Max and Peggy
In September 2012, I’d been a single mom of three boys for 17 years. My ex left while I was pregnant with our youngest, and I had been too busy and too tired to date, let alone get remarried. My kids were my whole life. I didn’t have time for hobbies.
I’d gone back to school and recently graduated in my 40s. My older boys had already left home and it was just me and my “baby,” Max. Kind, gentle, funny, so freaking smart, good student, nerdy, 17 years old and tall – 6’9″ tall (his “big brothers” were frequently amused by how he towered over them). I’m 5’7.”
My oldest (Nick, 27) had been in the United State Marine Corps for nearly 10 years. My middle son (Ben, 21) had several dumb-kid-run-ins with the law as a minor, but he had a good heart, and I had faith he would calm down as an adult. I’d spent years worrying about Nick and Ben, for good reason.
“Life had been really hard for a long time.”
But things were starting to look up. Nick had just a few days left before final deployment as a Marine. Ben hadn’t been in trouble for a few years, or at least hadn’t gotten caught. Max was easy-peasy after raising those two, I never had to worry about him.
One Monday, I had finally started my first regular job since graduating, and not just any job, my dream job. I’d done it! I’d fought and fought to take care of my family, and we were all going to be ok!
Tuesday morning, Max, who hated having his mom fuss over him, missed the bus because he forgot his wallet and keys, and needed to be let back into the house. As he left, I told him “since you’re here, you have to hug me!” Max grumbled and gave me a half-hearted hug. I said “no way, bucko, you woke me up, I get a real hug!” Off to school he went. I went to work, everything was great.
On Tuesday Sept. 11, 2012, on my way home from my second day at my dream job, I’d missed some calls from a sheriff’s deputy whose name I recognized from the good old days when Ben would get picked up every other week. I drove home thinking, “what did he do now?”
I pulled in to my neighborhood and there was an ambulance, sheriffs and firefighters everywhere. A man in a uniform stopped me. I could see a lump in the middle of the sidewalk with a tarp over it, and blood coming out from underneath.
So much blood.
Somehow, I instantly knew, it was Max.
Before the sheriff’s chaplain said anything, I’d already started arguing, it couldn’t be Max, he was the safe one, he never did anything dangerous, he was the one I never had to worry about, it couldn’t be him!
“I poured everything I had into keeping my kids safe.”
A woman driving had a seizure, went up onto the sidewalk and drove through my son, three fences, and into a house.
It took him 23 minutes to die, while life-flight circled overhead, unable to land because there were too many power lines.
It was all over the news for days. Details emerged.
Her seizure had been caused by an overdose. The drugs had been stolen in an armed robbery of a pharmacy with her boyfriend, and they had both already gone to prison for it. She had been pulled over that morning for a DUI, and taken to a hospital, but they released her because she signed papers saying she wouldn’t drive for 24 hours. She took a taxi from the hospital to where her car was parked, and the papers were sitting on the passenger seat of the car that killed my son.
My older boys came home to bury their “little” brother.
Hundreds of people (and all the news crews) attended Max’s memorial service.
Eventually, my boys went back to their lives. I went back to work to pay the bills, but otherwise, I stayed home for the next five weeks. For a while, the only thing that gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning was anger at the woman who killed my son and broke our family. I wanted justice.
She was arrested on Christmas Eve and charged with 2nd degree manslaughter. The day her trial was set to begin the following May, she plead guilty to the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to 19 months. She served less than a year and was out by Thanksgiving 2013.
“I gave up. I went into a cave, built of grief, pain and rage.”
I wanted to die, but I didn’t want to do anything to hurt my kids more than they already had been. I went to work, ate, slept, and waited for death, so I could tell Max how very sorry I was that I hadn’t been able to protect him.
Over the course of the next two years, I lost many friends. I don’t blame them. It was a lot to deal with. Most of my friends were also single moms, and seeing what happened to my family was scary. I had done all the right things to keep him safe, and yet, my son wound up dead. It was too real for many of them.
Max was a good kid. The best kid. I was bitter as hell. I was angry! I’m still angry, who wouldn’t be?
So, I lost most of my friends, except two.
One was my friend Diane who was on a mission to make me interact with others, whether I wanted to or not.
And, I never wanted to. But she persisted and invited me to things with her family. She’d even have her kids guilt me so bad that I’d actually show up. She listened to me cry, over and over.
But she didn’t pull any punches. When she saw me going to a dark place, she reminded me how badly I would hurt my sons if I were to take my own life.
Her husband played pool a couple nights a week, and she thought it was boring, but occasionally they’d be short players, and she’d drag me out of the house and make me hang out with her while she kept score.
And then there was this other lady, Dena. She was this funny, kind-hearted, foul-mouthed, tiny, blonde, poolplayer who I met a couple times at Diane’s house, who intimidated the crap out of me! I’m a librarian and was really shy and quiet. She’s tiny, but loud. She didn’t take crap from anybody! She’d check in on me on Facebook, out of nowhere, just because she was kind.
By the end of 2015, I was not doing good. That dream job turned out not to be so dreamy. I’d been sitting on a couch for three years, so literally everything hurt. Life was a nightmare.
Both of my boys lived in other states, and I wasn’t going to burden them by letting them know how bad things were for me.
