I have so much to tell you that I don’t even know where to begin.
I hope you’re feeling better since the last time we saw each other—much has changed since then. I’ll never forget the last hugs and kisses you gave me before school. If only I would have known that was our last time, I never would have left.
I talked to you at your funeral, could you hear me? I didn’t want to say goodbye. First grade was tough without you. I missed the hugs before school, reading to you, and having the whole family at the dinner table. Things got more complicated when you left. We left the little house on Hillsboro Road—I sure do miss that place.
I picked up baseball after you left, Dad signed me and Sean up because he thought it would be good to take our minds off things. I hit my first home run when I was eight—wish you could have been there to see it. I was so close on my first at-bat too, the ball went all the way to the warning track. I finally came around the next time and the ball bounced right off the top of the fence and went over! The little league even selected me as an all-star at the end of the year.
Fifth grade wasn’t my favorite. We ended up at one of the shelters downtown and had to share a room with another family. You should have seen my haircut the day before school—yikes. I thought about you often during class and when I rode the bus back to the shelter. But don’t be sad, I kept my spirits up. I knew all of it was short-term. You couldn’t have picked a better dad. Through thick and thin he was there for me and Sean, and I knew we would get through it. At least we had good exercise walking everywhere. We had to walk pretty far to catch the metro bus for graduation—I think you’d get a kick out of what I was wearing. All the other kids had nice business casual clothes while I wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a two-sizes-too-big greenish-yellow long-sleeve polo. But it was all I had from donations. It’s easy to laugh about it now.
After fifth-grade graduation, Mawmaw picked us up all the way from Jacksonville—thank goodness she did, we were removed from the shelter and needed somewhere to go. I think you’d like our little rental house in Jacksonville, it sure wasn’t like the neighborhood on Hillsboro Road, but it was a saving grace.
Florida is nice, I love it here. It was definitely a good restart. I love the sunshine, the beach, and the warm weather. I think I fell in love when I went to Destin right after your funeral. Who knew that one day I’d come down and live here. Maybe it was a sign?
We moved at a perfect time too—it was the start of middle school for me. You should have seen me, I was a ball of energy and a walking, talking music player. I may have been goofy, awkward, and a class clown at times but I was fascinated with learning. I cared so much because school and sports were all I had. Don’t tell Dad, but I think I inherited your brain. I even started writing, just like you. I still have my first progress report, I’m saving it for you to see—I’ll give you a hint: all the letters are the same.
Can you believe I had the lead role as Romeo in the school play? I was capturing hearts out there like a young Leo, Mom. I’m sure you would have told me to take it easy on the girls… I always wondered what you would have thought about my girlfriends. But don’t worry, I think dad taught me well. I’m sad you didn’t get to come watch me perform my monologue at the district festival—I received one of the highest ratings and was invited to the state festival! Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to go but it’s okay, I was happy to at least have the opportunity.
In eighth grade I finally decided to try out for basketball, it is one of my favorite sports. I tried my absolute hardest to make the team—tryouts were no joke. The coach made us run two miles and put us through a gauntlet of exercises. I tried to be first in everything to prove I belonged. I wish you could have seen the game where I made four 3 pointers in a row. If only I had dad and Sean’s genes, I would have been a force to reckon with! But unfortunately, 5ft 9in NBA players don’t exist.
Ninth grade was nerve-racking. I was glad many of my middle school friends attended the same school. I was also glad Sean made a good impression there, I could tell the teachers and coaches were excited to have another Furlong. You should have heard some of the nicknames they called me: Furrydingle, Furrydong…LOL… I think you get the idea. I made varsity as a freshman! Can’t believe I started the first game too. You should have seen my first hit!
Sean was getting nicer to me when he moved to college, I think he missed me or something. He called me every day to make sure I stayed on track with the SAT, ACT, and school. I told him I was only a freshman—he didn’t like that very much. But I listened to him and I studied every night in my room. The math section was a breeze but I couldn’t seem to figure out the reading comprehension… ugh! I wanted to go to college just like you and him.
