A new schoolyear

The school year started for me last week, our summer-quiet campus came to life filled with excited students, sad parents, and a return to business. This semester I’m working with both first and fourth-year students, something new for me. I work in some older buildings, all a little worn, buildings that struggle with some basics, but having good fundamentals, like light and a clear organization. Some of the basics the buildings struggle with are plumbing, its on-off-on-off and air conditioning, which seems to be always on and on to the max so I keep a jacket in the office just in case it gets super cold, which happens often.

I was remembering, as happens at the start of each school year, that I bought this Columbia fleece back in 2006. Not the oldest of my “go to” life tools, but one that’s become one of the most meaningful. Back in 2006, late summer life was usual, prepping for the year, last trips with my daughters, mowing the lawn all usual things. I’d always call mom and dad on Saturdays, just to keep up with them. I remember talking to Dad, hearing how he was going to fix the brick on his chimney. He was going to build a platform to put between the chimney and the roof and put a ladder on the platform to reach the chimney top. Dad enjoyed a fireplace fire I think because it reminded him of the lake house and all his years at the lake. Ending the day in front of a fire, watching it pop and flicker was a way he’d decompress I think. I remember telling him that I didn’t like his plan, that a ladder on a platform wedged between the roof and chimney didn’t sound solid enough to work from and that I could help him with the project and rent a lift in a few days. School hadn’t started and I’d take heat from my ex for taking a trip to Mom and Dad’s but it could be done I thought. I remember Dad saying he’d think about it and get back to me.

As it turns out, he had all the parts he needed for his platform and proceeded to assemble it and bring the ladder up to it. He was working on the chimney on August 10 I think it was, and something happened. The platform shifted, or the ladder pitched or maybe he lost his balance due to a wasp or something but the result was he fell. No one saw it, Mom heard it went to the door and saw him laying on the sidewalk and she called the paramedics. By the time he made it to the hospital, he was in a deep coma and passed away a month later on Sept 10.

I think it was my sister that called me, I don’t remember, and I don’t remember the drive from Virginia to Chicago. I remember taking a room in an older motel near the hospital and remember a cold rain. For some reason, I hadn’t packed a coat and after meeting everyone and getting the bleak prognosis, I walked around the grounds of the hospital and got pretty wet.

Hearing that someone who anchored your life wouldn’t likely be back, well it shifted my center. I was disoriented, trying to figure out my role, and shifted to my logistics mind. Which led me to the sporting goods store, that had a closeout on a fleece liner/rain shell that I wore again yesterday. Its weird how I usually don’t wear that shell, and usually never have the fleece liner and the shell in the same place at the same time but I did yesterday. That critical mass of shell and liner made a click in my mind. I re-read the obituaries written about Dad, the stories told, the interview of the mayor talking about Dad and spent the rest of the day’s free time rethinking it all.

That shift of center led me to a new life I think. I’m not playing a role just trying to be me. That didn’t make people happy but what can you do, you have to be who you are. I love my new life, the one who holds my heart, my grown-up daughters who are fearless in their pursuit of life, my wife’s children and our three, soon to be four grandchildren. The path to here wasn’t so easy, I still pay for it monthly, still get letters from my ex that I don’t open, I hold them as evidence…ten years and still angry-crazy, maybe one day I’ll open them or just make a fire, think of Dad and toss them in.

Lifes shifts have been hard and great for me, I feel the slight shift each time I hold a grandchild, each time I hear Dampa!! from Solana, and its a good shift. I’ll stay off the roof, and let the fleece and the memories associated with it stay in the office and I’ll think of Mom and Dad and wonder what they’d say to all this, wonder how they’d feel about great-grandchildren, and be wishing they could meet them all.

Meetings about ready to begin,
Stay safe
Keep off the roof
Remember those that have passed
and be kind to each other.

Leave a Reply