The story of two boys named Scott

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

When I read the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup, I had this flashback: Fade in to a high school hockey game held under fluorescent lights at Anchorage's old Ben Boeke ice arena. Bartlett and East are tied and the timer clicks away the final minute. Cheerleaders clap their gloved hands and count down, 10, 9, 8. Scott Gomez, No. 11, breaks away, a Bartlett defenseman on his heels, carving across the ice. The crowd stands and bellows. We all count, 7, 6, 5. Gomez charges the goalie. The crowd leaps in the air and hangs there, counting in slow motion, 3, 2. Gomez shoots. The cheerleaders bounce and scream. Goal! We can barely hear the buzzer over the roar, as the East skaters mob Gomez on the ice.

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Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

Scott Gomez now plays for the New Jersey Devils, but at the time, even at that incredible game, we would never have imagined it. When I saw his picture in the New York Times with the Stanley Cup, I suddenly felt time rushing by me like river water in spring. Back when we were in high school, Gomez was a pigeon-toed kid, shuffling around in soccer sandals. He was monosyllabic with girls and slow in class. He grew up with two sisters in a square little house in a neighborhood where grass grows through the cracks in the sidewalks and kids play road hockey in the evening. Now, a decade later, aside from playing professional hockey, I read that he makes guest appearances on soap operas, and People magazine called him one of its 50 most eligible bachelors.

Anyway, I've discovered that in your mid-to-late 20s, you can finally use sentences that begin with "Ten years ago ..." without people laughing at you. Lately, I feel like the apparatus my brain uses to gauge time has been recalibrated. Years flash by, details get hazy. Ten years ago, when Scott Gomez and I were in high school, time seemed different, moments stretched out like taffy, and sometimes it felt like time halted altogether.

All that made me think of a long high school moment I spent with another kid named Scott, who also played hockey for East High. Scott McCoy was a gangly defenseman we nicknamed Sport Goofy because of his long limbs and characteristically silly grin. The day I remember, we were about 17 and cutting class. Scott and I lay feet to head in the way back of my old Jeep Cherokee with the windows open, listening to the radio and drinking watery Pepsi from Taco Bell. We'd parked the car near a stand of trees and the sunlight coming through the new birch leaves was green.

"Have you ever been in love?" I asked him.

"Yeah, sure, I'm in love right now," he told me, referring to his girlfriend, a beautiful, blond underclassman.

"You think you'll get married?" I asked.

"I don't know. It's too far away to imagine," he said.

We were quiet for a while, watching the breeze show the silver undersides of the leaves. An old R.E.M. song, I think it was "Night Swimming," came on the radio and I tried to envision Scott and his girlfriend getting married. The image came like a movie scene. I saw his tall skinny body in a tall, skinny tuxedo, waiting at the altar for her with that goofball grin. He must have been imagining it too. He stared out the window, chewing on his Pepsi straw, with dappled, green light falling on his face.

A few months later, Scott and I graduated and I went Outside to school. He stayed in Anchorage, and made plans to become a firefighter like his dad. One day I got a letter from him at college. He included his senior picture, and on the back he scribbled a note, saying not to forget him, and signing his name. A week or two after that, in private, mysterious despair, he shot himself in his bedroom at his parents' house.

It's been almost 10 years since that warm, green afternoon spent skipping class. All of my old high school buddies have scattered across the country. They are medical students, biologists and lawyers. One or two are married, a few have children, and Scott Gomez is famous. Scott McCoy remains frozen in a slow moment in time, still 17.

When I read about Scott Gomez, it made me think of Scott McCoy, and what might have happened if on the day he decided to end his life, he just waited, maybe a week, maybe a few months, for whatever load he was carrying to lighten. I wished I'd called him when I got his letter. I wished I'd cracked a joke or played him a song over the phone. I wished I could have explained that 10 years would transport him miles away from his life in a basement bedroom in east Anchorage, Alaska. He could have gotten married, become a doctor, a lawyer, a firefighter, or one of People's most eligible bachelors. But, at the time I had no idea. At the time all of it was too far away to imagine.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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