R. & M. (& L.)
R. L watermelon slush (no sugar)
I’ve seen Roberto at our store consistently since I started working there, and have always been intrigued. In his usual athletic gear, sweat-drenched, with a look of accomplishment on his face, he parks his bike by the door and walks up to the register. Today, instead of asking the typical and ambiguous “How’s it going? What can I get for you?, I said, "I’ll get your usuals ready- how many miles did you bike today?” And he proceeded to give me some ridiculous number, which I was not shy about hiding my shock and amazement at.
The conversation carried on over to the blender area, then to the edge of the counter, and eventually to a table. I was surprised by how welcoming he was of my peppering of questions, and how generously he shared his story.
“I started cycling when my 15-year old son, Luke, passed away last year. Luke was a miracle child- born with medical complications and battled with pulmonary hypertension all his life. He used to come here a lot with his friends; it was like their regular hang-out spot. I can still feel his presence whenever I come.
Luke was a nerd. (laughs) He was really, really into music. A few weeks before he passed, he went to a… Babies? Crushing Babies? You would know more about these bands than me.. Anyways, some concert, and he was struggling to see the stage, and a girl, her name is Elizabeth, took his hand and led him to the front of the crowd. He even got a picture with the band! But anyways, a few days later, he went on his first (and only), date. With this girl. Here! At that table. (points) I don’t think she thought anything of it, but it was a special experience to him. This was 2 or 3 days before he passed.
I practice Baha'i faith, which is a relatively new religion. It started up in the 19th century in Iran. I believe in, love, and respect all religions; I’m everything- Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, everything, we’re all from the same God. We believe that life progresses, after death, through death. We all get a 2nd birth. And Luke’s impact on others is how he continues to live on.
Luke was very close with his brother, Dariush. Now, Dar is really smart, really driven. He graduated from Yale and now works for a YouTube company in LA. But he’s hard on himself.. he would always be discouraged by his entry-level position on the team because started off just as a worker for the gaming division. But Luke would always jokingly encourage him, saying "No, Dar, you’re the boss of the Gaming Station! You tha boss!” Luke was always laughing. Always laughing. It was actually pretty annoying. (laughs, himself) But that’s what we love about him. Anyways, after Luke passed, Dar started getting back to back to back promotions. He moved up the company quickly and now- he really IS the President of the Gaming Division! That was Luke’s impact on Dar, and I know he is grateful to him for it.
We’re all still receiving gifts from Luke. My daughter, his sister, Gabby, just got married and is having her second daughter, due in December. Her name will be “Valentina.” I know, beautiful, right?“
(His granddaughter, and soon to be older-sister of Valentina, Makadi, joins us. She is 7 years old, in the 2nd grade, likes playing games on her iPad, and has, in a short conversation, touched and humbled me beyond words. But I’ll try to use them, anyway.)
Me: "So you’re going to be a sister soon! Are you excited?”
M: (timidly, almost a whisper) “Yes, I am.”
Me: “I’m excited for you, too. You’re going to be a great older sister.”
M: (a little louder) “Thank you.”
….. “Did you know Luke?”
Me: “I wish.. No, I never got to meet him. But I think I’m meeting him right now.”
M: (not whispering at all) “I’m excited for you!”
Me: “Me too.”
I asked her if she missed him. She said “Yes, but it’s okay, because I can still talk to him.”
“How do you talk to him?”
M: (whispering, again) “I write him secret letters. No one knows, but he writes back. He says he’s okay and that he misses me too.”
She goes back to her games as I quietly try to choke back tears.
I turn back to Roberto, “Can you tell me more about how you started biking?”
“My family was always physically affectionate. We hug and kiss often. But a few months before Luke died, he was particularly affectionate. Always asking for extra hugs. I think.. I think he knew. He knew his time was coming. Anyways. I’ve always wanted to do Tai-Chi. Something about it, the movement, and the philosophy, I find really.. I like it. So I went to my first Tai-Chi class. And that was the night that Luke died. He passed away in his mother’s arms. I haven’t been back to take another class. I can’t. I don’t think I will, again.
A few weeks after Luke died, I developed a cough. I’ve always had problems with my bronchial system, but this was chronic. It lasted for months and was just getting worse and worse. I felt really hopeless. I would think to myself, "Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s my time to join him.”
I play racquetball with a few of my friends, but the parking at the UCSD gym is horrible. (It is.) So I thought, I should bike there! So I went to a bike shop with my friend, looking to spend around $100 for my first bike.. and ended up with a $1,200 bike. (laughs) I mean, it was a good investment, but at the time I had no idea it was going to cost that much.
At first, I couldn’t even go up Gilman hill without coughing up a storm. I would cough and cough, and it got to the point where I was coughing up really disgusting stuff.
And then it all went away.
The cough was gone, and I could breathe and ride and live without the pain.
I completed the “Death Ride" last year, and just did ”The 508“ 2 weeks ago. I never would have thought I’d be doing stuff like this, at 60 years old. I’m so happy with all the progress I’ve made, and my life in general. And I know this is all Luke’s gift to me.
This, all of this, I feel, was Luke’s gift to me. And sharing his story, is my gift to you. Live on, give on.