it was sad and I was wistful and she remembered making silly faces on the “outtake” photos with Daddy last year, my two goofballs in front of the camera.
And later that evening, I tucked her into bed, then hauled a basket of laundry to the front room and turned on the TV, the game already underway with the Cowboys leading the Giants. I folded some towels, some washcloths, and watched a few plays, but then suddenly I couldn’t listen to the commentators or the roaring crowds anymore because it was all so alive…
And Kevin isn’t.
I doubled over, rocking with grief and tears rolled down my cheeks, soaking into the laundry, and some of the numbness that’s been protecting me since April wore off and the pain of missing him was sharp and gut-wrenching. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t imagine a football season without Kevin here to watch it with me. And you wouldn’t think one more hole in the fabric of my life, which is already torn to shreds, would make a difference now but oh, it really does.
The game played on and I cried, then quieted, letting the familiar sounds surround me and comfort me. The Cowboys beat the Giants and I roused myself enough to go whisper in my sleeping daughter’s ear “Hey, little Bear, the Cowboys won!” because that’s what her Daddy liked to do.
And even though I know it’s only a whimsical fancy and not at all what happens in heaven, I stopped outside her room in the dark hallway and smiled to myself, thinking that if God had peered through the hole in the stadium and watched His team play, Kevin probably sat right beside Him, recounting stats and fist-bumping the angels with each touchdown:
“How ‘bout them Cowboys!”
In 2010, Kevin took a little break from chemo and we took a road trip with his family to Dallas for Thanksgiving. The Cowboys lost to the Saints that night, but Kevin was just thrilled to have been at the game.