The More Things Change

I had a chance to visit my alma mater with Henry earlier this month. The last time I was on campus, I was entering my third trimester, pregnant with the same kid that just asked me on the drive out to Indiana what a 401k is. Time is funny like that. One minute, you’re crouched over their crib moving stuffed animals to a safe distance. The next, you’re putting a television in their room and making them pledge not to watch questionable content on Netflix.

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It was a bit surreal to be back in my college town. Especially with a teenager. Goodness, I was a teenager when I began school there. Only about four years older than Henry is now. Drunk on freedom. (Also, probably alcohol.) Walking the same streets with your teenager that you walked as a young adult while fervently hoping and praying that the beautiful person next to you doesn’t make the same mistakes you did is quite a trip. I refrained from pointing out the houses and apartment complexes where I partied the hardest, preferring to prudently hi-light the remodeled student recreation center and underground library instead.

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Things have changed so much in the fourteen years since my last visit. New buildings. New businesses. New bars. Everything a little different, even if achingly familiar.

For one thing, transportation on campus has changed dramatically. When we first arrived and began walking around on Friday afternoon, I noticed there were these lanes next to the sidewalk. Sometimes separated by a median, sometimes just painted lines. The minute I realized – and began to appreciate – that they had finally designated separate bike lanes, a student flew by us on a motorized skateboard. That was the beginning of a weekend filled with a lot of things… zooming in our peripheral vision. Motorized skateboards. Motorized bicycles. Motorized scooters. Many things with wheels wheeling students from place to place. In ye olden days, we walked or rode bikes until things turned icy in winter and then we just, well, walked.

The dormitory situation has changed, too. Campus seemed filled with new apartment-style dorms. They looked very fancy and very comfortable. I distinctly remember that by the time I graduated, some of the newer dorms being constructed were designed suite-style, with attached bathrooms for each room. I remember being jealous of the incoming class of students that didn’t have to haul their shower basket down the hall wearing flip-flops and a robe, to the communal bathrooms. But, now some of these even newer places have balconies. And, Starbucks in the lobby. I mean, what luxury is this? The dorm I lived in as a freshman, has air conditioning now. What kind of grit are we instilling in our next generation if they can’t even make it through an Indiana August in 90 degree heat on the twelfth floor of a building that has no hope of a cross breeze?

Also, I guess most of the dining services have been consolidated now. No one heads to the basement of their dorm each morning for questionable scrambled eggs. Now, you go to a stand alone dining hall that services a few of the dorms that are clustered in that area. I mean, the dining hall we stopped into was lovely and the selection of food was kind of amazing but there was not a single deep fried button mushroom with a side of ranch dressing to be found and so that made me sad. Times have certainly changed.

The student union looked mostly the same – all dark wood paneling and quiet nooks and crannies – until we rounded the corner and were greeted by the blaring white spaceship lighting of an Amazon pickup store. So, that’s a new thing, I guess. Back in my day, we used to have to beg the video store delivery guy to stop and get us snacks from the convenience store next door on the way to our dorm. These days, the kids can get parts for their motorized skateboards delivered next day. By drone, probably. Right to the balconies of their air conditioned dorms, I’m assuming.

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It wasn’t all new. Indiana is still just as flat as it’s always been. That hasn’t changed. We took the non-interstate route north from Indianapolis to reach Lafayette and the flatness is truly remarkable. After almost six years of living in the mountains of Virginia, I think I had forgotten what it’s like to be able to see all of the way to the horizon. Henry must have thought I was delirious from the long drive because I just kept saying, “Can you BELIEVE how FLAT it is? I mean, SO FLAT, right?”

I took Henry to Arni’s, a Lafayette tradition since forever. They’d remodeled the restaurant at some point in my absence so that was freshened up a bit but it still smelled the same inside. Just like ever-so-slightly burnt crust. The pizza was the same, too. A thin crust with tangy tomato sauce and topped with sliced mushrooms that came from a can which is the only appropriate way to top a pizza with mushrooms. The salad has remained the same as well, made from non-nutrient dense iceberg lettuce with copious amounts of shredded cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Served with what can only be described as a tureen-sized container of Thousand Island dressing. I love a restaurant that still serves Thousand Island dressing.

