I thought I’d switch gears for a minute, share a little bit more about “me” – and, in the process, begin taking a few risks by simultaneously sharing an early poem of mine. When I was a young boy, I loved the University of Notre Dame – mainly because of its football team. I’d always been an early riser and every Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m., when the rest of the house was still asleep, I would watch replays of the preceding day’s Notre Dame football game narrated by the late great Lindsey Nelson. I loved Sunday mornings! It wasn’t long before I set my heart on one day attending Notre Dame. In fact, I was so passionate about it that I convinced my brother, Russ, who was a year older, to consider it as an option, when his original plan of attending the Air Force Academy didn’t pan out. Turned out, he not only considered it, he fully embraced it, ended up going there and absolutely loved it – as (since) have 3 of my 5 nieces and nephews. It seemed only a matter of time before I would follow in his footsteps and, despite some rather mediocre SAT scores, I got the opportunity to do just that in the Fall of 1976. Somewhere along the way, however, a young woman became more important to me (or so my too-eager-for-companionship heart thought) and I decided, much to the amazement and disappointment of my dad (and, ultimately, of myself), to stay a lot closer to home and attend what was then known as Biscayne College (n/k/a St. Thomas University). Suffice it to say, the relationship didn’t play out quite the way I envisioned/fantasized it would and, at the last minute, I decided to change my college plans. Regrettably, by then, the window of opportunity to attend Notre Dame had slammed shut and I ended up at Spring Hill College, a small Jesuit liberal arts school in Mobile, Alabama. I excelled academically my freshman year and decided to try and resuscitate my dream of attending Notre Dame by applying for transfer admission. Remarkably, I was one of only 56 transfer applicants admitted that year and, in the Fall of 1977, I headed out to South Bend. The transition proved to be far more difficult than I imagined, due, in part, to the fact that, unbeknownst to me at the time, there was no on-campus housing available for transfer students until the Spring semester, which meant that we were on our own in finding me a place to live – at least for the Fall. Looking back, the logical solution would have been to find an apartment near campus that I could share with one or two other students. But, for reasons that are completely unclear to me, my mom and dad ultimately settled on an upstairs bedroom in an 10 room boarding house near St. Joe’s Hospital – nearly 2 miles from campus. As if that weren’t bad enough (and it was!), I was the only person in the building under the age of 65 and several were considerably older. It would be impossible within the confines of this post to adequately describe what those next 3 months were like or the impact they had on me and likely my grades, which took a beating. I did, however, attempt to paint a portrait of my loneliness and despair in the following poem, which I distinctly remember writing very late one night when I felt particularly alone:
The House on North Lafayette
The air reeks of antiquity up the stairs.
The smell of impending death oozes from beneath the heavy doors
and looms like a cloud, drifting slowly towards me.
These are the tenants of loneliness.
These are the hermits who wander out only to bathe
and occasionally help the landlady shovel the sidewalk of ice.
Hers’ is a chore left unglorified –
the care of those Abandonment has petrified.
Just last week her sister fell and broke her hip.
Now, for days the sidewalk snow has gone untouched
and not a door at night is heard to creak.
I hesitate to venture out lest the cloud engulf me.