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SportsMonday Column: And now I must leave home

Courtesy of the Helfand Family
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 20, 2014

I had forgotten I’d even written the letter. It was one of those assignments where the teacher mails you a note written by you to your future self. I must have been in eighth grade. I finally got it last year. I wanted to write about sports, I wrote. I wanted to go to Michigan.

“You better,” it said. “If not, please punch me for me. Really man, you better be going. I can’t stress that enough.”

If I weren’t as funny as I thought, at least I was prescient: Here I am. Writing sports for The Michigan Daily. At Michigan.

I’ve discussed this with my mom and dad and anyone else who has known me for long enough, and no one is really sure why my infatuation with Michigan started.

I grew up in New Jersey. No one in my family had gone here. I had never been to Ann Arbor. I had no earthly reason to love this school, and I didn’t even understand why I did, but — damn it — I loved this school anyway. I loved it more than anyone could, I thought.

When I was seven, I stayed up past bedtime to hear Tom Brady in the Orange Bowl on the radio, turned down low to avoid detection. When I was 14, I tailgated The Game in my driveway (the The Game in 2006) and played “The Victors” on loop until my friend’s dad begged me to play something — anything — else. But I didn’t want to play anything else.

Back then, there was just this feeling. I felt it as I listened to the radio under the blankets, and I felt it whenever I’d dream of my life here. I felt pride and belonging and happiness.

And then the feeling became something real. I came here and wrote for The Michigan Daily. I saw Shawn Hunwick sitting and smiling at an NHL locker in Columbus. I drank to “The Gambler” at closing time at a bar in Atlanta with Tim and Jake. I watched Roy Roundtree catch a miracle out of the sky.

I hugged Neal and Everett after we’d beaten The State News, again, and I listened to Red Berenson talk about life, and I played quarters at the Jug and laughed with Bauschelt until our chests hurt.

Have you ever been up to the tower above the Law Library? Go up there at night, through the old tiny hallways, and find, at the top, the small window lit up in a fire-yellow glow. Go and look and see the lights of campus laid out before you through the thick-paned glass. Go and you’ll know what home feels like. Go and you’ll feel that feeling too.

After junior year, we stayed an extra two weeks after classes ended. We’d wake up at noon and drink beer out of the can and play terrible golf. The weather was perfect. We’d come home to barbecue and sit outside at Charley’s in the warm summer air, and Theo kept saying, over and over, “You know it’s not getting better than this. This is it.”

And maybe he’s right. And maybe he’s wrong. We’re so young — we’re limited only by how big we can dream. But, you see, for me this always was the dream.

Now I’m graduating, and I have to leave this place, and I’m scared. Now what am I supposed to do?

I know I will have other great experiences. I know I will have other great accomplishments. I know you will too. But, for the first time in my life, I don’t know what’s next.

Sharon and I went for a walk last week on one of those warm nights after the weather had broken. It must have been 2 a.m., and we had walked to the Arb and looked toward her old window in Markley and saw South Quad gutted and shuttered up. We looked into Michigan Stadium as we stood in silence and alone. We talked about that time we danced with Nithin in the dorms and that night out and that evening in the Law Quad.

We talked about the same memories we always had. But, she asked me, what about the other memories? Where had those gone?

It’s funny — you don’t remember most of the times. But you remember the places and you remember the people. Most of all, you remember that feeling.

That night as I walked with Sharon, I felt as I did in my bed with the radio down low. I felt as though my heart were too full for my chest, like how you felt when Spike Albrecht scored 17 in the first half or when Denard Robinson beat Notre Dame or when Trey Burke hit that shot. I don’t know if it’s pride and I don’t know if it’s happiness, but I know it, and you know it too.

We’ll be back here soon. Theo and Sharon and Bauschelt and everyone else will come back too. Maybe we won’t get to play terrible golf like we used to and walk in the Arb and play quarters and laugh until our chests hurt.

And if that’s scary, then it’s OK to be scared. But we’ve lived this dream; it’s time to dream bigger now. Along the way, when we’re lonely or anxious or afraid, we’ll have that feeling to comfort us. And, I’m learning, that feeling never really ends.

I can’t stress that enough.

Helfand thanks his parents for sending the photo and the letter and for everything else. He thanks you, the kind reader, for caring. He will be writing sports this summer at the Los Angeles Times. Everett, it's not over yet.

He can be reached at zhelfand@umich.edu or on Twitter @zhelfand so don't be a stranger.


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