Today is June 13, 2015, and it is eight months to the day that Peyton passed away after he hung himself on October 8th. Here in the Houston area, the weather matches my mood. It is a gray, cloudy day, and we have been hit with several showers already, and there is a promise of more on the way.
I came up to the office in our house to write. I had no idea what I wanted to say, but I felt the compulsion to write. As I sat at the desk, I look out the doors of the office to our play room at Ian, Peyton's step brother, playing lego Batman on the Xbox. It is the latest version, and I think about how much Peyton would have loved it. It was one of the few games we could play together without making each other crazy. In part because one of the goals is to collect other characters from the DC Universe. When we played the previous version, every time a character was collected, peyton would inevitably want to know who it was. I got in the habit of keeping my iPad with me so we could look the character up and look at their backstory. This was a big factor for him in the free play section of the game, as he would only use characters he felt were cool enough to play.
Super heroes were one of the bonds the two of us shared. We saw all the movies together and discussed the merits of each individual character. I think our favorite character was Batman. Maybe because he was a normal person, just like us, that saw a problem and decided to do something about it. We saw all the movies, even the wretched Batman and Robin (George Clooney? Really?), but we preferred the newer Christian Bale version. Most of all, we both liked to make the raspy voiced announcement that "I am Batman." At his funeral, I placed a small Lego Batman figure in his casket with him and identical to the one I keep on my keychain.
I also started thinking about how diverse the two of us were. I have been a coach at the high school and junior high for over 20 years. Athletics make up a big part of my life, but for Peyton, they were something he would try, but quickly lose interest in. He played basketball and t-ball through the YMCA, but didn't care for either, as games with a strict set of rules didn't interest him. If he wasn't able to create his own rules, or find some wiggle room in them, then he chose to pass. He was on a summer league swim team for a season, even received the Most Improved Swimmer trophy, but to him, pools were for playing not working. He even tried out for the track team in 7th grade, but never made it to a meet.
Throughout my career, Peyton spent many Friday nights in the bleachers, but the game on the field held no interest compared to running around on the field and wrestling with Ian (a perk of being a coaches kid) after the game. Track meets for him meant either discussing video and computer games with my athletes in the know, or educating the uninformed. He would even volunteer to time at swim meets, but was more interested in seeing how quickly he could start and stop the watch or how many times he could stop it at exactly one second.
We were both obsessive over the pop culture we loved. One time, after and intense Nerf gun war, I stood over him, pointed my gun at him and asked if he was ready to surrender. He responded with "What?" to which I quickly responded, "Say 'what' again. Say 'what' again, I dare you, I double dare you, say what one more time!" Unfortunately, and thankfully, he had no clue as to what I was talking about. Peyton had no use for any movie that made you think or have a knowledge base deep enough for allusions. He loved the potty humor of Family Guy and The Simpsons, but was clueless about some of the other references which would explain why we would laugh at different times.
After his death, I wanted to understand Peyton more. The first thing I tried was Dr. Who. He was obsessed with the show. He could quote the show, tell you history of all the characters, even understand the back stories that seemed to populate the show. He would borrow my iPad and wear down the battery watching the older shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime, stopping them to give me a blow by blow account of what he had just seen. I tried to watch it with him, but I could not get into the show. There was too much background for me to truly understand, and I didn't really know where to start. He had a Dr. Who encyclopedia he had begged me to buy for him at a Half Priced Books store, but even that was no help. I just couldn't get into the show. Now I know how he felt when I made him watch Lost.
The first real connection I made with him after his death was at a place called Round Rock Donuts. Since he and his mother had moved to Round Rock, he kept telling us all about this incredible Donut Shop. To me, donuts were donuts, especially the glazed donut. Peyton kept insisting I was wrong, to the point that when we did get donuts, he wouldn't eat the glazed because they weren't as good as Round Rock Donuts.
About three weeks after Peyton's death, Lisa, Emmy and I went to Round Rock for the State Cross Country Championships. The College Park team had a good shot at the state title, and having worked with the coaches for for so long, wanted to be there to share in the joy. Alas, the title eluded them (they finished third). We had decided to spend the night and drive into Austin the next day to spend some time exploring South Congress Avenue and the various stores there. When Sunday morning dawned, we decided to visit the now infamous Round Rock Donuts to see what Peyton was so obsessed with. What we expected and what we got were two different things. I'm used to a donut store being in a strip mall of some kind with each one being relatively the same and offering the same basic fare as any other. What we found was a free standing structure that required us to park a couple of blocks away, and then stand in a line that stretched out the door. At first, I thought its location next to a church may have had something to do with the line, but judging by the clientele, that was not the case. We ordered the glazed donuts Peyton had preached about for several years and found a table outside to eat. OMG!!! he was so right. The donuts, still warm, were a far above anything I had ever tried before. They melted in my mouth, and despite having already eaten at the hotel, I ate all of them and contemplated getting back in the ever growing line to get more. As I sat there, I felt a bond with Peyton that had been missing since his death. I could picture him sitting there gloating about how good they were, and how I should have listened to him sooner.
When season five of The Walking Dead premiered, Peyton's mother Jacki had posted on Facebook how much Peyton had loved this show and that they had always watched it together, but he wouldn't be there to see this one. I remember how he had talked about this show, but I had never seen it. For one, AMC had not been an HD channel on our cable service, and I was never really a fan of zombie movies. I did like Zombieland, but that was more because of the humor behind the premise than anything. Once again, seeing an opportunity to bond with Peyton, I started to watch it on Netflix. After one episode, I was hooked. Soon, I became as engrossed in the lives of Daryl, Rick, Carl and Carol as Peyton was. I could see why it appealed to him, and thought how much I would have loved to sit there with him and hate on Carl together just like every one else.
There are still things that I think about that bring me close to Peyton. I know he would love the new Jurassic World movie, or The Avengers, or Star Wars. He would love going with me to take Emmy to story time so he could wander off to his own section of the library in search of books. Most of all, I think he would hold over me the fact that he was right about so many things and never let me forget it.