NUDGE: Preempted Goodbyes

Hooligans and Diamondqueen at Navy Pier. It was a great summer.


When I was a kid, I never let go of anything easily. (Not that I do now, either; but kids usually let things zoom on by them.) The circus leaving town, the county fair being over, the morning after Halloween when the jack-o-lanterns looked so shriveled and sad—these all were little rituals of mourning for me.

I was the same way about the passing of seasons, especially summer. One of my favorite summer activities back in the mid 1960s was going to see my grandfather race trotters and pacers at harness racing meets at local tracks. I think of late summer racing taking place at either the old Florence, Kentucky, racetrack or at Latonia, now known as Turfway Park.

Sometimes we were there for the final night of racing for the summer; other times I imagine I just knew we wouldn’t be back before the meet closed for the season. Whichever, I knew it was farewell, and I have a memory of looking out the back window of the car at the bright grandstand lights, watching until they were just a glow in the distance. Finally there was nothing to see but the night sky, and I knew it was all over.

Illness over the last two weeks of August and into the Labor Day weekend has left me feeling as if I’m staring out the back window of the car, trying to catch the last retreating glow of summer. It’s not there, though; it’s all over.

Almost three weeks ago I came down with what I assume was a food-borne illness due to one gory symptom in particular. Last week, just 12 days later, I got wiped out by what I’m guessing was some kind of stomach flu, complete with long stretches of 102-degree fever. Then, on Labor Day morning, I realized I was passing a kidney stone. Fortunately that misery lasted only about eight hours, but I hadn’t really recovered from the flu* at that point. In the meantime, the sands of summer were sifting away.

I tried to sit out in the backyard at night late last week, just to gaze at the stars and listen to the crickets, but we had temperatures near 100 degrees. Even the darkness was sauna-like, even to those who didn’t have a fever. After bad storms early Sunday morning, a cold front moved in with chilly air, rain, and dark clouds. The same system that’s drowning the northeast, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, have kept it cool and gloomy here all week.

Sylvia Plath spoke of “a country far away as health.” Summer seems like such a country to me. I’m almost back to normal physically, but I feel disoriented and dissatisfied. Suddenly I’m wearing shoes instead of sandals and even a jacket if the rain’s really coming down. It was just last week everyone was dressed in shorts and cut-offs and t-shirts, swimming at the pool and frollicking at the amusement park. Wasn’t it? It’s as if I didn’t get to watch the distant grandstand lights and say good-bye. I fell asleep on a blanket in Grandpa’s barn, my parents carried me to the car, and I woke up on the way home, cranky and disgruntled at what I’d missed. I know it will get warm and sunny again, probably even very hot if this autumn is like those of the past decade. But summer’s gone. The amusement park is shut up, the pool has been drained, the festive sense of freedom is gone for another year. I imagine if I stare long enough into the September darkness I can still see the glow just beyond the silhouettes of the treetops.

PROMPT: Think about any preempted goodbyes in your past. Maybe you missed bidding farewell to someone, skipped a chance to go to a place that wound up disappearing or changing forever, or lost some treasured object you still regret. Imagine an opportunity to say goodbye has been restored. Express the thoughts and feelings you never got to say at the time.

*I’m aware kidney stone attacks can resemble the stomach flu, including vomiting and fever. I’ve passed several stones just in the past year. This simply acted more like the flu.

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