“It is,” Tariq volleyed back, before easing up. “But he just has one of those laughs. If he’s laughing around you, you have no choice but to laugh. It’s infectious and outrageous.”
Tariq is a burgeoning basketball star and rising senior at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, a hyper-athletic 6-foot-9 power forward with a conference championship, nine Division I scholarship offers and an oral pledge to Ohio University to his name. They were part of a stable and supportive family, hosting neighborhood sleepovers and kickball games along their Odenton cul-de-sac until heartbreak threatened to detonate the family’s foundation three years ago.
In February 2009, Tariq’s mother and Renard’s wife, Cassandra, passed away following a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Her death made them stronger men, but the pain still seeps in. They’ll hear her favorite song, or dream about something as rudimentary as her famous meatloaf, and suddenly find themselves crying. But it’s in those moments when Tariq and Renard seek comfort in each other, rallying together and forging forward.
“Because we laugh a lot, because we joke a lot, we have that balance,” Renard said. “That helped us get through the tragedy. We could laugh, even when we were crying.”
Refuge on the court
It was the early 1990s when Renard Owens waited outside a thumping club near Utica College in Upstate New York, a single flower tucked behind his thigh. He first spotted Cassandra Wallace across the quad and asked friends to gather intelligence, learning her name before finally mustering the courage to ask her out. They dated for roughly three weeks until that fateful night, when Renard dispatched someone inside the club to fetch Cassandra, gripped the flower and thought about the information he had gleaned before the relationship even began.
“The first man to give her a yellow rose,” Renard was told, “she’ll marry.” He and Cassandra eventually tied the knot in Utica in a small ceremony officiated by her uncle, right in his living room, their two daughters perched on the couch.
Cassandra dreamed of seeing all three kids — Tariq was born in 1995 — enter college. Napheissa went first, to Bowie State. But with Cassandra’s health rapidly disintegrating in February 2010, Arundel High School arranged a private ceremony for Sadiyyah, months before her classmates would graduate. “Mom, you mean so much to me, and to all of us,” Sadiyyah told her mother, according to local papers. “My biggest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to come and see me graduate.” As Cassandra cried from the front row, the cancer was metastasizing to untreatable levels. She was laid to rest on March 5, buried in her casket with a single yellow rose.