Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Walk the walk

(It's been more than a week since my last post about fall. On the bright side, my Internet is finally faster. Alas, my PC is just slow ...)

This post recalling autumns past is actually about two years: 1993 and 2011. The story starts 19 years ago.

Lori and I had been dating about five, six months in the fall of 1993. She was living at her childhood house on Milwaukee's far west side, keeping it up while her parents, who had moved to northern Wisconsin a few years earlier, tried to sell it. We used to go for long walks at night in her neighborhood and nearby Wauwatosa, just talking, getting some exercise and breathing in the cool fall air. I loved these walks.

As we walked through the residential neighborhoods, I would look at the fronts of houses, some of them with the window shades open, and wonder about the occupants inside. What were their lives like? What did they do today? Were they bored tonight after a long day of work? I didn't want to think that these homeowners were mundane, but I could felt that the mere fact they owned a house, shuttled their kids around, worked a 9-to-5 job, came home and settled in for the night was a little boring. It was a life I couldn't yet comprehend. I was fewer than 18 months out of college, had my foot in the door for my dream job (working at a newspaper), worked non-traditional hours, lived on a more vibrant, younger side of the city, and had a new girlfriend and was falling in love. I didn't disdain what I was seeing; it was just that life I witnessed as we walked might have well been another planet.

Jump ahead 18 years. I don't take as many night-time walks as I once did, and when I do, I'm either running and/or listening to my headphones. But with us adopting Popcorn last year, the number of night-time walks exploded last fall. They started out small but got longer as the dog kept growing. I usually listened to (and still do) fantasy football podcasts off my smartphone during the walks. I found myself looking forward to walking her, to the point that when fantasy football season ended, I found other podcasts to listen to instead of just taking my iPod. Part of the satisfaction with these walks surely was just owning a dog again, but another part was a little bit of serenity I've always found on walks.

For the first time since those walks with Lori two decades ago, I found myself looking at the houses in our residential neighborhood, wondering about the occupants inside. What began to occur to me was that I had become one of those people I wondered about when I was 23. I own a house. I shuttle kids around. My work schedule is still non-traditional, but there's still a clear routine (one in which I'm settling in after walking the dog). But I don't feel bored. Restless sometimes, but not bored. Did I misjudge Wauwatosans way back when or simply not understand them? I understand now. Those people were home. Maybe home wasn't the happiest place for all of them, but it was home. Home was something different to me back then. It's evolved as our lives have evolved, from being 20-somethings falling in love to being a happy family with kids, a mortgage and a dog. It was something I couldn't understand just walking past, but instead, until I lived it. Then it took a few extra years to even realize that.

The walks with the dog are more routine now, and I'm worried I see them more as a necessity rather than an opportunity. I do know this: Every walk ends up at home.

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