That Voice

It gets you at the most unsuspecting times. One minute you're hanging vinyl-shades with your husband for the front porch. The next, you're curled up in the fetal position, sobbing, your chest heaving with each breath.

You think you're over it, but I don't think you ever recover.

He was drilling holes in one of the porch beams and without even looking over his shoulder, he said, "Chick Hearn is in a coma."

Chick Hearn is the official broadcaster for the Los Angeles Lakers.

I don't even remember what I was doing at the time. "What? I thought he had surgery to help the bleeding."

He was still drilling holes. "They did. There were two, but now he's in a coma."

"Are you sure?" I turned on the TV. I don't know why. "No. I don't think so."

"Yeah."

I flipped through the channels, unsure of what I was looking for. "What? Are you sure?"

He put the drill down and turned to me. "Yeah. Why would I play around about something like that?"

True. Two things we never joke about. Sports and our commitment to each other.

Then I found it. The booming voice of the reporter, the yellow headline below him, I stopped searching the channels. "I'm here at Northridge Hospital, waiting for Chick Hearn's doctor's announcement on his progress. On Friday, Chick fell down in his backyard and was rushed to the hospital. Over the weekend, he underwent two surgeries to alleviate the internal bleeding around his brain."

Oh God.

"Doctors were able to stop the bleeding, but after the second surgery, bleeding started again, adding even more pressure than the injury."

My sorry excuse for a brother-in-law by this time had walked over and was talking to my husband. My husband says, "They're giving an update on Chick's condition."

When the reporter says he's in a coma, my brother-in-law, in his grating, know it all tone, says, "Oh, I already knew about that." And proceeded to talk during the news coverage.

Usually, whenever my cheap-ass-free-loading , claims to have thirty grand in the bank brother-in-law does this, his uncanny ability to bring up inane things, I tune him out and think of ways to hurt him. But, I don't care about him right now. So, I turned up the volume.

The drone of his voice is replaced with the news. They showed fans reactions to the news that Chick was in a coma.

The first was a man, sandy brown hair with a tan. Underneath his face is his name, Jonathan Burgess. "I've been listening to Chick since I was three. Whenever you think of the Lakers, you think Chick Hearn. He was the Lakers."

They cut to another face. A woman with dark, curly hair and blue eyes, said, "I'm legally blind. When we had the playoffs, my husband would be watching the game on TV in one room and I would be in another room, listening to Chick Hearn on the radio. I didn't have to see what was going on to have a good time. He made it exciting."

Something told me that I had to stop watching, but I couldn't bring myself to change the channel.

They showed a barrage of Chick through the years broadcasting for the Lakers. The reporter's smooth voice provided a narration of his career. "Chick Hearn has been calling Laker games ever since they came from Minnesota forty-two years ago. He helped shaped basketball's history, coining such terms as ‘slam dunk' and ‘air ball'. He also developed a familial relationship with the players. Magic Johnson said he was like a father."

Then Magic Johnson's face was on the screen. "I wasn't Magic Johnson to Chick. I was Irving Johnson. We never talked about basketball. He always asked me how things were going. When the movie theater business took off, he sent me a note that said how he and Marge were proud of me."

Then another picture flashed on the screen of Chick and his wife, Marge. The reporter's voice returned, "August 16th would've been the couple's sixty-fourth anniversary."

My throat tightened. It wasn't the nervous kind when you meet someone new or the heart felt kind when you're at a wedding ceremony or when the hero gets the girl. It was the kind that creeps up on you.

Then they switched to Chick's doctor. He finally came out to address the press.

He cleared his throat, looked around the reporters that encircled him. I sat at the edge of my seat, the tightening feeling spread through my chest.

The doctor's voice was steady for which I was thankful. "Chick is in critical condition. His life support is at a minimal." He paused again before he said, "Mrs. Hearn is fully aware of the import of the situation. There was already a do not resuscitate order in place, so that his life would not be prolonged by artificial means."

Tears tickled my cheek, so I reached up and brushed them away. My throat and chest tightened again, causing more tears to fall. I had to wipe my face. I didn't want my brother-in-law to see me like this.

I tried to block out the last thing I heard on the TV, but the harder I tried, the louder it sounded in my head. There was already a do not resuscitate order in place, so that his life would not be prolonged by artificial means.

