Today is my last day of work at Hampshire College, my work home and community for the past nine years. I’ve packed my boxes (peanut butter, family photos, notebooks, cards) and written most of my goodbyes, but I am still supposed to ask about 10 more people to make a gift before June 30th – and just writing that phrase leaves me exhausted. I am such a diligent good girl that I have been continuing to present proposals and close major gifts right up until the last day, but I think I might have hit my wall, particularly with people I’ve already asked and am now supposed to nudge. Fuck it; I
don’t have the resilience for follow-up; if I did, I wouldn’t be leaving this mostly excellent job.
My heart is beating hard at the idea that I will leave any assigned task unfinished. I cannot even imagine what retirement – with its lack of assigned tasks – is going to feel like. As I was writing this, the Hampshire Fund director sent me a list of 44 people she would like me to call this morning. I am laughing and shaking a little, both at how absurd that is and at how unable I feel to say no – or to make those calls.
Last night I packed for the road trip I’m starting with Jamie tomorrow; we are leaving Chicago on the morning of Kyle’s 27th birthday, the first of his birthdays where he won’t be getting any older. I am excited for this adventure with my daughter, and for the relief of not having to meet any more fund-raising quotas or professional expectations — but I felt sick with sadness as I packed Kyle’s sleeping bag and Kyle’s tent into Kyle’s backpack, and this morning I still have a sadness hangover just thinking about how I buried my face in his sleeping bag hoping for one last whiff of him. (There was none, but I’m still hoping when I unroll it to sleep in it, maybe…) We three loved being in nature together, and it is in his honor Jamie insisted we start our trip on his birthday; I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be, how strongly I would feel his absence as we set out.
Later today – after friends take me out for drinks to “celebrate my retirement” at The Moan and Dove — I will go home and transfer some of Kyle’s ashes into a watertight container Jamie has asked me to bring her so she and Kyle’s old girlfriend, Steph, can sprinkle a part of him around the base of Mt. Rainier. The schism between festive celebrations and aching bottomless grief is particularly stark today.
At home, I have a photo of Kyle climbing Mt. Ranier wearing the pack I stuffed last night, and I keep thinking that was the peak he reached in life: he was so proud to have done that climb, and in that moment he was literally on top of the world. (Here’s the photo where he’s reached the top, the one my dear friend Barb put at the end of his memorial video.) What happened after he reached this peak to bring him so low?
I know his disease was inherited, a genetic time bomb that had already been set in motion. But why was it dormant then? Why was he able to live a normal, happy adult life – teaching and mountain climbing and drinking beers with friends and reveling in nature and bike riding and taking care of foster kittens with his girlfriend and giving speeches for City Year and planning to study neurobiology when he went back to school the following fall – only to descend shortly thereafter into insane crack addiction. I know the why- and how-could-it-have-been-otherwise questions are useless circles; when I catch myself getting caught in these loops, I must take a deep breath and shake them out of my head. But today my mind is stuck there.
I am reminded of Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy, a book-length poem to her son who died of addiction. There’s a line she wrote that haunts me, “The wheel of what if/ starts turning and never stops.” Here’s one of the poems in that book, though not the one I referenced: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/49508