Randy Aalbregtse – Classmate & Neighbor

His name was Randy.   He was and still is, despite his far-too early death, a beloved classmate.  He was positivity personified, and he always had a smile for everyone.

From second grade through sixth grade, he was my neighbor.

However, we never spoke during that time.  Not once that I recall.  My brother was the same age as his younger brother, Kevin.  There were probably a total of a dozen of us kids in the immediate neighborhood and I would play hide-and-go-seek, baseball, climb trees, and ride bikes with all of them, but Randy never played with us.  Instead, he was always alone with his basketball: dribbling, spinning, jumping and sinking, or tossing from afar.

He would play for hours at a time.  By himself.  Once in a while, in the evening, he and his father, John, would play one-on-one.  There was always a lot of laughter then and John, who was far taller, appeared to block a good number of throws.  But Randy would find ways to skirt around his father and sink the ball with a layup.

I could see Randy playing from my bedroom window, when I was sitting in the yard reading, or when I was roller skating, usually by myself and on the only sidewalk in the neighborhood that ran across one long yard, located on the opposite side of Randy’s house.  It appeared he was as much a loner as I, if not more so.

When my family moved away from the neighborhood, as he and I were entering sixth grade or middle school as it was called then, I don’t recall seeing Randy again until high school.  By then, he was as tall as his father, a thinner version, and all arms and legs.  He played basketball and became one of the best players the school ever had.  Naturally, he hung out with other basketball players, all equally tall and equally enthusiastic about the sport.

I was quiet, never talking with others in the halls but always thinking about the next class, making sure I had my books, my homework, and such.  It wasn’t in my nature to talk to anyone unless they spoke to me first, and even though I would walk by this group of players every day, words were never exchanged.  Plus, I rarely attended extra-curriculum school events.  I was shy.  Extremely shy.

Time passed.  We graduated.  More time passed.  Our class held a few class reunions, some I helped organize, some I didn’t.  I moved away and then returned to the area.  I had become more outgoing and found it easier to start conversations with people, strangers or not.  It was during that time, that reunion, that I had a chance to chat with Randy and his first words seeing me, accompanied with that infectious grin of his, were, “Hi, neighbor.”

Every reunion thereafter, he greeted me the same way.  “Hi, neighbor.”

And then he became sick, but he never missed a reunion.  He attended one with a cane.  The next time was with crutches.  His smile never changed regardless of his declining health.

October 4, 2012

And then he died.  I saw the obituary and wasn’t able to attend his Celebration of Life that a number of our classmates attended, but I thought about him that entire weekend.

A few months passed.

As was my habit, I came home from work, had dinner, then came into my living room combination office, and turned the knob on my floor lamp, to turn it on.

The knob always required a hard twist, as it was stiff and didn’t turn easily.

This night, though, the knob turned easily, too easily.  In fact, the light wouldn’t stay on.  I puzzled over the problem.  No one had been in the apartment.  No one other than me was using the lamp, so what was different?

Carefully, I twisted the knob to on, finally getting the light to come on, and I started to step away.  The light went out.  Over and over, I tried to get the light to stay on.  And every time I had it on and would start to move away, it would go out.  The knob was so loose, it was difficult to find that small range where the light would even come on, as I could spin it back and forth easily trying to search that perfect on position, where the light would say on.

For several nights, this scenario played out.  After about ten minutes, my frustration got the better of me.  I started swearing.  I couldn’t get the light to stay on, no matter what I did.

And then I heard him.  His laugh.  And the word, “neighbor.”

“Randy?”

More laughter.

“You think this is funny, don’t you?”

I could feel his grin.  “Yes!” he responded.

“Okay, you can stay but stop playing with my lamp.”  I reached up to try to turn the light on and discovered that the hard familiar twist had returned.  I tested it several times.  On and off.  On and off.  Each time, I had to twist the knob hard.  (And ever since, the knob has never changed from this hard twist.)

“Thank you,” I told him, but he was gone.  I couldn’t sense him around anymore.  He’d had his fun and I sensed he was off to have fun with someone else, somewhere else.