The football game was just as much fun as when I was a student, too. The stadium hasn’t changed much, albeit maybe a little bit bigger than when I was last on campus. I seem to remember an addition going on, funded after one particularly successful football season that has yet to be replicated. It was also a little bit colder than I remember ever being bothered by as a student. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve lived in the south for eighteen years or because I wasn’t insulated by beer consumption. Regardless, all-in-all just as thrilling and nail-biting as a Big Ten college football game always promises to be. The band just as entertaining and awe-inducing as I remember. I loved it. Every minute of it.

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At one point during our weekend on campus, Henry mentioned that he felt a little out of place walking around. “It feels a little weird,” he said. Like he was too young to be there. Too young to really belong just yet.

Which, I understood since I felt a little too old to be there. Especially jarring since it seems like just yesterday that I was there, seventeen years old, wondering if I belonged, too.

He can’t imagine what lies ahead and I can’t believe what lies behind. Everything past, present, and future. All together. Time is funny like that.

 

Fifteen

Fifteen years. Just like that.

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These past fifteen years haven’t really seemed linear. I know there’s a clear beginning to our marriage but I’m not sure if this is the middle or what and I can’t even begin to guess what the end will be.

These past fifteen years instead are just jumbled memories of babies and doctor’s appointments and diapers and houses and vacations and deep joy and health crises and holidays and homework monitoring and weird rashes and belly laughs and grocery shopping and intense grief and settling arguments and drying tears and calling kids by the names of their siblings instead of their actual names.

Each year that passes adds to the jumble but is also feels like it’s just always been like this. This chaotic and busy and tragic and lovely. This wonderful life.

After fifteen years, I barely remember the before.

Stick With Me

Let me begin by stating that this entire thing is Bob’s fault.

For as long as we have been together, Bob has tried to get me to invest in really nice running shoes. Bob, a distance runner for decades, has always worn very nice running shoes and he has always encouraged me to do the same.

“You gotta take care of your feet, Joanna,” he would say while shaking his head and looking disparagingly at the soles of my sub-par athletic footwear.

I’m very brand loyal (only Asics) but I’ve always selected their most basic running shoe even though Bob has told me over and over again I should buy their high end running shoe.

“I’m not a runner-runner, Bob. I’m more of a jogger. Joggers don’t need fancy shoes,” I would explain before grabbing my coupons for the sporting goods store and hopping in the car to go buy my discount sneakers before the sale ended.

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This past Father’s Day, we set out to do some shopping for Bob and ended up shopping for me instead. This is probably a metaphor for our marriage or something but whatever.

One of our stops was a lovely little running store we have frequented in the past. The store carries my favorite brand of running shoe and, with both a need for a fresh pair and an unfortunate increase in heel pain, I reluctantly agreed to try on Bob’s favorite high-end version.

“You know this is all hype,” I declared loudly while lacing up a shoe that cost roughly the same as my parents’ first house.

Then, I stood up, started walking gingerly around the store and was utterly dismayed to discover that my heels felt like they were being cradled by unicorn hooves and cotton candy clouds, so amazingly comfortable and supportive were these fancy, fancy running shoes. This was not the outcome I had anticipated.

Now, the rules of marriage dictate that you admit when you’re wrong but I do not like doing that so I put the shoes back and went to look at a cut-rate version. The salesperson, wisely assessing that she was not standing in front of some full-price-paying sucker, was quick to inform me that the version I had tried on was actually last year’s model and were thus, deeply discounted. This was exactly the motivation my Midwestern sensibility needed to close the deal. I may not have had a coupon but a hefty discount was involved bringing the overall price point down into a range that wouldn’t make my pioneer forefathers cry.

I bought the fancy running shoes. Bob wore an air of, “I told you so.”

