Saturday, February 6, 2016

Within You, Without You

A week ago I've learned of the passing of a racing friend, Barbara, after her eighteen month battle with cancer. Though I had known her since the the very early 1980's as the wife of a very successful and popular super modified driver, I got to know her better when her husband retired and their son(s) followed in the father's footsteps.

In my years as an official at Lee USA Speedway, early 1990's, I got to know the family better, but when I was invited to work with the International Super Modified Association (ISMA), I really got to know the family as we traveled as far south as Florida, as far west as Michigan and north into Ontario. She knowing that I knew a lot of people from out of the New Hampshire/Massachusetts circles, but was a stranger to a lot of the folks from New York, Ohio and elsewhere, she made sure I met the right people, made sure my job was fun, not an occupation. In a word, she made certain I was 'family'.

Though she made certain I was there for the fun times after the racing events were complete, there were times immediately at the conclusion of a race if she was not happy about a call made on the race track, you were the first to know about it. Sternly.

In time, I left ISMA for a period strictly due to being burned out by the sport of auto racing, the travel and the politics....especially the politics. I was brought back for a few years after clearing my head and nervous system, but retired again when I made the decision that I couldn't handle being "John" for much longer and had to save myself by becoming Cynthia.

In time a new president took over ISMA and with him wanting to return to an experienced crew, kept calling me to return. I ignored his many, many calls and messages. I had to do what I needed to do to save my life and being involved with a high testosterone sport, was not in my best interest. Barbara's son called me and asked me to at least return call the new president back and talk to him . Being the the family meant so much to me, I agreed and called. I wound up back with ISMA for one last year, as I thought my physical changes wouldn't be too apparent to the public eye.

A year later, I was retired again, but the closet door was busting wide open faster than I would have liked. Labor Day Weekend 2006,  I was walking through the Oswego Speedway pit area and was told that Barbara's son, am ISMA driver, was looking for me. Someone pointed out where he I was, so I went over to speak to him. Instead of taking to me, he just stared at me with a huge mocking smirk on his face, while shaking his head, totally aghast. I used to consider him a friend, but his arrogant smirk totally crossed the line. I was hurt.
For nine years, I barely heard a word from the entire family, excluding Barbara's daughter Cheri, who still treated me as a very good friend of the family. Walking through the various pit areas of the northeast and seeing old friends, including Barbara's family, turn their heads away as I walked by, very hurt but with my head held high. Hurt me very deeply. But being a bigger person I wasn't about to be kept completely away from the friends that still liked me and the cars and sport that I loved.

I didn't ask to become Cynthia. I didn't want to risk losing my job, my family, my friends, my house, my reputation, my racing involvement ,my my security.... my everything. I just knew that if I didn't make the necessary changes I would be dead. Soon.

My heart was broken when I heard that Barbara passed away. She was a great lady that was loved by many and best known for her smile, warmness and for having a great time no matter where she was.

Despite being exiled, I knew I had to attend her wake. She was too important to me. Thankfully Mike Douglas Sr. also wanted to attend, so we traveled to the wake together. I was uncertain how I would be treated or if I'd even be welcome, but having Mike with me gave me a security blanket.

I walked in the door of the funeral home and saw many friends from across the northeast. Most were happy to see me, a few turned their shoulder to me. I wasn't here for them. I was there in respect to Barbara and the family. The pictures in the rooms were just amazing. Barbara had that familiar smile in everyone of them, reminding me of just what a fun lady she was.

Finally Mike and I got into the receiving line. I admittedly was scared. Would I be ostracized or at least welcomed? Before I even reached the family, the family patriarch, Barbara's husband Jim, the family member I knew first, smiled down the line at the direction of Mike and myself. I figured he was happy to see Mike, his friend and former nemesis on the race track. Jim left his post at the head of the line and came down to directly to Mike Douglas. They chatted for a bit and Jim's look and attention turned towards me. I had no clue what to expect, but I was mentally prepared for anything, especially the worst.

Jim stuck out his hand, thanked me for coming and shocked me with "I really, really have to apologize for the way I've treated you the last few years. It was wrong and I'm very sorry for the way I've acted.".....I was floored, I had no clue how to react other than to say I understood and I accepted his words and expressed how much they meant to me. Because they outright meant the world to me. I was there to console the family, I was certainly not expecting anything of the sort for me.

As Jim was caressing my left arm with his right hand, he could not apologize enough, explaining that he's old and well....I understood his sentiments completely and tried to assure him that there was no hard feelings. Internally I was stunned, happy, surprised, shocked...words just can't explain what I've been feeling. I guess relieved is the best term I can think of 24 hours later.

I didn't realize Mike had heard the conversation until after we left the funeral home. He said that when he heard Jim say "I really, really have to apologize......" that Mike said he knew this was something very serious and immediately left the area to give us our privacy. He was right, it was serious. I wasn't sure how to react, but I did my best to hide my surprise and console Jim on his words and especially the loss of his wife.

As I eventually made my way through the receiving line, Barbara's son, the driver that mocked me at Oswego nine years ago, opened his arms wide and gave me a big warm hug.......

When you've seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there.
And the time may come when you see we're all one
And life flows on, within you and without you
George Harrison 1967