Move ahead to July 2014—class reunion weekend

As typical of our reunions, we have both a Friday night casual get-together and a more formal reunion on Saturday night with dinner and a band.   For the first time, I attended the Friday night casual get-together.   I had a chance to chat with Roger, a great friend of Randy’s, along with being a former basketball player with him.  During previous reunions, if I saw Randy, Roger was always right there beside him.  On that night, I felt Randy was there, having a grand time seeing so many of the coaches and teachers who were in attendance.

After I dropped off my high school best friend, I drove home thinking about the conversations, the people I had seen, many of whom wouldn’t be in attendance the next evening.

Then, I sensed a presence with me in the car.  I heard, “Tell him.”

“Randy?”

“Tell Roger, this and whitey.”

I couldn’t make out what the this word was, but I saw Randy’s fists together and then moving away from each other.  He kept repeating the motion, but I couldn’t understand what the word was.

Randy relayed a number to me, too, what sounded like 6 or 16.  I couldn’t tell which.  I wanted to look in our old yearbooks to see Randy’s basketball shirt had been numbered, but since I had destroyed my books years ago, my curiosity would have to wait.

“Tell him!  He’ll know that it’s me.  That I’m here.”

“Okay.”

A long time ago, not having given Kathy’s husband a message she wanted delivered, I had vowed never to not give someone a message being delivered from someone on the other side, no matter how silly or ridiculous it could make me appear.

The next night, Saturday, I saw Roger sitting at a table, alone at the moment, so I joined him.  I told him I had a message to give him, from another classmate, but I didn’t say who.

“I’m supposed to tell you this”—I started making the motion with my fists pulling away from each other and returning and being pulled away again, over and over—“and whitey.”  As I kept making the hand motions, I explained, “I can’t think of the word, what the word is supposed to be.”

Roger said, “Stretch?”

“Yes!” I said excitedly.  I knew without a doubt that stretch was the correct word.  It still didn’t make sense to me, but I knew it to be right.  I knew because I could feel Randy’s grin—big and broader than ever before.

“Who is this message coming from?” he asked.

“Randy.”

He looked at me, both puzzled and in wonderment.

“Why? What does stretch mean to you?”

“That was his nickname.  We called him Stretch.”

“So what does whitey mean?”

“That’s what they call me back at Madison, where I teach and coached basketball.”  We just looked at each other.

“He’s here.  He’s here with you,” I told him.  “The message was for you.”

We talked about the numbers, but Roger couldn’t remember what Randy’s jersey number had been back in high school.  He said he would look in his yearbooks, but I’ve not heard, nor could I pull up any pictures of Randy playing, where the jersey number is visible, at least visible enough to read.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever know what these numbers meant to Randy, to Roger, but at this point, it doesn’t matter.

I’d been given a message to transmit, and I had.  Roger admitted he hadn’t been much of a believer of the beyond, but now I’d given him a lot to think about.

Once I was driving home alone, I sensed Randy was with me.  Again, I could tell he was happy knowing that Roger knew that he, Randy, had attempted communication and that they were at the reunion, together again.

She Was Playing with My Computer

So, I was at work, realizing it was the second anniversary of my sister’s death (Feb 12, 2013).  Eileen always enjoyed a good joke, especially if she got to play them on someone else.

I saw that the slide show that had been played at her funeral had been reposted on Facebook, so I opened it.  It began with her favorite George Strait song, Amarillo By Morning, a song that now always reminds me of her, and I do have to say, it is a great song.

Anyway, I watched the slides with Strait’s song and then there was a pause for the next song to begin.  It was at this point that I saw an e-mail coming in and I wanted to check on it, while the slide show continued.

I moved my mouse to make the move and clicked.  Nothing happened.  Nothing.

I went to diminish the slide show so I could see the e-mail program, which was behind the slide screen.  Again, I clicked, and the slide-show screen, which had been in a half-screen mode, became full screen.  Now, some of you might be thinking that I’m clicking the wrong buttons, but I wasn’t.   This time when I tried to return to the half-screen mode, the mouse clicker refused to work.

