For eight days the black briefcase sat in the corner of Jill McCormick's office, unopened, untouched. It was Tim Nobriga's. McCormick looked at it, stared at it, thought about it but couldn't open it. She didn't know what would come out. There had to be memories in there.
Little did she know.
"I'm not ready to open it," said SRJC's swim and dive coach last Tuesday. Tim's death on Valentine's Day was still way too fresh, the shock of it still scratching her surface, McCormick was still referring to Nobriga in the present tense. Tim loves his cars. Tim has a dry sense humor. You should see Tim do his belly-flop. It's a scream. The heart attack may have taken Nobriga but it didn't take him from McCormick. She is where she is today because of him.
"The one conversation," McCormick said last Tuesday, "I never had with Tim was asking him how he thought I was doing as coach. That's one conversation I'll never have."
Little did she know.
McCormick, you'd think, would already have known. After she became head coach in 2000, SRJC won four state women's junior college championships. She won California Community College Women's Swim Coach of the Year five times in those 10 years. All-Americans dot her program. Her influence and reputation go deep into this state.
But Nobriga was never one to gush, to throw bouquets of flowering praise. It was his opinion, nonetheless, McCormick wished she had. This was Tim Nobriga, diving coach for SRJC and all of Sonoma County for 37 years. At the memorial last Monday at Daniel's Chapel of the Roses, one verbal bouquet after another thrown his way. And, the people guessed, Nobriga would be looking down from above, embarrassed, hiding behind those damn sunglasses.
"And then I decided I had to open the briefcase," McCormick said Wednesday. She wanted to move on. She wanted to be alone in her office when she did it. But if she were to clench up, maybe it would be best to have someone around. So she asked her assistant swim coach, Tyler Denize, to hang with her.
McCormick took a big gulp of air, opened the briefcase, and immediately saw Nobriga's handwriting. She started crying.
"You know," she said, "you hardly ever see someone's signature anymore. Everything seems to be done on the computer."
McCormick regrouped, began shuffling through dive sheets and assorted papers, when she came across a folder tucked out of sight. This looked different, felt different. She took another gulp of air and opened the folder.
"Tim had saved some thank-you notes through the years," McCormick said. "The stack was a good two inches thick."
Slowly she made her way through them.
Until she came to hers.
That's when she stopped, a frozen gawk on her face, at what she saw.
"I had written him a thank you note after we won state for the first time in 2004," McCormick said. "I thanked him for all his support, advice, wisdom. I told him how he had given me confidence to make decisions, to put in the right lineup."
That's when McCormick broke down and really started crying.
She had just received the answer to the question she never asked.
"Tim thought enough of my letter," McCormick said, "that he saved it."