My first memory of actually talking to him was in 9th grade science class. He sat behind me and pulled my hair almost everyday and I acted like it annoyed me, when secretly I was so sad on the days he didn't pull my hair. Of course, it turns out this was one of his many charming tactics, right Julie? :)
My relationship with Chad became a close friendship shortly thereafter. Chad had a death in the family, his aunt if I remember correctly. He sat next to me at lunch and then all of a sudden he broke down. I'm not sure why he came to me, as he had so many friends, but I am glad he did; it was the start of one of the most important relationships in my life.
Not long after, my brother passed away. This time I leaned on him. From then on, we always had a special connection...a friendship bound by grief and support.
We had many fun times in high school. Some were big events- prom and the state basketball tournament. Some were smaller and more intimate.
My favorite memory: One day, when we were seniors in high school, Chad and I went to lunch. We were talking about our futures and Chad said with total sincerity, "I want to be married, have four kids, and a mini van." I laughed so hard I think I cried. Not what you expect from a teenage jock. He was completely serious though. I gave him hell for it for many years.
From such a young age, Chad knew what was important. His family was EVERYTHING to him. That never-ending Hudnall clan! I remember meeting his wife, Cathy, for the first time. We all went to Macri's together. I remember being worried I'd be jealous and wishing I had brought my significant other to counterbalance those feelings. I wasn't jealous at all. Cathy was perfect. Exactly the type of person I thought he'd end up with...well, hoped to he end up with. She was kind, smart, and clearly in love with Chad. I was so happy for both of them.
Chad and I continued to stay in touch. We didn't see each other as much, but we continued to send letters (I know, how archaic) and make calls. The letters and calls became more and more spread out, but never ceased. Our phone calls became a Russian roulette of good news and bad news:
"My mom died" (me)
"I'm getting married" (him)
"I'm getting married" (me)
"We're having a baby" (him)
"Barb (sister) died" (him)
"It's a girl!" (me)
"I'm getting divorced" (me)
"It's a girl!" (him)
"Tim (nephew) died"
Then... I was on vacation in Mexico and I saw three missed calls. I knew it wasn't good.
"I have cancer"
And it continued:
"Leg surgery, chemo"
"My brother Dede has cancer"
"My brother Johnny has cancer"
As he fought this battle, we talked more and more. He was honest and frustrated about his situation. But, more than anything, he continued to talk about his love for his family. He was so proud of Cathy. He was always talking about what a great mother she is and how amazing she is professionally. And I've never known a man to be more involved and in love with his kids than Chad.
As I celebrate Chad's life and reminisce, I find so much comfort in the fact that, although his life was too short, he ended up with everything he ever wanted: a loving wife, four kids, and a mini-van (later traded in for a truck).
Chad, I love you forever and I am so grateful for all of the love and friendship you brought to my life.
I will forever keep Cathy and your kids in my thoughts and in my heart, and I promise to help keep your memory alive for them.
Goodbye, dear friend.
Our last visit. He tried to get Audrey to get in the picture, but she wouldn't. He knew how much it would mean to me. Always thinking of others.
Prom. He had just won state with his basketball team and fellow students kept coming up and asking to have their pictures taken with him. He was gracious and humble, as always.