There are still a lot of things I’d like to ask him and tell him. I felt as if I was just growing old enough to be able to have a real adult conversation with Cole, and then he was gone. The last time I saw him, August of 2001, he came down to visit me at Governor’s Honors’ in Valdosta, Georgia. He had gone to college at Valdosta State, and I was there for the summer studying Biology and Jazz piano for a couple of weeks.
We had a conversation about college, which was very important to him. He wanted to help me to go to college if I needed it. I learned that he liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I was surprised by that, for some reason–probably because I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I had no inkling that he and I would be into the same music. I guess that is part of what I mean by saying that “I felt as if I were just growing old enough to have a real adult conversation with Cole…,” to know him in a new way.
We went running together, and that is the last clear memory I have. I apologized for being slow because I’d already been swimming a lot earlier in the day. But, really, we all knew I’d run a lot slower than Cole even if I’d just woken up from a long night’s rest. He was just always in excellent shape and could kick my butt any day.
I made a lot of artwork involving his death at the Pentagon during my years in graduate school. It was informed by my experience, but more about larger political issues. I even tried to install a sculpture as a “grief object” at the Pentagon memorial a couple of years ago, but they made me take it away because it was “too large” and made them nervous. I guess I should have just left flowers like everybody else, but I kind of hate flowers picked from their life to sit at someone’s grave or memorial.
I left some prints at his grave to show him what I’d been up to, I guess. I made monotypes to shadow his grave stone. I wanted to install something since the sculpture at the Pentagon Memorial didn’t work out. It did make me feel good to leave something there, although I cannot explain why. I know it must have just gotten shoved into some trash receptacle later that week.
In any case, I’m glad Aunt Pe is happily remarried now to the incredibly wonderful Mike. And I’m happy that so many people remember Uncle Cole fondly. So much of my daily existence is filled with memories of his advice such as, “Never walk by a water fountain without taking a drink. Your body is always thirsty,” “Study Hard and Run Every Day,” and “Eat to Run. Don’t Run to Eat.” I wish every day that I’d just had a few more years with him so that I could have known him in a new way, from an older perspective, and I would love for him to have met my husband, Blake.
My grandmother Jane always says that people ask her if this day is hard for her, the day she lost her son. She says that every day is hard. It doesn’t make a difference which day it is because he is gone on all of them. Last year on the 11th, we all went up to Washington State for the dedication of a Green Beret Memorial, partially in Cole’s honor. I’m eternally grateful for Mike rushing to pick me up at the airport at the last minute. I made the ceremony thanks to him. And grandma said that’s the last plane trip she plans to take, which is a bit sad. But I’m glad I could be there, at least, to hold her hand and then have a drink with her on the plane ride back to Georgia.