there’s an elderly man who volunteers as a crossing guard at one of the schools here in the area. he’s in his eighties, i believe, and has terminal cancer. he won’t live past the summer.
the staff at the school are throwing him a retirement party tomorrow.
i know about this because a woman called the office today wanting to give us information that we might publish in the paper.
it was a busy day today. i didn’t have time to chat, so i gave her my usual spiel: send me the information, and i’ll forward it to our editorial team. when she asked what kind of information, i told her as much as she’d care to share, but if it’s for an event, i need to know when and where it takes place and the best person to call.
this is when she got my attention. this is when she told me about the man.
and when i got off the phone with her, i cried. thank god the office was empty.
now it may be this man’s lead a full life, one with much love and laughter in it. but the storyteller in me can also imagine a bleaker, lonelier, emptier alternative: that he’s just some old guy, a crossing guard and not that many people would notice his absence; how beautiful it is that these people are celebrating his life this way.
when i got home, i fixed dinner–a bowl of oatmeal with probably too much milk and butter–and read some of joy preble’s latest, finding paris (which i’m liking, by the way. yall should read it). and then i took a shower, put some comfy clothes on and went outside for a bit to admire all the green.
it hasn’t rained here in two or three days. everything is beautiful. and it was sunset, my favorite time of day.
there’s a spot in the plot of land across from our house where nothing grows because i’ve parked my car there much too often. a long, long time ago, in addition to that spot were two strips where nothing grew because my older parked his car there.
my mom and dad were out with friends tonight. the same friends who happened upon me looking miserable, sitting on those barren strips of land a few days after my brother had died. i remember that. i remember the expressions on their faces when they saw me. i remember wondering how it must’ve looked to them, rounding the corner to our house and seeing me there on the grass with my legs drawn up and my arms tight around them, my chin resting on my knees. i remember hating that the grass would grow back. that so many signs of his having been here would be gone and so soon.
i stood on the driveway tonight, reveling in the glory of the last light of day, loving the way the world felt in that moment–the peace, the beauty, the quiet… the way the sun glows through the trees, gold against black… the way the air feels. i swear it changes at sunset. it’s softer somehow.
but also wishing that my internal landscape was as content as my surroundings seemed to be–not all the time… not even half the time, just enough to make the bleaker days like these more bearable. wishing that the grass would grow over the spot where i’d too often parked my car because i hadn’t really parked it there for weeks. wishing that it hadn’t grown over those strips where he parked his.
i came back in and read some more.
and thought of saturday when i’d run into preble at the bookstore. my father had pulled me over to some table where someone he knew from way back when was having a book signing. he wanted me to meet her.
i’ve given up on writing for the moment. i don’t entertain delusions of publication right now. i don’t want to meet other people who have found some success in the field.
like i don’t want to go to weddings and baby showers. i’ll be the first to buy you a gift because i’m happy for you and shopping for those kinds of things brings me joy. but being there, surrounded by women who have walked down that aisle themselves or have plans of doing so… i don’t want to mix with them. nor do i want to mingle with women who are growing round with the life they’ve made.
i ran into preble at the bookstore. and she asked me how i was. and i told her that i’d gotten my job back at the paper and i’m writing some for them, which is taking some getting used to because i’m rusty and don’t have much confidence at the moment. that i’d been seeing a guy who’d said and done some ugly things to me.
when i told her the worst of what he’d said, she reacted the same way i’d reacted when i’d first heard it, the way most of my friends have, the way any woman should, really. and i’d told her that it wasn’t so much that he’d said it, it was that i hadn’t thought much of myself in my adolescence and hearing how ugly i am from someone who supposedly cares for me is hard to shrug off, given that.
and this woman who’d taught me senior english way back when, she said she’d just been thinking that i was gorgeous. god love her.
sunday, my mother and i went to a visitation; one of her friends had recently lost her husband.
on our way out, we ran into a handful of people we knew; a woman and her daughter and a couple. the woman had worked as the nurse at my junior high school. i’d probably gone to her office too much back then, faking physical sickness to get out of school and away from those who hurt me mentally. the woman was talking to someone else, so i struck up a conversation with the daughter and told her how much i appreciated how well her mother had cared for me. because i’d felt that she had cared. and i always like it when people pay compliments about my parents to me. it makes me proud of them. i’d thought the daughter might like to know i thought well of her mother.
the couple looked on as i did this. the man started joking about how i’d gone to see the nurse a lot and how it must be nice to go through life that way.
i wasn’t amused. and it damned sure wasn’t the time or place for ridicule. it ruined that moment for me. and instead of ignoring him and reiterating the compliment to the daughter, as i should’ve done, i put my defenses up and got louder and tried to act like i was amused. i’m never good at that, though. i can’t act. i don’t have that skill.
his daughter and i had gone to school together. her treatment of me over a decade was much like his had been in that moment, in every moment i run into him.
i wish i could encounter more people like joy preble in the world and fewer like that man.
this evening i thought of how hard it was for me to find ten people who would write for me for my blog last month for something that was a pretty big deal to me. i know people, so many people who, if they said i need ten people, they’d have help in ten seconds.
i am not one of them.
i can’t help but think that my life is like that bleaker, lonelier, emptier version of the story i’d imagined for that crossing guard. that not that many people would notice my absence.
i’m trying really hard not to feel that way. i know. i know it’s not true. but there’re far too many people like that man from sunday’s service in my world.
my mother’s constantly marveling that i can’t let go of things.
it would be easier if they could let go of me. i try. and someone’s always there to remind me.