Loitering and Licorice

A friend of mine recently said to me (roughly):  there is something about a walk by a river that makes all right with the world.  I understand this.  There is something inexplicably soothing about walking by water.

I am reminded of walking by the Scioto River with my grandfather when I was very young.  I remember walking down to the river with him and stopping to get licorice along the way as if it was something we did often together.  In reality, it probably happened only once–we lived three states apart.

We walked slowly together, talking very little.  There was something about Grandpa I liked.  I have so little memory of him that it’s hard for me to remember exactly what it was.  Something went quiet inside when I was around him.  Like I needed to listen very carefully for something important.

When we stopped at the grocery store, the plastic packages of licorice hung from metal rods pointing at me, demanding my attention.  I will forever associate black licorice with my grandfather–he was one of the few people I’ve known in my life who would go out of his way for it.

With our brown paper bag full of licorice, we made our way across the busy road I was never allowed to cross on my own.  We walked across the bridge, back when it had a steel arch capping it.  The pedestrian walkway separated us from the traffic, but I remember it being all metal–our footsteps generating a soft metallic clang as we made our way across.

About halfway, there was a sign that said “No Loitering.”  I asked my grandfather what loitering meant.  He made a garbled explanation, and then said “like this” and he sort of shuffled around in one place.  For months, I thought it was some kind of dance step.  I couldn’t quite figure out why you weren’t allowed to dance on the bridge.

We made our way over the river, stopping to look down at the water periodically.  We were probably loitering.

When we eventually made it to the other side, the water lapped slowly at the bank.  The ducks paddled towards us in the water, hoping for a handout from our mysterious brown bag.

We walked slowly, listening to the water, watching the light bounce off of it and the rest of the world disappeared.

Now, when I walk along the Tennessee River, the world gets bigger, brighter, and quieter all at the same time.  I look at the clouds that decorate the river valley.  I watch for the heron soaring along the banks.  I watch the people crossing the Walnut Street Bridge, silhouetted against the setting sun.  I listen to the water, the birds, the insects, and even the occasional shout from an exuberant teenager.  As a I look for images I want to frame with my camera and keep, I am in that moment enjoying the river and all is right with the world.

Closing Doors

When I arrive at the Columbus office Wednesday morning, for the first time, I feel like a visitor.  My group has changed buildings.  Although I’ve been to many meetings in this building, I don’t belong there.  The people in the foyer, on the elevator, in the hall, look up as I go by and their eyes roam for a badge.  This is a sure sign that I seem out of place.

I wander around the perimeter of the building, stopping to say hello to a colleague I haven’t seen in a while and asking for the general vicinity of my team.  I wander around some more until I locate the office of one colleague and then the cubes of the rest of my team.  I stop to say hello and then find a vacant office to set up in.  I miss seeing my name outside the door.

I have a face-to-face meeting scheduled first thing.  It’s a team meeting with my one-person team.  He and I catch up and spend time going through all that’s going on until we run out of time.  Then the conference calls start.  I do not leave the office until a half an hour break in the early afternoon allows me to run across the street with a colleague to grab fast food.  I am dialing into my next conference call by the time we leave the restaurant.

I return to the office while on my call and realize I haven’t had a minute to use the restroom since arriving this morning.  I’m scheduled with back-to-back calls the rest of the day.  My calendar is triple-booked in some cases.  I sit in my windowless office in an uncomfortable position with no monitor or keyboard separate from my laptop or fancy office chair with a head rest and I wonder if coming into the office is worth it.

After my next call ends two minutes early, I decide to take the opportunity to run to the restroom.  I manage to get a hello in to a couple of people on my way and then return to the office for my next call.  I wonder if I should have sat in a cube so I’d get to see more people.  But, it’s hard to take conference calls all day in a cube.

At the end of the day, Pat picks me up, forcing me to wrap up on time.  We have social commitments every evening, so working late will mean working after going out to dinner if I have things I have to do in the evening.  Fortunately, I managed to get a lot done during a couple of my calls today–the kind where there are 80 people on the phone and only about 2 minutes of a 90 minute call pertains to me.

We have to stop to pick up a package at the house we rented for a year between selling our house and moving to Chattanooga.  I didn’t realize I hadn’t updated my shipping address until the package was en route and it was easier to make arrangements with the new tenant to pick it up there than to try to get it resent to Chattanooga.

It’s the first time we’ve been by the rental in months.  It looks the same minus the wreath on the front door.  I knock and a woman answers.  The living room is full of children behind her.  A small toddler wanders over to the door and smiles at me.  I smile back at him, get my package, thank the woman and am on my way again.

I pause for a moment, realizing that I have no desire to go inside the house and see what it looks like even though I know it’s been freshly painted since we moved out; it’s now the home of a stranger.

But our route home takes us by our old street, Walhalla, and Pat asks if I want to drive by our old house.  I say no.  I have no regrets about selling the house.  While not having a house makes it difficult to entertain, limits the comforts we can offer overnight guests, and subjects us to more noise from neighbors, I like the trade off.  When we sold our house, we eliminated a huge sense of commitment.

The freedom I feel now is such a sense of relief that I can’t imagine why I thought home ownership was a good idea.  At the same time, I loved our last house dearly.  It was an heirloom built by my father and a remembrance of my mother.  I needed that house when we bought it and changing it from my parents’ house to our house was an essential process to mourning the physical loss of my mother and the virtual loss of my father when he moved hundreds of miles away after my mother’s death.

But having gone through that process, I do not feel the need to cling to it forever.  The final farewell for me was said the day I walked among the blank walls and empty rooms and remembered.

I remembered the moments I had with my mother in that house.  The time that I spent with my father helping to build it when I was in college.  The day my parents and I moved in.  The day I moved out into my first apartment.  Returning to do laundry.  Much later, staying for a few days when I broke my face playing softball, content to allow my mom to mother me again for the first time in many years.

I remembered the Christmases we had there.  And my wedding reception the first time I got married and the potluck the second.  I wished that my mother could have been at my second celebration, but that was the only regret I felt as I walked through those rooms.

I remembered the times that Pat and I shared as a couple in that house.  And our amazing canine kids whose lives were lived out amongst those same walls, now devoid of all the marks they left from dried drool.  I cherished every memory for that moment, but then I walked away with only a few tears in my eyes, refusing to fall.

My thoughts turned to self-pity when I reached the foyer:  “I am the only member of my family left in Columbus.  My mother is dead.  My aunt is dead.  My father moved away.  My brother moved away ages ago.”

I stood at the threshold of the open door for a moment longer feeling sorry for myself–orphaned in Columbus.  But then I turned away from the inside of the house and looked out the door.  Out there, there are people I love and who love me.  Some of them are far away, but the world gets smaller every day.  I closed the door behind me and concluded a chapter of my life.  Today, I have no need to reopen that door.

We arrive back at our hosts’ house with still-hot pizza and I shift my attention from musings on the past to enjoyment of the present.  This house is full of life and love; it would be a shame to miss it.