I met a boy in kindergarten whose smile told a story like mine. It was kind. It was inviting. It was one of the first things that I noticed about him, even at the age of 5. That was 24 years ago.
I spent the next 6 years competing with Dom. He was smart. He was a leader. He was well-liked. He was everything I wanted to be, and sometimes he was a better person than I could ever imagine myself being. But I kept pushing myself because of him and by 6th grade, I finally beat him in the student council elections. I was president, and he was my vp. This, of course, kept me pushing forward. But those 6 years were so formative, so important, that I can’t imagine where I would be now if he weren’t there to remind me that I had to keep trying. And I had to keep smiling, maybe for no other reason than to make someone else’s day better.
I don’t think Dom ever saw me that way. I think I was just another peer. Another equal. He was fair in that way, never showing favoritism to anyone. It was, quite frankly, one of the things I admired the most about him. And even through the rest of our public school education, when we moved to junior and then senior high, my thoughts frequently went back to Dom. He showed so much poise and restraint…two things I hadn’t yet mastered. By senior year, it had been quite some time since we’d had a class together, but scheduling and course requirements brought us back together in a pottery class. And the competition between the two of us was reignited. Neither of us showed exceptional talent with clay, but our fiery personalities pushed both of us to work hard. I was thankful he was there with me. He was a reason to try in a class that I only took because I needed to fill an art elective. His humor and smile were ever-present, and when I broke up with my 6 year boyfriend he kept me going. A highlight in my day.
I didn’t see Dom again until a few short months ago, but I was quickly at ease with him. We laughed about our times together in elementary school, and then talked about all of the blessings we had in life. I was truly thankful for being reaquainted at our 10 year reunion. He was still kind, he was still fair, and that smile still put mine to shame.
Tomorrow, I’ll say my last good-bye to Dominic, the boy I knew so well who grew into a great man. He passed away last Thursday. He left behind a new baby girl, a beautiful girlfriend, and both parents. All of these people mourning his loss in ways that I dare not attempt to understand. You see, I’m struggling to find the words to say just how much he meant to me, and I didn’t spend near enough time with him in his short adult life.
It seems so cruel that he’s gone at the age of 29. I was so anxious to see what life would offer him in the next few years. He was the guy that you knew would do well, because he gave his heart and soul to every project placed in front of him. Dom was a true class act, and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have fond memories of the times they spent with him.
So on the eve of his funeral, I’m reminding myself that he’s probably somewhere smiling down on all of us who are deeply saddened by his passing. He’s probably laughing about the fact that so many people will show up tomorrow. And he probably wants each of us to walk away from the experience smiling. That’s the type of man that he became: the kind that wanted everyone around him to be as happy as he was. I’m going to do my best to respect the wishes that I so deeply believe he’d want, and I’m going to smile. Not because I’m happy that he’s gone, but because I’m happy that I got to meet and know him. Such a great gift. How could I be sad about that?