Chautauqua. Some History Ch. 3

It’s always a little emotional for me returning to Boulder after being away for a while. Dropping down into the valley and seeing the town all spread out at the base of the Flatirons and the Foothills, with the Front Range of the Rockies looking impossibly high and white and closer than they really are, it’s… well, it just makes me glad to be back.  It feels like home even though I just left home in Minnesota a few days ago.

I want to talk about Josh some more. He is and has been since he was born, the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have Dorothy and God above to thank for that kid.
What a gift and a blessing to have the honor and privilege of raising a beautiful, precious child, my son.
The last time Dorothy got pregnant her doctor said whatever happens, no more, be done. And after three miscarriages I didn’t hold much hope for that pregnancy going to term. Especially when Dorothy was diagnosed with Crone’s disease and was admitted to the hospital because she couldn’t keep any food in her and was down to 99 pounds.
They had to put a feeding tube into her artery and pump in 4000 calories a day for several weeks. She was very sick and malnourished and in her first trimester. Of course, because of the pregnancy they were limited by what drugs they could give her and so they went with the smallest dose possible of an oral steroid called Prednisone. So, after the three previous miscarriages, the malnutrition during a time when women are typically on pre-natal vitamins, and the medication she was getting, I didn’t hold much hope for that baby.
After five weeks in the hospital they sent her home ordering total bed rest in some hope of keeping her pregnant. Eventually, Dorothy was in her seventh month and we started to have hope for the baby. But would the baby be all right? The doctors had said that because of the steroid she was on there might be birth defects. There was no way to know for sure. Late in her seventh month the ultrasounds showed that the baby was growing and following the curve, but he was at the bottom of the curve, actually, just barely on the curve at all. At eight months they decided they wanted to get him out of there so they had us come in to the hospital and they induced labor.

As I drive through the Boulder streets I look around but nothing has changed.
Going slow past Penny Lane where I have spent so many hours and days, I check out the patio and see the same faces that were there when I left. I don’t go there much any more, partly for that reason. I park on Pearl Street and walk down the mall. Again, it’s like I left here yesterday. Well, I guess most places are like that after all. Places don’t change; it’s us who change.

While Dorothy was in labor, at some point, I walked down to the chapel and got down on my knees. Haven’t we all been there at some time or another? I wept and pleaded and made promises, swore on my life, making deals with God and Jesus. I think I might have promised I’d become a missionary, go out and preach the word of The Lord. Anything! Just please let Dorothy and the baby be all right! Yeah, I guess it’s fair to say that I was pretty scared and feeling humble.
When Josh was born I was right there, standing beside Dorothy, and I saw he was a boy and I saw he was all right. He was only 4 pounds, 7 ounces, and I know babies are born much smaller than that, but he was the smallest baby I had ever seen.

For me, the sun rose and set on that baby. Something happened to me that I never expected to happen. And really, it’s such a natural, automatic thing you don’t even realize it. Your priorities change. This was the most beautiful, wonderful, magical thing that had ever happened to me and as much as I looked forward to Josh growing up, at the same time I never wanted him to.

As the sun dropped behind the Flatirons, I started thinking about where I was going to park that night. I wanted somewhere dark and quiet, safe and private. As I cruised around I wondered about parking lots, but they have lots of lights usually. Maybe a dark side street. It’s a college town and people are always walking in Boulder. I didn’t want a steady stream of people walking past my car. For the first time, I started getting this feeling that I would have many times after that. I wished I were invisible. I didn’t want to be seen. I just wanted to be left alone, not bothered or hassled. I didn’t want to get rousted by some cop tapping on the window with his flashlight in the middle of the night because some home owner didn’t like that suspicious car parked out there. I didn’t want to have to explain anything to anyone, partly because how can you explain something to someone when you don’t fully understand it yourself.

