Living Downtown, she sees his absence everywhere
After my father died and I returned from Connecticut, I drove the streets of Minneapolis thinking of all the things I wanted to tell him. I had questions, too: When do you bring in geraniums? How did you feel when you first took up an airplane solo? What do you want for Christmas? I kept forgetting I couldn't call him. I have felt this way since Paul Wellstone and others died on that flight a year ago, too. I want to call them, wonder how they would react to the events of recent months.
I address this to Paul, to fill him in on the news:
Missed you at the State Fair this summer. You might have been puzzled, even outraged, by those who objected to the Fair's 20-year-old ban on guns. These people felt they ought to able to bring weapons onto the fairgrounds because of our new Conceal and Carry law. Oh yeah, that is a new law since you have been gone. When I walk down Washington Avenue now, there are signs in the artist shops and in the Loft buildings that make it clear guns are not allowed in the premises. Quite eerie.
I want to take you on a walk on the river road, right near where you used to ride your bike after you could not run any longer. There is a slim man with a ponytail who sits on a bench each morning smoking cigarettes, his cardboard coffee cup beside him. I think of him as cigarette-man. Another man raises his head from his sleeping bag near the picnic tables and nods to me when I walk Louis alone. We call him sleeping-bag-guy. As we return past a bar on the corner of Washington and 10th Avenue North, a woman is often yelling at a man who backs down the street in the opposite direction. She is angry-woman-with-beer-can. If you were with us, would you stop and talk? Would you be able to attach names to faces and bodies you see each day? I think so.
Around the corner, at Sharing and Caring Hands, there are children and women, men and old folks who are waiting to come in from the night cold. I can see you sitting down with them, your posture saying you are planning to stay awhile. And then you would listen.
All around us are new loft buildings with condos starting at $350,000. You wouldn't believe how quickly they are going up, Paul. At the same time, artist lofts are disappearing and breathable spaces along riverfront and near the restaurants on 3rd are being filled in. Those who thought they had views of the skyline are finding these views obstructed by monster condominiums with penthouses six floors up. And then inevitable contrast: a young man sleeps on a bench, just steps away from the mansion that still has great river views.
All this year we have missed your voice. We barely know how to grieve. So some of us have become frenetic, trying to make up for your disappearance. We tutor kids, volunteer at shelters, raise voices against the increasing loss of civil liberties. But then, this morning we read that Lucille's Kitchen may close, that blacks and Latinos are indeed profiled and stopped many more times than whites, that there is no money to increase fire inspectors or protection workers.
When you were here holding out your hand at the Fair booth or visiting our school to talk with teen parents, we felt at least the possibility that our voice might be heard in the dim, echoing halls of Congress. When you were here, stopping to listen to the man on the bench, the woman leaving the shelter for her job at Target, we knew we had handed off just a little of our sadness and our fear to you.
Without you, and Sheila and all the others on that plane, we often feel engulfed by a monster silence. We keep listening for someone to speak against economic injustice, for aid to the poor and elderly, and in favor of help for all those middle- and working-class people who cannot sleep for fear of the next paycheck being the last. There are rumblings, and you would like that. Who knows, such voices in the background now may build, catch on. There is our hope.
But all in all, it feels like a colder, stingier country after a year. And we know that some of that feeling has to do with your absence from the scene. We miss you; we will for years.
Julie Landsman lives in North Loop