We were all Eagles

If you really think about it, the most beautiful things that happen on Earth take place in brief periods of time. They could be a hockey game, a Led Zeppelin Song, or a drive down the GW parkway painted with thoughts and images from a long day at school.

There is something about the brevity of it, the pressure to condense the spectacular into the brief that makes it beautiful. They can pass in the blink of an eye, and if you don’t take the time to look, you can miss them without even blinking.

I guess this is what Ferris Bueller meant when he said “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I am living one of those beautiful brevities as I drive home from school now. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is leaking through the speakers onto the icy floor of my car. I am swimming in a pool of thought, composed of memories, some happy, some sad. I think of graduating, the summer to come, and the college years awaiting me. And as Robert Plant screams of the way to get to the place to where our long lost friends are, I think of my friend Dominik.

Dominik is no longer with us but it bears me comfort in knowing that I didn’t forget to take the time to look at the jubilance of the soul I got to talk to every day. Like the Hockey Championship he won the year earlier, the song echoing through my pool of thought, and this drive home, Dom’s life on this earth was brief and beautiful. He may no longer be with us, but he will never be forgotten.

Dominik Liam Pettey was the kind of guy that could brighten up a room as soon as he walked through the door. There was never a time where Dom was angry with someone for poking fun at him, because there wasn’t a thing you could do to steal his thunder or bring him down. Simply put, he was always happy. Dom was always smiling, and it was that smile and his flowing hair that made everyone around him just a little happier each and every day. Dom or “Dinger” as his teammates like to call him, was a hockey all-star and a presence on and off the ice. He loved hockey, and at Gonzaga College High School, his home away from home and our high school, it was what he did best. Dom didn’t have straight A’s, and he didn’t master any classical instruments. He mastered his hockey stick: from seeing his games, his hockey stick was the only instrument he needed.

The day that Dom passed away is one that I will never forget. It was November 1st, and as I woke up to make myself some breakfast, I looked down at my phone. My heart skipped a beat. 11 missed calls. I returned one of them to my good friend, Andrew. Andrew picked up and started speaking in cautious tones amidst emotional, heavy sobs. After asking him what was wrong, he replied “Last night, Dom, Patrick, Sean and Danny got into a car accident. Dom is gone. PJ is in critical condition….” As a someone who enjoys writing, I like to think that I can encapsulate and communicate how I feel, what I think and what I see, or at least I can try. There are certain times though, when words can only go so far. The day that Dominik passed away is one of those times, as even a year later, capturing the sadness that gripped Gonzaga that day in its entirety is a task that I believe to be impossible. All that needs to be clarified is that amidst all the sadness, there was a deep concern for the people just like me. All I could think about was my friend, PJ, who was still in the hospital, and the people who knew Dom longer and fuller than I did. I needed to grieve with my brothers, each of whom felt the loss just as much if not more than I did.

The moment I walked into St. Aloysius Church that morning all I could hear and see were tears. I remember being so angry with God and with that driver for taking Dom, but deep down I knew that he wouldn’t have wanted that. Dom was known for his faith. As his parents said, “When he was having a tough time, he would pray.” People even saw Dom drive himself to church when his parents were out of town. As I remembered his face, which I saw just the day before, I prayed as he would have. I prayed for Dom’s soul. I prayed for my friend Patrick who was in the ICU. I prayed for the Gonzaga community to come together. And come together we did.

The next Monday is yet another day I will never forget. It is one of the many brief but beautiful moments in my pool of thought and the quintessential meaning of brotherhood. It started off, with a prayer service in St. Aloysius Church. My friend Sean, a friend who was in the car with Dom, sang a song called “Down to the River to Pray,” for Dom as his mother had requested. It was a powerful experience. Every guy in the Church had their arms around each other’s shoulders. At that moment, we all had come to accept the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing Dom around the halls anymore. We had accepted that he was really gone, but we realized that the only way to recover was through each other. We realized that community heals.

At Gonzaga, an all-male Jesuit high school in Northwest DC, every single person you share the privilege of being an Eagle, our mascot, with is your brother. The friendships formed at Gonzaga, are some of the strongest you will form in your whole life. Our strong community is what made Dom’s departure so painful, but it was also the thing that helped us rally together and memorialize him. As soon as we were dismissed from St. Aloysius Church, everybody knew where we were going, Dom’s favorite place, the K Street parking lot.

Dom was known for his fondness of having his eighth and final period of the day, free. He could of chosen to go home early, but he loved his friends, so he always stuck around in the parking lot outside school with his chair and chewing tobacco and just hung out. Dom-o loved his Grizzly long cut tobacco hence “Dinger,” his nickname. After the school gave us permission, all 240 members of the class of 2015 brought our lawn chairs into the K street parking lot and remembered the life of Dominik. The day would come to be known as “Dom Day.” Some of the guys went to the Wal-Mart down the block and bought grills, and hundreds of dollars worth of hamburger and hot dog meat. We brought out hockey goals and held a street hockey tournament. The K street parking lot had essentially turned into the biggest, smokiest cookout in D.C. and right in the middle of it, was Dom’s chair. Deep down we all knew that Dom was there with us, sitting and smiling.

One thing about beauty, weather it be a song on the radio or the life of young man, is that it has no limitations. It spans all ages, cultures, and religions. It brings everyone together. The teachers came out and smoked and talked with us. Pedestrians stopped by because they had heard of what was going on. Nobody cared that we were smoking cigars at age 17. Nobody cared that we were blocking parking spots or illegally grilling. Nobody cared about any of the rules because at that moment we were aghast at the beauty of Dominik’s life. At that moment we were all eagles.

At the end of the cookout, a black Ford Escape pulled into the parking lot and rolled up to the grills. Mr. Pettey stepped out of his car, and climbed onto his roof for all to see. We all sat still and watched him, amazed at the man’s strength. Dom’s dad started off by thanking us for celebrating Dom’s life and for making his 17 years on earth great before telling us stories about Dinger and all of the things, good and bad, he had done over the years. We laughed and we cried as we remembered Dom-o and as the air of nostalgia began to clear, Dom’s dad told us one thing:  “Be careful, no father should have to bury his son.”

Mr. Pettey’s courage and composure was nothing short of inspiring. A week later, Gonzaga’s football team won the oldest high school football rivalry in the United States against St. John’s to the chant of “Do it for Dom.” Our soccer team won the D.C. state championship, displaying the number 11, Dom’s number, on their jerseys. Our community was healing. We would have scars, but we would bear them with pride.

I am sharing Dom’s story with you not only because it was a very dramatic event in my childhood but also because I want you to be wary of an attitude that Dom had which I find some people lack in greatly. Dom knew that the people you surround yourself with, those who you call “friends,” should be your priority. He knew that time he spent laughing with those he loved was way more important than any grade he got, any PowerPoint he had to create, or any meeting he had to sit in. Looking back at Dom’s incredible outlook on life and the value he assigned to treating others the way he would want to be treated, I urge you to follow his example looking forward. Be nice to your friends and have good humor. Smile and laugh in the face of pessimism and spread joy to others. Be thankful for all you have while humble in the fact all of it was given to you. Be grateful for your friends and cherish the time you have with them, because life is fragile and a lot of us don’t realize how beautiful something or someone is until they become a molecule in a pool of thought during a drive home. Do these things as Dom did, and I assure you, you will live a life worth living. Rest in peace, Dom-o. Your smile, your hair, your laugh, and your legacy will never be forgotten.

50 in ‘07,
Paul D.