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Stafford: Good friends are hardest to forget

Evan's shots hummed through whichever corner he chose, kissing orange paint before catching worn net; my shots labored through water just to get to the goal.

Evan's shot was smooth, effortless. His thin arms could whip a lacrosse ball with such power it was unbelievable.

But you had to believe it. Because there it was, we all saw it: A blistering shot so hard it beat even the best goalies we faced, taken by a man so quick and keen he didn't even need the wicked shot.

Occasionally he and I stayed after practice at Saint Vincent College on our gnarled, beleaguered practice field, took shots on an open cage, and chatted as good friends do.

Evan created games so we had an excuse to stay on the field.

The game we played most often was simple: Evan would stand in goal, and I had to beat him either high or low with a series of stick fakes. After I scored a few times, we'd switch. It took longer for me to score on him than it took for him to score on me. He was a talent. He started at attack as a freshman.

The sun often grew weary of our antics. It sank slowly behind the pale gray hills of Latrobe, Pa., took one last peek at Evan's shot, then disappeared entirely.

Even an hour following the team's two-hour practice, Evan couldn't leave the field. He loved the game.

But eventually Evan came to terms with the day's end, so we marched back to the locker room, just the two of us, our gear, and a bucket of lacrosse balls.

Here's another story about Evan: He and I ran into each other late one night. He didn't like how my lacrosse stick was strung, so he took it to his room, re-strung it, brought it back to me later that night. It threw like a gem the next day.

I never cherished those moments. I suppose we never do when we assume life stretches on and on and on.

I graduated in 2006. I saw Evan a couple more times at our alumni games, held at school every October.

He invited me to his place in Martha's Vineyard and I accepted, but I never went.

A year ago today my cell phone brightened in my dark apartment. I had the lights on, but my memory of that moment is cluttered black.

I grabbed my phone, still gleaming with a text message from my sister: "Evan's dead."

Apparently Evan had a heart condition. Then he had a seizure. The seizure made his heart stop.

Evan's viewing was a few days later. It was in Acton, Mass., and I couldn't make it. A few weeks later, on the morning of our alumni game, Saint Vincent held a memorial service for Evan in the student chapel.

Evan's No. 11 jersey hung limp on a stand at the front of the chapel, a framed picture of him stood to the left. He looked fantastic.

Just before the lacrosse game, the alumni were given gray shorts lined with a thick blue stripe on either side; Evan's No. 11 was stitched into the left leg. When I got my shorts I stared at his number. I still do.

No team should have to sew the number of a dead teammate into its uniform.

But we did, and other teams do, and more teams will. Some people call it an unfortunate fact of life. Others call it the only fact of life.

I know another fact of life. So do most children.

We have to squeeze as much fun into the day as we can -- before the sun, tired of our antics, takes one final look at us, then disappears behind the pale gray hills.


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