I thought I had it all behind me. I thought I was over it. It's been three years. How could this be happening again?

Before I knew it, I'm cradled in my husband's arms, struggling to catch my breath in between my sobbing.

"Shhh." He said and laid me down on the bed. Then he put a pillow under my head with a gentleness that only made me cry harder.

We laid on the bed, he stroked my hair, I cried into his chest. I felt so stupid. He knew that it didn't take much to get me to cry, but this. This wasn't my usually teary eyed state after watching one of those greeting card commercials. He held me tighter, probably to stop my body from shaking.

It was a few minutes before I said, "I'm sorry."

He gave me a tender kiss on the top of my head. "Don't apologize."

"It's just that. . . I can't believe. . ."

"Shhhh. . ." He stroked my shoulder. "I know."

I stopped crying long enough to say, "You do?"

"Yeah." I raised my face to hear what he had to say. I couldn't look at him though. "You're upset because our children will never get to hear Chick call a game."

Tears spilled from the corners of my eyes. "No. . . well, yeah, but. . ."

He held me closer. He was quiet. I knew it was probably tearing him up inside, not being able to help me.

"I've been listening to Chick even before I knew what basketball was." I didn't care that Chick had called over three thousand Laker games in his lifetime or that he had been present for nine World Championships. I didn't care that he was the one who brought basketball to the West in 1961. I didn't care he was the one who made up a lot of the basketball terms we use today.

"Whatever I was doing, whether it was playing with my sister or doing homework, whenever there was a Laker game on, my grandfather and my dad would be watching with Chick calling the game." I felt my throat tighten again. "Now that he's gone. . . it's like losing them all over again."

He held me in his arms, murmuring I'm so sorry over and over again.

I had a fistful of his shirt in my hand when the tears forced their way out again. Whenever Chick was on, it was the one time my grandfather and father would sit together on amiable terms. There would be no disagreements or yelling. Just Chick's voice echoing throughout the house.

When I lost my grandfather in 1998 and my father in 2000, the only thing I had left were warm memories and that voice. That voice that got me through two of the biggest losses of my life. And I don't mean the Lakers' pathetic seasons before the coming of Phil Jackson.

Besides losing my grandfather and my dad, there were also other challenges in my life. But, through it all, I could turn on a Laker game to hear that voice. That voice was a constant in my life I could always depend on when things got rough.

And now the possibility that I might never hear that voice again made me feel all the helplessness and grief I experienced when my father was in ICU. There was already a do not resuscitate order in place, so that his life would not be prolonged by artificial means. At least Chick's family was saved from making that decision.

I guess by now, I was in a calmer state because Mark said, "You know, I think a doughnut might make you feel better."

I couldn't help laughing. "OK."

He took me by the hand and we walked back out to the living room. I was relieved that my brother-in-law was gone, saving me from explaining anything to him. I sat down, watching the TV again. The sound had been turned down and they were replaying the clip of Chick's life.

He brought out the doughnuts we bought that morning. I took a bite out of my crumb covered Bear Claw. It was sweet, but hard to swallow.

In a couple of hours they would announce that Chick Hearn passed away. His wife and family are doing well and that they express their gratitude for the warmth and support the fans have shown through this trying time. The channel, K-CAL 9 which is the home station of the Lakers, would do a special on the ten o'clock news about The Legend, Chick Hearn.

By that time, I am numb and accept the news with little resistance. Both of their conditions were critical and the chances of recovery for either were dismal. I'm comforted by the snippets on the news of fans sharing how Chick taught them basketball and how his name is synonymous with the Lakers. There are also testimonies from fellow reporters and fans of his amiable personality.

He died on a Monday. My father died on a Tuesday. Some might say I didn't deal with my grief the right way. That it was probably unhealthy to transfer my feelings for my father on to someone I didn't know or meet. But, he wasn't a stranger or some random person I latched on to. It was Chick. My grandfather and my dad would put the game on, but turn down the sound, and invite Chick to the game by turning on the radio. Then when they were gone and I was old enough, I welcomed him into my own home.

A part of me still can't believe I will never hear him say, "You can put this game in the refrigerator. The door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jiggling." And for the first time, I consider the future with uncertainty.

 

 

The End

 

 

© 2002 Copyright held by the author.

 

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