Tag Archives: Palos Heights

Losing a teacher –

I got a text message from my friend Ted around lunch time today. It said that a teacher at Independence Junior High had passed away.

It didn’t really register right away. Then he typed the name in: Maureen Oleskiewicz.

I wrote back that I thought she might be one of Carson’s teachers. Ted told me she had choked on something at a Cub’s game on the weekend and that she had been hospitalized since then.

I texted my wife, who immediately called me back, breathless from her run. She had been informed earlier that morning that Oleskiewicz was on life-support, and that they were bringing counselors into the school to talk to the children. She died Tuesday morning.

Palos Heights is a small area, 4.6 square miles to be exact. Oleskiewicz not only grew up in the town, she attended all the schools my kids went to, graduating a year ahead of my friend Ted.

She was Carson’s language arts teacher, and though she and Carson did not have the greatest relationship, she was beloved by many in the school and in the community. My daughter Gabrielle, who attends a different school, told us that her teacher cried today in class.

My oldest son, who is in high school, said that news of Oleskiewicz’s death reverberated through his school too. Like I said, Palos Heights is a small place.

I lost friends in school. I remember the strange days walking around campus talking in hushed tones and wondering if I should go talk to the grief counselors the school brought in.

But I never lost a teacher.

When I got home, Carson had already gone to a memorial service for Oleskiewicz, which started at Incarnation Catholic Church and ended with the students placing candles at the school.

When he came home, he was sad and kept repeating that she was only 28. Carson is 11, and death can be a difficult thing to process even when you’re nearing 40.

I’m not a grief counselor, so I just hugged him and asked him how he was doing.

“I’m sad, I just saw her on Friday,” he told me.

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. Which makes this that much tougher.

I’m grateful for all the teachers in my life and especially for those who spend their time with my children every day.

I only met Oleskiewicz once, during parent-teacher conferences. She was pretty honest about Carson’s lack of diligence in language arts, which is a hard little pill to swallow for someone like me.

If I could have, I would have told her thanks for being hard on the kid. He needs it, and if you know him well, you know that’s how you love him.

I think she understood that.

The Workout –

I’m not fond of the dark. I have an over-active imagination, if such a thing can exist, and I see things in shadows and mist. 

When I run, if you can call it that, I know just how fast I can go. If a large shadow were to suddenly become form, well, I can run pretty fast. Normally I just lope along like a wounded primate confused about whether I should even be running upright.

So I’ve been riding my bike, on which I feel swift and maneuverable. When I’m riding downhill, I’m untouchable. 

I entered the forest today and grew a garden of ghoulish characters out of the twisted branches and shadowed tree stumps. I rode faster, as I do, chased by my own creation.

The fields were misted over, and I could almost drink the air. I willed the sun to rise.

I sing along with the music, sometimes louder than other times, like when I want to drown out the process of creature creation going on in my head. 

It is not midsummer any more. The shadows are longer earlier, and I’m thinking about taking it all back inside where I can set the controls. 

The Commute –

It’s only been four days since I started commuting, so it’s probably too early to really write about it in depth. It’s the first time I’ve commuted anywhere by train. My longest commute, before this, was my morning and evening drives to and from the University of Oregon from my home in Salem, Oregon. It’s a bit romantic, I admit. My notion of commuting has always been a bit “Madmen” even before the television show made air. 

Gentlemen in fedoras talking business or reading the morning paper. I’m not sure where the ladies in my imaginary commuting world are. I hope it’s not misogyny. Rather, I think it’s just a narrow field of view on this one imaginary image. But I digress. The platform can be empty at first. The air is warm and strangely fragrant, with no evidence of floral fauna around accept grasses, trees and shrubs. The concrete is cool, and I like to pause to look up and down the tracks. Some evolutionary leftover from boyhood, I suppose. I deposit my $1.25 into the parking fee collectors and find a concrete post to lean against.  It’s then that I notice the station is not empty. People are standing against the building, sitting on the ground or leaning against posts just as I am. But they blend in, their clothes seemingly camouflaging them against the realities of the day.  An emotionless voice crackles to life over the loudspeaker: ” Your attention please. A Metra inbound train will be arriving in approximately three minutes.”  People start to emerge from the shadows, staking their place on the platform that will allow them to board their preferred train cars. I don’t know this then, but I overheard a conductor explaining this phenomena. “Everbody has their own car. They even know the number of the car, How? They count ‘em. One, two, three, four. Everybody got their own train car they prefer.” I don’t have a preferred train car yet. I’ve explored a few cars now. I’ve tried the upper deck, but I was uncomfortable because it was too easy to be voyeuristic and watch what the people below we’re surfing on their iPhonesnor tablets. But sitting below with knowledge that the people above can read what I’m now writing is disconcerting. Life on the train is a mix of the expected creaking noises associated with rail travel. The windows are tinted green, which lends a quiet, somewhat depressing hue on Chicago, even on a sunny day. The gentle rocking of the train lulls many to sleep for the 45-minute ride. Others work on laptops. Anyone who is awake is bent over a smartphone. The cavernous Union Station is a massive staging point for Chicago’s commuters. They pour from the trains in the station’s underbelly, alternately walking like zombies while the line of people moves like rush-hour traffic toward the exits and scurrying to catch their bus connections to the rest of the city. It’s fun to watch feeling new and still unattached, unaffected by the commute. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel in a few years.  Tim