"How can that be? How can that be?!" shouted my daughter, her eyes searching mine earnestly, desperately for some sign that it was all a big joke.
But by the expression on my face she knew: it was no joke. It was the truth. The awful, unbelievable truth...
Darth Vader really was Luke's father.
It's a shock the first time you're told. In fact, it personally took me years, all the way up until the premiere of Return Of The Jedi, to fully believe it.
How can that be? And yet, it is.
I know I'm not alone among parents of my generation to experience the strange sense of fulfillment, the hard-to-articulate sense of the-circle-being-unbroken that comes from watching through the entire Star Wars anthology with your kid for the first time. The movies are chock-full of suck in spots, and are, at so many turns such a gross disappointment in terms of plot and character, that it's always surprising to me just how much I enjoy them, especially when taken together as a whole set of six films.
Especially when viewed over the course of several evenings with your wife and kid beside you, while the movies play on your big, grown-up flatscreen TV and John William's score rises and falls triumphantly through the custom home theater sound system of which you are so proud. Much better than watching them at Harkins. That's what I think.
We'd been waiting for years to watch the Star Wars movies with her, holding out for that perfect moment in time when my wife and I were both comfortable with her readiness. Our kid was aware of this, too, eagerly awaiting the day along with us. She'd heard us refer fondly to the movies many times over the years. And I'd even given her my Jabba the Hutt action figure to play with years ago, when she was still very small, in anticipation of her one day meeting him on film. He's been a permanent resident of her Barbie play house ever since.
A few days after we concluded our week-long marathon through episodes IV, V, VI, I, II, and III (in that order, natch), we made our way down to Bookman's on a Saturday afternoon, as is our regular habit most weekends. As usual, we had each gathered a few things for the trade counter. Me, a couple of old CDs; my wife, a few old books; and our daughter, a few well-loved DVDs she'd watched a million times. Strangely, however, the DVDs she'd picked out to trade-in on this day were a half-dozen of her favorite Barbie movies.
We've come-and-gone through the Wiggles, the Backyardigans, even High School Musical, but to-date she'd never ever considered even the mere suggestion that she should trade-in her Barbie movies at Bookman's and exchange them for something else. But, for whatever reason, this time, all on her own, she'd put a selection of her most-favorite movies in our trade counter sack.
And what did she select in-trade to replace her beloved Barbie movies?
So, yeah, after the funeral, which was, my-hand-on-my-heart, easily the most uplifting and inspiring funeral I've ever been to, we all drove over to the Val Vista Lakes Country Club for a nice catered buffet luncheon that was more like a reunion of old friends and loved ones than it was a time of mourning, which, as his mother said, was "exactly what Christian would have wanted." Christian's friend, who spent most of the day with him the day he died, gave a wonderful, courageous, and composed retelling of all that they did together, up to the moment they parted... with the words, "Wear your seatbelt."
"Which he didn't," she added. "And, so, yeah, that's what happened."
So, yeah, after the funeral, the next day, Christian's dad Derrill and I, and about 8 of his regular riding buddies, headed out onto the Hawes trails in the far-east Valley together for a ride. It was an ideal morning and the trails were perfect.
"How many times do you think we did the same kind of thing when we were eighteen?" he and I both wondered aloud as we were preparing our gear and getting ready to start.
"And got away with it. Survived."
"Easily." Dozens of near-misses. Dozens of dumb-moves. And somehow, we survived. For some reason Christian didn't.
Can't explain that.
So, yeah, after the funeral, on our ride today Derrill cleaned the big climb, called Cardiac, for the first time ever. "I wanted to do that, for Christian. And I did," he told us all when we reached the top together.
No one really knew what to say. We were just a bunch of speechless, sweaty guys astride their bikes at the top of a climb. So what was done at that moment was precisely what has been done a billion times before, at the top of a billion similarly challenging climbs cleaned for the first time: fist bumps, high fives, pats on the back.
But I know what we all meant was, "We're so sorry, man. This sucks. Your strength's not just in your legs today. Well done, my friend. Well done."
As a father, one change I've noted in myself is that I tend to assess individuals based not on the firmness of their handshake, or the smile they wear on their face. Truthfully, on most occasions, I tend to judge people based on how they react to, and subsequently behave toward, our daughter, Bekah. Like most fathers, my child means the world to me. Therefore, the quickest route into my good graces, into my favor, is to be kind to, and to listen to, and to include her in real, honest, and genuine ways.
Christian, the oldest son of my oldest-friend, Derrill, has always been more than kind to our daughter; he is her friend, despite the vast difference in their ages. He epitomizes the way a young man should behave toward a kid like ours. And his tender-hearted treatment of others is not unique to the way he treats Bekah. It likewise is demonstrated in the genuine and abiding love and compassion he shows at all times toward his younger brother with special needs, Alexandre.
I've been fortunate, during many hikes and talks and shared meals, to be able to get to know Christian over the years, first as a child, and more recently as a fine young man about to graduate from high school. For the record: He's a really great guy with an easy smile and a friendly, compelling demeanor.
Late last night we found out that Christian was killed in a car crash.
This should never happen.
Yet it has.
My heart breaks for my old friend Derrill and his family.
More each moment as the reality of this awful thing sinks in more terribly.