Everything Love Brings

I was driving around Clive, Iowa on a beautiful, April 2014 morning and enjoying life in my own quiet way. I was in the Des Moines area to cover the Drake Relays. The track and field spectacular was one of my favorite events to attend in my role as a sportswriter for the Cascade Pioneer. While I was there for our high school athletes, it was also amazing to watch the college and professional harriers perform. Even better were the large crowds in attendance who created a festive atmosphere. Nothing else in Iowa athletics mixed all that together for a weekend.

Drake was also my annual vacation. I didn’t receive many chances to visit Iowa’s state capital so I treasured the times when I could. In 2014, we had again had many athletes qualify for Drake. But a combination of what events the kids qualified for and when those competitions would take place led to me having Friday morning to myself.

I’m someone who best gains knowledge by repetition so it took me a couple of years to learn not to take Interstate 235 from Drake to my hotel room in Clive. 235 traffic always seemed to move either 100 miles an hour or at a complete standstill as it often did near the Windsor Heights exit. Driving the company vehicle instead of only having the responsibility that came with my vehicle didn’t lower the stress factor.

So I asked Drake folks if there was an alternative. They suggested I take University Avenue which took me almost directly from the stadium to my hotel. While driving the company van made me worry about all the traffic cameras on the route, the pace of traffic was much more to this rural Iowa boy’s liking.

There was also better scenery. I enjoyed looking at all the businesses and learning more about Des Moines. I especially liked to stop at a strip mall a few blocks away from my lodging. I thought I was a pretty clever shopper when I left Kohl’s on this day. The had polos on sale for an amazing price. I purchased two of them and looked forward to wearing them at Drake.

I went back to my Days Inn for a nap. Some revelers had made for long Thursday night. I wouldn’t have minded if they had partied in their rooms, but they decided to do so in the hallway. One gentleman seemed to be looking for his significant other and couldn’t figure out what room she was in as he knocked on successive doors. I was terrified he would knock on mine. Not because she was in my room-because she wasn’t. But I worried about the confrontation if he wouldn’t go away. That’s how paranoid my mind can be.

I slept so hard during my lunchtime nap. When I woke up, at first I didn’t know where I was. But I soon looked forward to going out and doing some more retail sightseeing before heading to Drake for the evening session.

I remember this Drake weekend fondly for the good times I had. But it also is entrenched in my mind because it was one of the last happy times before I lost my best friend.

Mom and I had lived together since my father’s passing in 2001. We resided in the northeast Iowa community of Earlville. The town has a population of about 900 and had been my home area my entire life. I was only 31 when Floyd Carpenter died. One would’ve thought losing my father would have been a life changing event. It was but not to the extent I expected.

Maybe it was because everything happened so quickly. Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in middle-September and passed away on November 10. There was never any hope. That’s what Mom made sure I understood. As such, I did my grieving while Dad was still alive.

When the morning of November 10 came, I received the news of Dad’s death and was actually relieved. I would like to say I was happy Dad’s suffering was over, but I was such an egocentric jerk that I was happy the suffering which came from grieving was over.

Afterwards, I just moved on. I still had Darlene Carpenter, I still had plans for my life and I went from there. Over the years, I expected the same thing would happen whenever the time came for Mom.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. During the summer after Mom’s passing, I couldn’t stand to stay in the house. The memories were so strong. Not only the bad ones of the previous few months, but the good times of previous years. They were so strong, so real and visible to me. The person I had spent the last 14 years with was so present in my mind and yet she wasn’t in that house. I had no one to come home to. No one to make me feel better on the bad days. No one to help me celebrate the good ones.

So I went on the road as much as I could. I spent days in Cascade and Earlville’s neighbor to the west, Manchester. On the days I stayed in Earlville, I spent much time at the Earlville library. I found peace there. People were nice and I could hide from the world.

My sister and I sold the house in October. I spent a couple months with a friend in Dyersville and then moved to Cascade in February of 2016. The kindness the folks in this community showed me when I was only a tourist continued when I was resident. Cascade is about a half hour from Earlville. It’s known mainly for producing so many people who have succeeded on a major level such as baseball Hall of Famer Red Faber to Creighton basketball coach Greg McDermott to European professional basketball player Ashley Harris, to University of Iowa sports announcer Gary Dolphin to current San Diego Padre pitcher Colin Rea.

While that’s impressive, I don’t want you to know Cascade for that. I want you to know it for the kindness the community showed me. The prayers and wishes they said for me, the tears they cried with and for me and the way every time I was knocked on my ass they helped me up. The reason I’m able to write this essay is because of their love and support. I’m not sure I would’ve carried through without them.

But there’s still that hole. The hole of not having my best friend with me. Nobody in Cascade can fill it. I don’t know who can. I don’t know if anybody ever will. To complicate things, the ghost which followed me from Earlville has been joined by by a different kind of ghost here in Cascade.

My mother is a ghost in Cascade, as well. We had many good times here as visitors. I tried, tried and tried to convince her we could move here. While she didn’t explain why, moving probably didn’t make any sense to her. Our home was paid for and to move here meant no more “free housing.” Nonetheless, she eventually mentioned how it would be a good idea for at least me to move here. While the signs weren’t obvious at the time, I can’t help but think Mom already knew she was was dying and was thinking of my future.

There are now more ghosts. A few weeks ago, the Cascade High School Class of 2017 graduated. There were many in this class who I have watched grow up. There are many “babies of the family” who will be walked across the stage. Many of these kids and their families were the people I mentioned earlier. They made the decision to love and care about me through thick and thin. Now they and their families are starting new lives. They’re going to still love me and I’m going to still love them. But it’s going to feel as if I’m alone again. It’s going to feel as if everyone is moving on except me.

I’ve began making plans in trying to find a new home. I have no desire to ditch my Cascade friends. I just want to begin a new life. I’ve spent three years feeling beat down, feeling helpless, feeling as if I’m someone without a future. I’m working hard to change that. I’m working hard to prove the care and friendship Cascade folks have given me was justified. I’m working hard to prove the love and care Darlene Carpenter gave me and the belief she had in me was justified.

I still have the polos I bought in Clive over three years ago. I hope someday and someday soon, I can come full circle and have more days like the ones I had that weekend in Des Moines.

My e-book about Mom can be found here. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay