Madison was on my list from the very beginning.
I lived with a guy named Topher while I was going to school at Oregon State. He raved about Madison. He talked about ice hockey in the winter, the lakes during summer, and UW Badger football games in Fall. He got a tattoo of the Madison Capitol building on his wrist during the year we lived together. It was refreshing to see someone so fanatical about their city.
I’ll be honest, if that was where the story ended, visiting Madison would have landed on the “If I have time” list.
Topher died in a car accident in May of 2014, two years after I saw him last. I wrote on this earlier, about confronting death where it finds you, so by the time I had committed to this tour of the US, Madison was a concrete destination. I intended to spend some time at his grave, not necessarily mourning, not meditating, not exactly paying respects, nothing more intentional than going and spending time – come what may.
My friend Allie put me in touch with Topher’s dad, Claude. He informed me that Topher does not have a formal gravesite because he was cremated, and his final resting place is yet decided. Claude arranged for me to meet him and his wife, Madeline, for lunch which happily, on behalf of both parties, expanded into a walk around Topher’s old stomping grounds including his childhood soccer field and neighborhood ice rink. Over lunch we discussed my travels this far, and upon hearing that I was an aspiring writer, they had a few book recommendations for me – Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Most of the difficult conversation did not come until later. The weighty waited.
They invited me to see the inside of their house. Claude showed me the pictures in the dinning room and the pictures on the fridge, each accompanied by a sentence long story and a complicated smile. They showed me the very living room where they watched their sacred Green Bay Packers, and Claude even reenacted Topher’s dramatic back and forth pacing in front of the TV which I was plenty familiar with from Oregon. Madeline showed me his room upstairs and familiarly commented on the loud red-orange color Topher had picked out for his walls. We talked a little longer in that way where despite speaking plenty you still feel incompletely understood.
I had been conflicted about meeting up with his parents. I didn’t want to unnecessarily stir up emotions – especially considering how much more invested they were than I, but I decided to error on the side of empathy, and I think we three are better for it directly, and you all indirectly. They set me up with a six pack of local beer from Claude’s collection, and we sent each other on our ways.
I’m sitting out in front of the Union Terrace on Mendota Lake, and the small waves are brushing the moss thats growing on the steps entering the water. The waves ripple and reflect, creating eddies and hydraulic jumps. There’s interference between them and each interaction is similar to every other, but at the same time no two are identical, not from now to the next minute, not from now to 100 years in the past or future. Fluids are funny in that way. Despite both our casual familiarity and our most intense scientific inquiry, there is still a fascinating piece of mystery to how a fluid in motion behaves. There is a no-mans-land between laminar and turbulent flow which is difficult to approximate and impossible to predict.
No one can say for sure what will happen until the results are already on top of you.