I tried to click an icon down on the bottom ribbon and the mouse icon moved to the middle of the screen.

I clicked the diminish sign and nothing happened.  I clicked it again, and the volume went up.  That’s when I began to have my suspicions about what was really going on.

No matter what I did, the mouse clicker wasn’t working.  I even tried to use the escape key and got nothing.

I couldn’t get off the screen.  No. Matter.  What.  I. Tried.  Not even CTRL+ALT+DELETE. Nothing.

The thing is, I needed to return to work.

So, I called our IT Department and reported the faulty mouse, telling them that I couldn’t send them an e-mail because the mouse wasn’t working.  He asked me if there were any other mice available.  There was.  In the meantime, he’d report the failure and David, our resident IT employee, would deal with it later.

So, I unhooked the mouse and went to a neighboring computer and took that mouse and plugged it into my computer.  It worked.  I was able to shut down the slide show and return to work.

I continued working with the substitute mouse the rest of the day.

The next day, when David stopped at my desk, I explained to him how the mouse had stopped working, particularly the left clicker.  He took it, saying he’d try it out to make sure it wasn’t working before turning it in.

Minutes later he returned.  “It works just fine.”

I told him about Eileen, and added, “She must have been playing with me.”

He just looked at me, smiled, and said.  “Uh, huh”

I sensed Eileen laughing, totally enjoying the joke, covering up her mouth so she wouldn’t explode.

This wasn’t the first time a computer has acted up when there was someone’s favorite music playing or when I could smell someone’s favorite food, drink, or tobacco that alerts me to the fact that I’m not alone.  Spirits love anything electrical, and they let me know they’re around by playing with my TV, cable, lights, and computers.

Have I told you the story about a neighbor and classmate who played with my writing lamp?  And who later wanted me to give a message to another classmate, a best friend of his at our last class reunion?

Synchronicity – When the Universe Speaks, I’ve Learned to Listen

Too often, in our desire to be in control, we miss opportunities or messages that can lead us in the right direction.  Recently, I found myself once again amazed at the simplicity of observing synchronicity at work, which has led me to my next big project that fills me with great enthusiasm.  .

At the end of January, I was approached by the Program Director for the Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America chapter, of which I am a member and was asked if I would be willing to do the February (mid-month) presentation on time management.  My first response was to say no based on the number of various deadlines I was facing at work, home, and other personal issues, plus feeling I was dragging my feet—okay procrastinating!—with my own creative writing projects.  Bottom line: I didn’t think I could add one more item to my plate.

Immediately though, I realized I NEEDED to do the presentation.  For me to get a handle on my own procrastination and current time-management issues, what better way to reinforce the material than to teach it?  After all, we retain 100% of what we teach.

So, I said yes.

The week before, I had found an article on the science of why we writers procrastinate, plus I had a couple of other brain science philosophies that I teach to my English composition students that I thought would be interesting in showing the why behind our procrastination.  Relatively quickly, I had several pages of notes put together for the presentation.

Delighted by that work and feeling better about moving past my procrastinating ways, I decided to tackle my piles of creative-writing projects that had been neglected for past 15 years while I was in school and began the tedious task of putting two major bookshelves right.  I sorted piles of loose papers, marrying scraps of papers with notes that contained brilliant flashes of ideas for a project—or in this case, many projects—along with articles saved, to the appropriate projects.

In that process of cleaning up those shelves and projects, I discovered a notebook entitled, Time Management for Writers.  Lo and behold, I had written a book 20 years ago on the very topic I was going to be discussing that weekend!  I’ve always been passionate about the topic and here was early evidence of that passion.

Of course, the writing was crap.  After all, I’d written it two decades prior.  Thumbing through the material, I could see that my growth of understanding about the topic and my writing ability were far removed from manuscript that looked as if it had been printed on a early Tandy computer.

But what a find!

So, here I was needing help when synchronicity struck, bringing all the required elements together and re-igniting my passion so that once again the winds of the gathering spring is loosening the winter of my procrastination.