Occasionally, if it happened to come out that I was living in my car, I would tell people, “Oh, I’m writing a book about homeless people and how it feels to be homeless, so I thought I better do some research and pretend to be homeless for a while.” Or, “It seems like an interesting alternative kind of lifestyle and there are so many people doing it that I thought I would see what it’s like.”, that kind of thing.
I finally find a side street just a couple blocks away from downtown. The side street is a steep hill leading up to an alley that runs behind Mapleton Ave. I liked the hill aspect because even though my seat reclines almost flat, it’s not quite horizontal. So parking on a hill makes for flat lying, and when it comes to sleeping comfortably in a car, that is a biggie.
I had parked there two nights when on the third night a man came out of the house that I was parked next to and walked over to the car. I was sitting up reading, having just pulled in, so I rolled down the window as he approached.
He seemed pretty nice, about in his early sixties and he asked if I was going to be sleeping in my car for very long. I said that I was just between apartments for a few days. He smiled and said, “Well, you shouldn’t park here on the street.”
“Instead, pull up into the alley and park in the space next to my garage. I own that space and it’s private land so the police won’t bother you. It’s dark, quiet and safe and you’re welcome to park there at night for however long you need to. If anyone gives you any grief,” he added, “ just tell them I said it was ok.” Then he smiled kindly and walked back to his house and went inside. Yup, that’s Boulder for you.
I’ve been parking there for the past three years now and I’ve never had a chance to speak to him since. I only used his space a few nights then I moved over to the one next to his because it is under a kind of overhanging tree so it’s almost like a cave, at least in the summertime when the tree is all leafed out. He knows that I am still there though because when his daughter comes home from college, he parks his van in the space next to me so she can park in their driveway.

I don’t know if any of the other neighbors know that there is someone sleeping in a car out there or not. There’s probably no reason why they should, though. I come after dark, usually no earlier than ten, and I am gone by seven the next morning. When I’m lying down you can’t see me in there anyway, unless you were to come right up and look in the window. All in all, I feel very fortunate to have found that place, and very grateful to that man who was so kind and understanding.
Speaking of that guy, he is a perfect example of how you never know who you are going to meet or what situations you might find yourself in once you change the parameters of your existence. I call it “the dynamic of existence”, and I can give several examples if you’re up for it. Ok? Fine, here goes.

For fifteen years I was married with children, a homeowner with a “career” at the paper mill and all that that entails. It was a good life, a great life, no complaints. I was happy and content, but in an anesthetized kind of way. My life was centered around three things, my family, my job, and my property, property being house and toys. Our friends were very few; our experiences were very limited. It was a routine of go to work, maintain the house and grounds, deal with kids in school, grocery shopping, watching TV, etc. That was the dynamic of my existence.
Since I left St. Cloud and moved to Boulder six years ago, all kinds of amazing, wonderful, interesting things happened to me. Things that would never have happened, indeed, could not have happened if I had been in St. Cloud. I had to change the dynamic of my existence to allow any of these opportunities to present themselves.
But I didn’t know that these things would happen, they just happened! Imagine my surprise at how much my life changed simply by changing where and how I lived.

The extent to which I changed the dynamic of my existence was pretty drastic I’ll admit, but I’ve never been exactly subtle in most ways. Impulsive is more like it.
What changed? Winding up no longer married was the beginning. There’s a big change right there. But I still had the “mill” job and the house and all of the “mill toys”, and the responsibilities of being a single father, and bills, schedules, obligations, payments, bank accounts, chores, et cetera ad nauseum.

The next thing to go was the job. I quit, got fired, took early retirement, went crazy, was laid off, gave up, ran away… whatever. When you decide you’ve had enough it almost doesn’t matter how you get out even if you have to chew off your own paw. It’s all the same thing with the same result. Freedom! Most of the guys at the mill would have been traumatized if they lost their jobs there. Shell-shocked, scared, panicky, desperate. All of these things, and maybe even suicidal.

“Life after the mill?” “Is there such a thing?” Yeah, that’s the way I used to think too. But after the divorce something inside me snapped and I couldn’t stay there any more. Sometimes you do have to burn a bridge just to keep yourself from going back. Couldn’t stay in St. Cloud either. Josh was 16 and Dorothy and her husband were glad to have him move in with them and he was happy with the arrangement too. He had his own room, his own car, a part time job and lots of friends.

I sold the house, sold, gave away or threw away most everything in it, sold the Accord, sold the snowmobile, the motorcycle, the guns, the coins, the stamps, the tools, everything. Took a few boxes of photo albums and other treasures over to the folk’s basement, and suddenly… I had nothing. I was free.
I wanted to get out, out in the world. Just wanted to wander, hike, climb, get lost, drift, explore… and now, I could go. So, like a salmon that returns to the spawning grounds, I went back to Colorado.


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