I don’t remember exactly when I first met my friend, Bart O’Rourke, but I certainly remember where. On a tennis court. It was doubles, he was across the net, playing add and he had this crazy habit of turning his back to the court and sort of leaping sideways when taken wide on his backhand. We were the same age and pretty much the same ability and played pretty much the same way meaning we both were erratic and liked to play the “great shot”. Bart liked this even more than I did. He would hit shots that even Roger Federer wouldn’t attempt. He would also take a balloon ball down the middle, wind up and hit it over the fence. (I would only hit it into the fence.)
My brother, the eternal pusher, named Bart, The Human Highlight Film” aka Highlight for the sheer, insane, impossible brilliance of some of his shots. That my brother won their match 2 and 1 was irrelevant. When you’re an insane artist who cares who wins?
We were a less than formidable doubles team, always cheerfully – okay, sometimes not so cheerfully – bringing out the worse in one another. Some teams ham and egg it, meaning when one is off, the other picks up his game. Bart and I hammed and hammed it. Or egged and egged it because we usually came off the court with yolk on our face.
Over the years, Bart and I had any number of post match beers, any number of discussions. Bart had an opinion and a theory for everything. Haberdashery, the law, medicine, the serve and back hand. He’d be happy to tell you the inside scoop on anything. I once heard him lecture Doctor Stu, my esteemed orthopod, on the proper remedy for a strained knee. Bart, a staunch Republican, believed in the military and states rights and did not believe in Global Warming. He could, as they say, sell ice cubes to Eskimos.
Bart and I played tennis once or twice a week for a quarter of our lives.
A little more than a year and half ago, life took Mr. O’Rourke down for the count. He’d had a procedure for arrhythmia – rapid heart beat. This is entailed send a tiny wire up through an artery and shocking the heart – rebooting it. The one in ten thousand happened. The wire nicked the esophagus just behind the heart. As I understand it, a cyst formed and grew and three weeks later, burst, sending infection into the lungs, blood stream and brain. Bart suffered not one but three stokes.
That he lived was considered a miracle.
The man we used to say would talk to a corpse now must deal with slurred speech. The man who was a great surfer, skier, diver and yes, tennis player, must now use a walker. Bart no longer plays tennis, he goes to therapy.
Much to my dismay, I don’t see him nearly as much as I should and would like to anymore. I’m not sure any of us do. People get busy. People get swamped. Oddly enough I think people can get afraid, wondering if tragedy is contagious, worried it could happen to them.
There was an inter-club tennis match in his honor this last weekend. The Bart O’Rourke Clash between The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club where I play and the San Diego Racquet Club where Bart plays. There were T-shirts, a trophy, food and drink and it’s going to become an annual thing.
Bart, of course, was there. Wearing multi-colored Addidas tennis shoes. Sitting and watching with his lovely wife, Jen, accepting handshakes and hugs from all the people who had come to play and/or watch tennis but mostly to see him.
He’s quieter now. You get the sense he does a lot of listening,a lot of thinking. He’s as positive as ever. He says he’ll be biking, playing golf and tennis again and I believe him.
You wonder though. When I see him he often seems tired. So much has been taken away.
But then I remember he has a married son, Terence, in the Secret Service. He has a son, John, just engaged, who flies planes for the Air Force. He has a daughter who swims for her high school. He has marriages and grandchildren and holidays to look forward to. He has all these friends who came out to honor him.
Too many people pass not knowing how much they meant to a lot of people.
I think Bart knows.
Now if he’ll just stop dicking around and get his stubborn, Irish ass on the tennis court again. I need to find someone I can beat.
Move it, Highlight.