Just when things didn’t seem like they could get worse, Diane tells me her husband’s job has been transferred to Texas and they’d be moving.
I would be completely and utterly alone. I was scared. I was going to lose my only human contact, and I was finally at a point where I could admit I really need people.
I was guiltily aware that over the past couple years, a few people had actually reached out and invited me to do things, but I always declined. I was too embarrassed to reach out to them. I needed to find new people willing to accept me for who I am. I was still crying, a lot, and I wasn’t good at making friends before Max died.
On New Year’s Day, I had an epiphany. Unless it’s going to cause me actual physical harm, if anyone invited me to ANYTHING, no matter how much I hate it, I’m going to say yes. Lunch, movies, drinks, does not matter, I’m committed, I will say yes!
The whole idea was terrifying. I wandered around for several days desperate for someone to invite me to do something while simultaneously dreading anyone asking me to actually do anything.
Diane invited me to come to her family’s going away party, and I’m struggling to think of something I’ll dislike more. I show up at the party, and I was unbelievably awkward. I didn’t know most of the people, and the ones I did know were are all freaking poolplayers. I mean, they were nice enough, but they’re loud, and, All. They. Talk. About. Is. Pool. Ugh!!!
I knew nothing about pool. I’ve never played, not even one time, and bars scared me. As I just sit at the kitchen table with Diane and Dena, Dena keeps talking about how she desperately needs a “2” because she just lost her only 2, and this is the last week of the session that she can add anyone to her roster. I say “what’s a 2?” She explains a “2” is a low skilled poolplayer. How low I ask?
My brain is going a mile a minute and finally Dena jokingly says, “do you want to join the team?” Every fiber of my being is screaming “no, shut up shut up,” but I hear my voice say “yes, please.” Her husband tells me to be there at noon.
I have about 12 hours to regret this decision and freak myself out. I have no idea what I’m doing, and these people are strangers to me. I’ll have to go in a bar. They’re going to want me to do something I don’t know how to do, while they watch.
It felt worse than the nightmare of walking in to school naked!
By the time I get there the next day, my anxiety is so bad I can’t get out of the car. I’m crying and hyperventilating. I’m feeling like I can’t do this. But I know I need to do this. I’m shaking with fear. I know that if I can’t do this hope is lost and there’s a good chance I’m going to go home and eat a bullet.
“I HAD TO CHANGE.”
So, I call Dena and ask for help. I told her, “I can’t come in by myself, can you come get me?” I have no idea what she must have thought, but she came. She walked me in, and said “welcome to the team.” She didn’t have to say that, and it might not have meant anything to someone else, but what I heard was I have a team, I’m part of something, these are my people, and they’re happy I’m here!
Then she starts introducing people, “this is Julie,” and I put my hand out to shake, but Julie smacks it away and says “we hug here!” I am flabbergasted.
Then I meet Joe, and Stephanie, and Kathi, and Grant. I don’t have the words for how much my life changed because of these people.
Our poor opponents that day.
Dena focused on teaching me etiquette—don’t chalk over the table, don’t get in your opponent’s eye-line, shake hands before and after a match, if you foul hand them the cue ball.
I will never stop appreciating my first opponent, Erica, for her patience in teaching me how to lag, how to shoot, heck, how to hold the dang cue stick!
Everyone was so kind, but I was still a little intimidated. Grant intimidated me so badly, I couldn’t speak to him for the first several months. But Dena wasn’t having that, so she started making me drive him home, and I found out he loves helping people learn, and today he’s one of my closest friends. There have been times that I got as bad and dark and sad as I have ever have been, and he’s been there, sometimes all night, in the parking lot of a bar, talking me through it.
For at least two years, I continued to struggle with depression. I don’t know how many times I pondered ending my own life, but talked myself out of it because my team was depending on me. I had made a promise to be there, so I’d say to myself, not today. I did a lot of thoughtless things, but I was so embarrassed by the idea of letting my team down, I stayed alive for them. Most of them had no idea, and I’m much better now, so thank you all for putting up with me.
“In different ways, every person I’ve met in the APA has helped save me, directly or indirectly.”
This is my fifth year being a part of the APA. I have been on several teams, and every one of them has contributed to my improvement as a poolplayer and a person.
Some have helped me become a better poolplayer. Some have taught me to be braver than I ever thought I could be. Some have shown me grace and forgiveness, which has helped me become a better person.
I’ve met people I will always love and who have become my family. I’ve met a ton of kind, welcoming, equally flawed human beings that recognize that I’m also human, and it’s ok to mess up, and they’re willing to help me figure out who the heck I am now that everything in my life has changed.
Thank you to Dena, Bobby, Grant, Amanda, Dallas, Stacy, Larry, Cory, Nina, Megan, Deana, Misty, Alan, Chanell, Corbin, Christopher, Joe and every Captain and Co-Captain that has welcomed me to a team and helped me learn, grow and survive, even if you had no idea what you were in for with me.
Every teammate and opponent has given me something to look forward to. Even when I didn’t look forward to a specific match, I’ve always looked forward to league.
And, to my League Operator Boomer Humphreys, holy cow, have you put up with a lot of dumb questions from me. Thank you for your patience!
I’m clearly a fan of words, but I don’t have words for how much I appreciate being part of the APA.
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