The Sentinel at RIT

The Sentinel

By Linda Lee Keenan


Friday, October 24, 1986

The red flag on my mailbox was down. Good, the mailman came early. I hurried out the driveway on a chilly New England morning. Red and yellow leaves crunched under my slippers. I flipped through the mail, looking for the rebate check from my new computer. It wasn’t there, only flyers, bills, and a letter from the high school. I fumed and slammed the mailbox door closed.

Back at the side door, the blast of warm air from inside felt good on my face. The kitchen looked cozy with a fresh coat of yellow paint, a project I had finished yesterday. I tossed the mail on the table, moved brushes soaking in the sink, and filled a porcelain teapot. While I waited for water to boil and tea to steep in my oversized mug, I retrieved the papers for the new computer and found the phone number to call at nine o’clock.

Flyers went into the wastebasket under the sink. I studied the electric bill, it was higher than last year. I sipped hot tea, then opened the letter from my daughter’s school.

 Dear Ms. Williams,

We write to inform you of our decision to accept the request of your daughter, Carmen, a sophomore at Klamath Falls Senior High. She is no longer a student and cannot attend classes. Please return her school ID, textbooks, one chemistry lab apron, and eye protectors. We wish Carmen every success.


Samantha Carlson, MA

Dumbfounded, I reread the letter. What the hell? At nine o’clock, I called the school, and raised my voice with the school secretary. Finally, Ms. Carlson came on.

She explained that school was of no use to someone like Carmen, who had no interest in learning. Her teachers agreed Carmen should drop out. She added, Carmen had not been to school once in October.

I sat at the table and cried. Tea was no longer something I savored.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Four o’clock is too early unless you work at Krispy Kreme. I grabbed my bag and coffee mug on the table, the kitchen now a mint green. In the drive by the mailbox, I stopped to double-check the AAA TripTik. I’ll be there by ten o’clock unless the valleys are foggy.

I reached for the radio and noticed my hand shaking. Coffee or nerves? Nerves. The events ahead were far from certain.

Not an hour out, I crossed a bridge; the river hidden in clouds. Like a camera shutter, climbing the hill beyond the bridge, my windshield clicked from milky white fog to crystal clear black. Frozen in my headlights, a deer stood facing me on the double yellow line. I dodged to the left shoulder. The deer bolted right.

Shaken, I pulled over at the next turnout. Why did I turn hard left across the centerline and not right, the logical choice? I didn’t know. My lights blindsided the deer, likely a mother. A feeling I knew well.

Parked, I thought back to the letter from the school, twenty years old now. I was crying, my head on the steering wheel. So many emotions: choices made with good intentions often ended in poor results. She was thirty-four now. I sobbed, got over it, pulled myself together, and drove. I had to be strong today.

Having arrived one hour early, I parked outside the gate, ate a sandwich from my bag, and walked around a park of sorts. I hadn’t expected the sculpture. The plaque read, “The Sentinel.” It was a huge, odd contortion of shiny welded sheets of metal. It looked like a good idea gone bad. Not to me.

Today, it was the most beautiful representation of humanity on earth.

“Chaos is potential unrealized. With chaos, all things are possible, new beginnings ever-present.”

The gate opened. Inside the institute, I waited for her. She was in line but did not look at me. I was crying again. At the table, a man reached for her hands. The lady with a black robe read.

Carmen Ann Walters, Bachelor of Science with Honors, Mechanical Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology.”

Carmen beamed and showed me the diploma. It was beautiful, like her smile.

Linda Keenan
Linda Keenan
Linda is a retired Paralegal and former adjunct professor of history and public relations. She published two historical fiction novels based on the Second World War. 

Writing, along with helping others, is her lifelong passion. Linda is currently writing a program to assist young people discover their own talents and abilities. 
Presently, Linda is Program Director of Pen, Paper and Pals Writing Club, a new club that’s informative, interesting, innovative, interactive and fun!

11 thoughts on “The Sentinel”

  1. Linda Lee Keenan

    We love to save the twists for the ending. I’m learning from others in Pen, Paper and Pals! Thanks, Julie!!

  2. Terrific Story! By the way, I spent 2 years in Klamath Falls and quite a bit of time in Rochester, NY. (where my son is)
    Thanks for the story!

  3. Ann Marie Acacio

    What an amazing story, Linda! You really captured my attention with your use of words. Loved the ending!

  4. Great story, Linda. Loved it. You captured the roller-coaster ride of parenthood well. Why didn’t someone tell us it was all on-the-job training?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content