Dick Jaskela, in Memoriam
I started at KSU in '71, as a half baked fifteen-year old. It was my good fortune to fall into the orbit of this decent and astonishing individual. Dick Jaskela was assigned to be my advisor, a professor of English lit who also served as a glorified guidance counselor, mostly to make sure I didn't get squashed by the pep squad. He was a phenomenal friend who thoroughly understood the teenage psyche, and in fact, encouraged it. I spent two years as his goofy young sidekick, and in seriousness, those days gave me more courage to put the left foot in front of the right than any others, literally.
Polio had left Dick a quadriplegic when he as sixteen. He spun through the halls of Kent State in the first motorized wheelchair I'd ever seen, a scuba-style respirator strapped to the back of the deal. His truck looked like a revamped Charles Chips truck, and he got around entirely on his own, peeling out with great speed and jerky sways, across the parking lot and down to the lake and wherever he cared to escape to. You would see him struggling to do any number of simple physical maneuvers any given day, but he would refuse help unless every attempt on his own had failed. He lived in a modern looking bungalow equipped with ramps and long windows, filled with books and cactus plants. It never occurred to me that he would never get any better, in fact, I started to create a scenario in my mind that this was all a temporary thing.
I lost contact with Dick after Helen and I left for England, and I didn't speak with him again until the late '70's, after I'd moved to New York. One day, on a whim, I called him for advice and ended up with an earful about how I was wasting my time every minute of every day and how I'd better get moving and start making some changes and how nothing was going to improve unless somebody spoke up and loudly. I barely knew what he was talking about, but he sounded so bold and adamant, that I immediately believed he was doing fine and was converting all the pep squad jerks into fist raising nihilists. I was relieved.
By the end of the 80's, the last vestiges of my family had departed Ohio, and there was no real reason to traipse back to the gloom. I'd inquire about Dick every now and them, and tried in vain to find him through the directories. I assumed he had retired to Arizona or one of the other desert states where he might see cacti from his window.
Last week, I learned Dick Jaskela was gone. The least I can do today is testify. And when the day comes, and it will, that some meandering stray leads us up Route 45 toward the lake, we'll gun right past his house, and the school, and the library, and Pizza Villa, and the old Isaly's, right down to the water, where I'll throw a big rock into that frowny pond, and curse the fates.