Lost Connection

Photo © 2008 Amy Ford

Tony was a kid in my classes during the one year I attended Robinson Secondary School. He was in all of my non-elective classes like English, math, science and history (or was it social-sciences … I can’t remember the name). He seemed to have everything going for him as he was intelligent (scoring 1600 on his SATs), talented (he could sing and play the guitar), athletic (played on the school lacrosse team), good-looking and popular (he was president of our class and every girl I knew and didn’t know loved the guy). I’ve known many funny people in my life and he might have even cracked that vaunted top ten list at times. Best of all he was the nicest guy I ever met – friendly to everyone from every social circle including this overwhelmed new-kid who had just moved from Texas.

I was in a completely different world – still getting accustomed to my new setting and making friends – and I never considered us close at all, but I sat second chair trumpet to his first through the entire year of band and, for one class a day, we were good friends. I can only remember a few specific snatches of our conversations, but I always had a great time joking around (I do recall focusing on trying to impress him and the other guys a lot of the time). Being funny and smart and fun and cool all came so naturally to him that it never felt like he had to water-down any of those attributes in order to converse with me, making me feel completely comfortable in my new surroundings. He was just the same person he was with everyone else and I admired him for that and many of his other qualities.

Well, I left rather suddenly the next year to attend Jefferson – a magnet high school in a town several cities away from Robinson. I didn’t keep in touch at all except for running into him here and there at district band competitions and even then I stopped going junior year of high school. I went to JMU and he went to Duke. Then he graduated and went to medical school to become a doctor. He had everything going for him and I considered him to be one of those people in my life (however brief the occurrence) who would go on to really do something meaningful.

… He died four days ago of brain cancer, a young man of 27 stuck down in the prime of his life. I was only notified when Steve randomly came across his memorial on Facebook (how surreal). The amount of members to the memorial group hasn’t stopped increasing at about 5 every half hour (273 at this moment) because he obviously touched so many lives in his short stint here. The guy was super special and even though I knew him for only a year I am deeply saddened by his death and will miss him. Even if the feeling is fleeting, life has become so much more … real and palpable since I found out, knowing it’s a day spent that he will never experience.

I think the proper ending to someone’s life is to remember the moments where you were able to glimpse into what was really going on inside them and connect … or when they were able to do so with you. I’m sure hundreds of people have more descriptive, accurate and numerous occasions of these moments with Tony as I was just an 8th-grade kid who looked up to him. But I still have one of those moments and here it is:

One winter break during college I was back home at my mother’s townhouse in Burke. It was after midnight and the only thing open was a 7-11 so I trekked through the harsh winds and snow to hit it up for some much needed, sugary sustenance. As I walked in and paid for my usual (slurpee, mamba) I turned and saw another person had had a similar craving at the same hour and place in this cold, barren environment. I knew instantly who it was. Now, Tony having gone to four years of high school and marching band with my identical twin brother turned to me and started to say “Hey, Stev-” but caught himself. There was a flicker of something immediate in his eyes and then he corrected himself and said, laughing:

“Hey, Stan. I haven’t seen you in forever. How have you been, man?”

Being a twin, the defining mission in my life has been to form my own identity as scores of people – including my own mother – have constantly confused my brother and I. Tony, who I hadn’t seen in six years, in a second, knew exactly who I was.

Tony was a special guy and made an impact on so many people’s lives. I knew him for just a year and I’m amazed now to feel how big an impression he made during that time. I’ve never forgotten about him since and I hope I never shall.

Goodbye, Tony Milin.

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  • Lisa
    Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 at 15:06 | #1

    Hi Stan,
    I remember you and Steve from Robinson, so although you might not remember me, I just wanted to thank you for writing this. I wasn’t close to Tony but, like you, we were in many classes together, and because of his outgoing and easy personality, his life touched many of ours back in Fairfax. Just… thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s helpful at times like these.

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