A couple of nights ago, Navaneet died in his sleep in California. It was not unexpected. When I dropped him off at Austin airport six months ago, we fully expected not to see each other again.
His beloved wife Praveeta died unexpectedly almost four years ago. At that time Navaneet’s prognosis didn’t look very good either. He had cancer and a few months before that doctors had given him a few months. He was on borrowed time. A year after that Madhunad and I visited him in Baja Norte in Mexico. We called ourselves El Grupo de Amigos. We started each the day with an amazing lazy breakfast and ended it sitting and contemplating the starry sky over the mountains in his backyard. In between, the conversation and laughter came easily and we toured local vineyards and restaurants all day. That became a hallmark of the hours of phone calls and the thousands of whatsapp messages that followed since then.
Navaneet shone like a beacon of life. Vader would have clearly said that the force was strong with this one. Navaneet’s second innings, to borrow a term from cricket, was inspiring. El Grupo continued our phone calls. Not once would you have ever guessed that one of us was dying faster than the other two. We were like a trio of school children. Our conversations were filled with zest and wonder and laughter, and sometimes tasteless humor.
El Grupo got back for a reunion in the middle of Covid when Navaneet blew into Austin from California like a breath of fresh mint in an ice cold mojito. We roamed the cafes and bars of South Congress and raised a ruckus. These photos are from the very last time El Grupo was together.
This spring, Navaneet began to finally slow down. The conversations with El Grupo on the phone continued to flow like good wine and bad dad jokes. After Easter, Navaneet opted for hospice care at home. He recounted his last visit with his doctor gleefully when he joked that because he had his second jab, he wasn’t going to die from Covid. The doctor apparently could not comprehend how someone who was days away from death could be so full of life.
A month ago, El Grupo put our collective heads together to discuss Navaneet’s impending death. Rather than have a memorial after he was gone, Madhunad suggested that we should get friends and family together to celebrate Navaneet’s life now. Navaneet readily agreed that it would be more fun for him if he were still alive. So we organized a zoom call with his friends from all over the world. Navaneet loved it and so did everyone else.
And now he is finally really gone but his laughter and love for life lives on.
Since the start of the last school year till Sunday, soccer has been a pillar of normality for Evan (and me). Practice on Monday and Wednesday evenings with his best friends, and blow-out victories on weekend matches became a part of the weekly schedule. The club managed their Covid protocol well and we never felt or were given a reason to worry.
Evan grew as a player and a team mate and felt he was recognized as a cornerstone of his team – calmly stopping most offensive attacks long before they got to his goalkeeper. Weekend after weekend they usually shut out their opponents and scored at least five goals. After a lead of six or seven, our coach usually instituted a policy of three unbroken passes before taking a goal shot which slowed their scoring down. But by the end of this season, the problem was winning. There was too much of it. They hadn’t lost a game. The last time Evan played club soccer was the 2018-19 year (he missed the 2019-20 year due to travel). Between the last two years that Evan played, he lost one game – the finals of the tournament at the end of the 2018-19 year. There is much to learn from losing a soccer match: congratulate your opponents, admit to yourself that they played a better game, then get back up, learn from it, and move on. I felt one loss over two years really wasn’t enough.
So a few parents and I convinced the club to extend our season by playing against harder teams from higher level leagues. They obliged and the team played four very good teams over the last two weekends. These boys were bigger, faster, had better ball control, and played a more strategic game. Our team rose to the challenge and beat two of these teams. They also had their first two losses of the season handed to them. The last one stung a bit. After being up 2-1, they lost the match 2-5, with the last goal being scored as the whistle blew. Oh the indignity.
After the game I hung back and walked behind the boys on the longish walk from the pitch to the car park. One poor kid was openly sobbing. Another was just holding it together. But most were doing great – pranking each other and laughing and joking. Then I heard it. “I bet they bribed the referee”. “They had to have”. “He made horrible calls”. “He was really bad or blind”. “I can’t believe he called that hand ball on us”. “I can’t believe he didn’t call that hand ball on them”.
It went on. From one kid it spread like a cancer to a few others. When we got to the car and we started driving back, I asked Evan how he was. “It was a great game. I really had to run for a change. I’m hungry – what should we eat?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. He finally had a couple of losses. And Evan hadn’t resorted to fables or conspiracy theories to convince himself that he had actually won when he had plainly lost. It was the cherry on top of a fantastic year of soccer. But what the devil are we going to do with our weekends now? Besides making fun of losers….
Last week we celebrated Ouiser, Skittles and Zeus adopting us one year ago. Skittles disappeared over a month ago. We suspect she was picked up by someone. She is cute and friendly and was without a collar during a pandemic. I’m pretty sure she is leading a fantastic life somewhere. But dammit you lousy cat burglar.
Evan still sleeps in uncomfortable positions for hours when Zeus lays on top of him. To move would disturb Zeus. And Ouiser greets us all every morning and everytime we walk in through the front door like we are the best thing since bacon treats. A year into our expanded family experiment we couldn’t be more content.
Here are some photos of Ouiser (and Vivian) from our recent camping trip to Canyon Lake for Michelle’s 50th birthday and of Zeus who wasn’t invited to camp and of Skittles before she was kittynapped.