That certain September | Chuck's World
“I wish I were 58,” my neighbor said the other day, so that’s a new one.
I can’t remember ever hearing that particular wish before, although it’s possible if not likely that I’ll be saying the same thing next year, when I’m 59.
I was heading out for a walk on one of those particularly nice days we had last week, and as I passed my neighbor’s house, there she was, sitting in a chair on her lawn, catching some rays.
We chatted for a bit. She was sitting in the sunshine on purpose. She told me she'd been reading about vitamin D and how important it was, so she was trying to soak up the remnants of summer.
She’s not the only one, of course. I see you. You with your shorts and sleeveless shirts, grasping at sunshine, making spontaneous trips to the beach, grilling brats and burgers up to the last moment.
I know what you’re doing. I’m doing it too, soaking up the remnants, storing summer for posterity before we get down to the business of what comes next.
My neighbor asked me how old I was, which is when she responded with her wish to join me at 58.
She’s now 85, she mentioned, which means she was about my current age when we moved in.
We talked a little about this, about how long we’d been neighbors. Almost 30 years, and we spoke of my kids and how they used to be small and somehow aren’t anymore.
There’s nothing like a stray memory to sharpen the sense of time passing, although what are you going to do?
As I said goodbye to my neighbor and continued down the driveway, I immediately was reminded of walking my 5-year-old daughter down to the street to wait for the kindergarten bus. Sometimes the little girl from across the street who was the same age, in the same class, would wait with her.
Now my daughter has a son not much younger than she was when we moved here, and her little kindergarten bus buddy is now – wait for it – a kindergarten teacher.
I never expected to be here this long. I wasn’t all that eager to even buy a house, not then, 29 years old with a baby and a little less than five years of marriage under my belt.
Homeownership reeked of passing into another stage, and I wasn’t sure I was ready or even able to pass, but my wife was better at being a grownup and now here we are.
In two years, I will have spent half of my life under this particular roof.
There’s something to be said for stability, and knowing your neighbors, even if attrition makes the memories a little less rosy.
We had 13 neighbors we came to know and depend upon when we first moved in, and now there are two left. Six of them, including two couples, have passed away, and the others moved on.
As I say, here we are.
I wasn’t in the mood to wallow. As strange as it feels to walk down the same streets for so many years, familiarity is just part of life for many of us. There are more interesting parts.
That’s what was really on my mind that day. One particular part, one particular day, one particular September.
By the summer of 2010, two years of slowly decreasing vision in my wife’s left eye had resulted in several suggested, and incorrect, diagnoses before an ophthalmologist got it right and an MRI sealed the deal: She had a meningioma, a benign brain tumor that was encasing her optic nerve on the left and encroaching on other structures in a menacing way.
So on another sunny September day, we drove to the hospital, beginning a year of surgeries and treatment. It was just one of those years. If you’ve ever had one, you understand.
Low-level fear never leaves, even with solid and stable recovery. The days begin to attenuate, to stretch out ahead like dark alleys, with no way of knowing what was coming next.
And yet here I was, six years to the day after that first surgery, a day I spent eight hours in a waiting room, trying not to imagine what was happening in the OR two floors above.
It’s also been nearly five years that my wife has been cancer-free (I said it was one of those years), and all sorts of good and joyful things have happened in between.
I took a long walk, nodding to familiar faces on the road. Some of them I’ve seen for years, joining me in a little exercise and vitamin D enrichment. We murmur our hellos and go on our way, no one the wiser.
They have their own stories.
This is just mine, trying to come to terms with time. Memory can break our hearts, reminding us of little losses and much larger ones, but I suspect September will always be this way for me.
A reminder that there is nothing necessarily fair about any of our lives, but that nostalgia for simpler days has to be coupled with gratitude for the more complicated ones that have now passed.
I headed back home then, musing on gratitude and good fortune, remembering the past, walking up my driveway toward the house, only mildly aware that a school bus once stopped here, and hasn’t in a very long time.