Senior year was a test. I wanted to finish strong. A few months before graduation we lost the little house in Jacksonville and I had to stay with friends and family. I know you must have been worried, but I kept my mind on track—that kind of obstacle wasn’t new. I was fortunate to have a great support system around me.
A couple weeks later, the guidance counselor called me over the intercom during class. She told me I was named valedictorian of my class, out of 750 students! You know what’s funny? Sean told me back in eighth grade that if I kept doing well I could accomplish that feat—do you think he planted the seed?
Times sure have changed since you left. The internet ended up being a major thing—nearly everything we do involves the internet now, it isn’t just Solitaire or Instant Messaging on the computer anymore. Word got out that I was homeless again and a news story was shared about my story. I flew all the way to New York City and went on Good Morning America and met Robin Roberts—she had cancer just like you.
Florida State offered me a full ride! The joy I felt when I got that call. I cried like a little baby… It was one more huge weight off my shoulders, which came just in time to write my valedictorian speech before graduation. I wish you could have been there for my speech. I was beyond nervous—there were nearly 10,000 people there! I wrote about you and brought a call to action: live life to find a purpose.
College was the best time of my life. I made good friends with some of the ATO brothers, I know you liked them a lot when you were in AOPi at Murray State. I also made some lifelong friends who I know you’d love—I wish you could meet them. They kept my spirits up during my low points. I failed my first assignment freshman year of college—I didn’t tell anyone. I felt like I let you and the family down. And then I made my first ever ‘C’ because I got caught cheating on my project. I made some mistakes that I hope you forgive me for. I didn’t give up though, never did. I focused on what I could control.
I wish you were there at college graduation—I had the fancy chords draped around and I was about 15 pounds heavier than normal. I know you would have told me to lay off the Whataburger next to my apartment. I haven’t even opened up my degree in the mail yet. And I’m not sure when I ever will. It would be funny if they spelled my name wrong.
Sean bought a house! I’m so proud of him. He married one of the sweetest girls you’ll ever meet—she’s great with kids and great at golf. I wish you were there at the wedding to see how good we all looked. To have us all dance together would have made it extra special.
I live in Tampa, Florida now. I work as a full-time civil engineer in the land development industry. It was a huge learning curve—at times I wanted to quit. But I fell in love with the challenge and the power that learning brought. I burnt myself out a few times when I first started and sometimes still do. My strength—and weakness—is my inability to stop. I always want more and sometimes nothing is ever good enough. Some call it crazy, but I call it curious. What’s funny is that my backup plan was to always be a teacher and I found that same role at the job. I love drawing on the whiteboard and simplifying complex problems for the younger engineers.
I’ve spent the last two years writing a book. At first, it started as a memoir but Sean gave me the advice to write something more simple to inspire students. I was depressed for a few weeks because I spent so long writing and completely changed my direction. I didn’t write for months... But I didn’t give up on the idea. I worked every day, every night, and on weekends. I questioned myself and critiqued every word, every sentence, and every story. I read it from the perspective of my friends, teachers, family, and the people who may not even like me—which ended up being destructive. Even choosing a title and subtitle took two months…I asked everyone for their opinions. There was no clear favorite and all it did was mess with my head. I believe I grew from that experience though.
I know nothing will ever be perfect. I should be proud that I never gave up. I should be proud that even if it gets a 1-star review or sells 1 copy, it was all done for the purest intentions: to inspire others and to help jump-start a scholarship fund. Who could hate that? You’d be surprised how often I had to remind myself to not fear judgment.
But anyway, the main reason why I’m writing to you is that I was picking out pictures of you to put in my book. I’m on the very last steps before publication. The more I searched through the pictures of us, the more I reflected on the path it took to get here. It hit me because I wish I wasn’t picking out pictures of you, I wish I was able to hand you this book in person and be able to hug you and tell you I did it. To not be able to see your reaction and share that moment with you breaks my heart. I know you were always watching down on me, but I wish we could share one more moment.
It’s funny how life works. Everything could be different if some things never happened. Maybe there’s a bigger purpose to all of this. Maybe it’s our job to determine how to convert dark moments to light. Just know that I won’t ever stop—there's so much to do and so much to say.
I hope this letter finds you well, until next time. Happy Mother’s Day.