the end of summer goes up in flames

I haven’t written in a long time. The entire summer has gone by, as quickly as it always seems to, in a rush of busy weeks at work, and green walks through the neighborhood, and jumping into lakes. I paddled through the Boundary Waters, cliff-jumped into Lake Superior, and went sailing with my family. I learned how to water ski and paddle board. I drove through South Dakota and Wyoming with my dear friend Jess and her vivacious dog Cody, and we swam in icy pools and climbed around in the weird white Badlands. I partied in Chicago with a bunch of my friends from our undergrad Irish dance group (and those words do nothing to summarize Leim), and we danced in a loud and happy circle, in a rush of nostalgia and fiddle music. I went to Pride Fest and birthday parties and weddings and a fantastic bachelorette weekend for my friend Alina in Vegas. I grew many vegetables in the backyard. I taught many middle schoolers. I ate a lot of nachos.

So my life is good. My life is good, and rich, and full, and I am lucky. But it has its calamities too.

A few weeks ago, Niko and I walked to a tiny neighborhood café that serves Latin American cuisine and cheap drinks, and has a beautiful leafy patio. As we were finishing up our yucca fries and beans and rice, our attention was drawn by an older man on the sidewalk a few feet away. He and his wife had just finished eating on the patio table beside us and were walking to their car on the street.

“Did you see that?” the man said. His voice was an odd mixture of hesitant and commanding – I can’t describe it better than that. He had a professorial air about him. He was staring up over the houses across the street, at the blue sky.

“See what?” our server asked, turning to stare out at the sky too, as did Niko and I.

“I’m not even sure…”

“What was it?” she asked. “A big hawk or something?”

“It looked like-“ He seemed embarrassed. “Well, it looked like a plane on fire, and in pieces.”

“Whoa,” our server said.

“You can still see the smoke,” he pointed out, and gestured towards the sky. Sure enough, I saw a contrail of dark gray smoke, fading quickly into the surrounding blue.

His wife was several feet away, with her hand on the car door already. “It was on fire,” she said.

“Seems like if it had crashed, we would have heard something,” the man said, and he seemed so completely reliable. “It was definitely in two pieces. Well – you know, I don’t know what was going on there.”

There was nothing much to say, although we all said something, and eventually he and his wife drove away.

As far as I can tell, there were certainly no plane crashes in Minneapolis that evening, but the eerie moment, when the man pointed at the sky and said, “a plane, on fire, and in pieces,” stuck with me. I had dreams about plane crashes. But honestly, that weird and eerie moment was only taking the blame. Katie Campbell (my good friend’s older sister; my parents’ friends’ daughter; a 33-year-old super hero who I want to be when I grow up; a young adult with cancer; a giver, a laugher, a friend, a wife, a badass) passed away on August 20th, and life was feeling shitty and heartbreaking. My brain was trying to process tragedy, and I dreamed about plane crashes, fireballs, and running through smoke to find my family. Three and a half weeks later, those dreams are finally fading, but the loss can still catch up to you.

Life is a stew of the good and the bad. It is inexplicable. It is meaningful and meaningless. It is full. The end of summer approaches, fall crescendoes, and I am flying home tomorrow, where I will celebrate the beautiful and meaningful life of Katie, grieve her stupid and inexplicable death, cry and cry. And I will also have the chance to be swallowed up in my family’s arms, and to sit in my childhood home, and be. And life is rich, and good, and calamitous, and scary, and here we are.

Andy and Lauren’s wedding almost a year ago. Katie is in the red dress and white cardigan and gorgeous smile. I’m laughing on the end. It was a day of color and love. 

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