For about two months, there was nothing but joy in wearing my new shoes. They were so supportive and my arches were so happy. We picked up a new pair for Bob, too, in July and that’s how we came to be wearing matching running shoes and I can only assume matching tracksuits are not too far behind because marriage is magical like that.

At some point last month, I noticed that a part of the left sole of my new shoe was sticking to the floor as I walked. I assumed I had stepped in something – probably something gross on my own kitchen floor – and I just needed to rinse the bottom of my shoe off. I did that but discovered the next day that it hadn’t worked.

A few more walks on our gravel roads that I was sure would rub any soda or fruit snack residue off failed to do so and I found myself still listening to an increasingly annoying click-click of my left shoe sticking to the floor with every step I took. I couldn’t really see anything visible on the underside of the shoe that would be sticky so I was flummoxed.

That’s when I escalated things and turned the problem over to Bob. “It’s sticky somewhere on that shoe and I can’t clean it,” I lamented. Bob lives to be the hero in these types of situations and quickly reached for his pocket knife, eager to solve this problem which he absolutely was unable to solve.

“It’s still clicking?” Bob asked incredulously the next day when I complained that my fancy shoe was still clicking. “But, I cleaned it all out,” he explained. “It’s still clicking,” I confirmed. “Maybe I stepped in some sort of industrial glue or something at work.”

A couple of days later, after the kids started asking what that clicking noise was anytime I walked into the room, I grabbed the rubbing alcohol and a dishrag and got to scrubbing the sole of my new fancy running shoe. “This has GOT to work,” I said to myself in an increasingly frantic fashion.

It did not work.

Now, before I tell you what happened next, I need you to know how absolutely unnerving the clicking noise was. I go for long walks because I am seeking exercise, relaxation, rejuvenation, and a desperate escape from my (annoying but beloved) children. I am often so in need of peace and quiet that most days I don’t even listen to music or podcasts – just the sounds of the nature that surrounds me. You can see why the click-click of every step I took with my left shoe would absolutely enrage me.

Also, and this should be obvious by now, I can be… obsessive about certain things.

Which explains why, one unfortunate afternoon, when the click-click of my fancy running shoes had clicked-clicked one too many times, I asked Charlie to go find me the biggest grit sandpaper he could locate in the basement workroom. I was going to solve this problem once and for all.

Which is how Bob came to find me one evening upon his arrival home from work, sitting in a kitchen chair, sawing away at the sole of my fancy running shoe, little shards of plastic and rubber flying to the floor.

“IT’S STILL CLICKING CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE THAT BOB I MEAN WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT EVERYTHING WE’VE TRIED WOULDN’T WORK YOU KNOW?” I asked with a facial expression akin to Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

The sandpaper had to work. It just HAD to. But, it didn’t. I slipped the shoe on, took a couple of tentative steps, heard the click-click of my left sole on the kitchen floor and promptly passed out from rage.

When I awoke, I was so incensed that I started taking the entire shoe apart. At this point, I was convinced I was going to have to buy a new running shoe anyway because, “I can obviously never wear these again,” Bob heard me mutter as I walked back to the bedroom pulling laces vehemently from their holes.

And, that’s when I found it.

When I pulled out the shoe’s insole, the footbed that slips in and out of the inside of the shoe, the remnants of a security sticker could be seen. One of those security stickers with the silver thing running through it that would set off the store’s alarm if the shoe was taken out the store doors before being deactivated at the register. Located right underneath the ball of my left foot. Over months of sweaty use, the sticker had pretty much disintegrated and slid away so only the sticky residue was left behind. This residue clicked-clicked every time I took a step as the insole came momentarily unstuck from the inside sole of the shoe.

I must admit, it was a very “the call is coming from inside the house” kind of a moment.

After some more scrubbing, the residue was removed from the inside of the shoe, the footbed reseated and, like magic, the clicking ceased. My shoe has recovered. I am not entirely sure I have.

I blame Bob.