In my writing studio, beneath a cloak of grief and humiliation, I shivered in jeans, a t-shirt, and a flannel. There were half a dozen job sites open on my computer while I crafted cover letters and tweaked resumes unaware that I was done with corporate America or that my next gigs would be teaching and tutoring. I groused about the temperature in our drafty Chicago two-flat to avoid focusing on my perceived helplessness.
My father died unexpectedly in January. I’d lost my IT job in October. The only responses I’d gotten from the manuscripts I’d submitted to agents were a Morse code of rejections and silence. For the holiday, my wife would prepare a quiet Christmas dinner for two because my family’s traditional four-generation gathering was permanently cancelled.
Because of her, I stayed positive.
The new windows we’d installed made little difference when that October turned to winter. The brick exterior seemed to push the cold through the plastered lathing into our small, high-ceilinged home. A lingering chill gave the heat an icy edge that guaranteed a temperature drop when the furnace kicked off.
We loved our home, naming it the “Greystone Manor” after its hand-hewn façade. We’d bought the building, built in 1879 with a two-bedroom apartment on each floor, right after the turn of the century to convert into a single-family home. Families had lived there. Kids grew up there. Who knew how many bare, socked, slippered, or shoed feet trod the aged hardwood floors? Had anyone else appreciated the true 4”x12” beams supporting each floor that could’ve been milled less than a mile from the growing city? What about the two-inch-thick pocket doors separating the living and dining rooms with their steel latches, patented in 1833?
With under nine hundred square feet per floor there was enough room downstairs for the kitchen, a living room couch, a couple chairs, and a dining room table that would never again be filled with my family’s grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts, and uncles, siblings, parents, or grandmother.
That made that year seem colder than any other. There’d be no gift-giving with child-like shrieks upon opening the perfect present. No Trivial Pursuit into the wee-hours while the kids played with new toys until they fell asleep. Those had been some of our favorite moments.
We’d met a woman and her daughter who’d lived on the second floor from the Thirties to the Seventies. The tiny bedroom we’d turned into the master closet had bunkbeds for the three kids who believed that it was a boogeyman scratching at the window on stormy nights and not the bony branches of the tree in the parkway. They’d moved on, as had the families and residents before and after them.
Among all the people who’d called the Greystone Manor home, there had to be successes as well as failures and deaths and broken traditions. What happened to me was nothing new. Sadness and disappointment balance joy.
I must have known that because I didn’t lose hope. There were many great things ahead of me on that day despite the disappointments that accompanied the successes. I’d never brag to my old man about the hundreds of men and women I taught how to ride a motorcycle like he showed me. Or that I’d make good on my lousy bachelor’s GPA by graduating from two elite post-grad universities. Agents haven’t pounded on my door for my next novel, yet, but judging from my skill level now compared to a decade ago, I’m curious what I’ll accomplish over the next ten years.
I trust it will be amazing.
Peter A. Wright is working on a collection of short stories as well as a novel set in a possible future. His fiction has been published online at www.hackwriters.com and his creative nonfiction has appeared in College Times magazine, North/Northwest Community News, and Wassup Magazine. He earned the Certificate in Creative Writing at the University of Chicago’s Graham School and his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Peter asks that you donate time, money, or school supplies to 826 National, an organization dedicated to assisting students aged six to eighteen develop their writing skills. Visit www.826national.org.