It has been a week since I wrote for me. I wrote lesson plans for administration. I wrote quizzes and tests for my students. I wrote whole units for my classes. I wrote emails for parents and other teachers. Is there any writing left for me?
Another warm Tuesday night finds me on my front porch again. The jeweled, purple butterfly wind chime together with the intermittent rushes of wind through the treetops supply background music, interrupted by the occasional car engine or cry of an overtired child dragged inside past his bedtime. When did that tree across the street grow back its leaves?
The words aren’t pouring out tonight as they did last week. I poke out a few words that form themselves into rather generic sentences and brief paragraphs. Perhaps I’ll try a freewrite. Freewrite on Spring. “Pens and pencils poised and prepared to Power-Up!” I hear myself announce to my journalism students before dinging the chime on my desk that signals the beginning. My butterfly chimes respond to my own need for a cue to start.
Spring. Awakening. Who wrote The Awakening? I’ve read it and taught it but just can’t seem to bring the author’s name to mind. Spring. Awakening. What type of tree is that across the street? In New York, I knew the maples and the pines. I’ve been told the two trees framing my front walkway bloom as early as February, but it’s March and the buds have yet to peek out. What color will they be? I suppose I could ask my landlord, but we only communicate if there is a problem.
Like the tree in the backyard that fell down last month while I was in Atlantic City for Valentine’s Day with my gentleman-friend. While I was out of town, my landlord called to ask if it fell on the house, and I didn’t know. Driving back to Hampton, I wondered what I would find when I arrived. When I pulled in the driveway at dark, the gnarled branches dominated my back yard, too massive and extensive to identify how bad the damage was to my neighbor’s car, just a red tail light reflecting my own headlights. The next morning revealed this perfectly fallen, ancient tree smack dab between my shed and my neighbor’s garage, its tallest branches resting silently on my bedroom window. Landlord Duane showed up to clean up the branches, leaving an enormous trunk that’s still back there. Perhaps the scattered winter storms kept him from returning. I wandered back there a few days ago and climbed atop the fallen trunk, eventually staring down into a hollow base. How had this tree stood so tall for so long when its insides were rotted away near completely? How many storms had it weathered before this one called it to its final resting place?
This freewrite brought me to my first genuine thought tonight. I have so much in common with that tree. So long without xylem and phloem running in its veins, its rings of age were near indecipherable. Outward appearances revealed a problem: no leaves, no growth; nevertheless its sprawling branches had consumed the skyline behind the house. For all its age and countless battles with seasons and storms, that tree had survived decades of change and disaster. To see its branches chopped up and sensibly stacked on the curb waiting for the garbage man drew a rebuttal out of me. Had it made it through such a sordid existence to fulfill no purpose at all, but instead be made trash? I urged some neighbors to take what pieces they could for firewood, but the bulk of it was disposed of on trash day. Tuesday in fact. Like today.
Perhaps I fear that my life will amount to a similar fate. For all my striving through the storms and seasons of my own sordid existence, when I find my final resting place, will I simply be disposed on trash day? When I’m laid in the ground, what will become of my branches? There was a time that I flourished and blossomed, seeing a future for myself that was overflowing with promise and possibility. Admittedly, my divorce rotted me at my base. A spring and a summer came and went with no passionate blood running through my veins. There was no awakening for me that year. My dreams were so vivid in contrast to the stark reality of waking that I preferred sleep. Each morning greeted me with a harsh reminder that nothing would ever be as it was when I bloomed and hoped.
Like that tree across the street that has regained its leaves, the blood eventually flowed in me, also without my notice of it. There wasn’t one morning that I awoke and realized that I was living again. It happened over time. The same way the tree in the backyard probably died. Over time. Without anyone noticing. No declaration that transformations were transpiring at all.
Personification is a device tested on my students’ end of course test: giving humanlike qualities and characteristics to an inanimate object. My tree was not able to cry out, “I’m dying! Put my branches to good use! Let my century-long existence count for something!” I, on the other hand, can. I’m not inanimate. Life is not happening to me. I am happening. I am growing. I am not dead yet. You can still count my rings of age. Perhaps I haven’t made the impact on society that I dreamed I would by thirty-two, but there is still blood in my veins. And with that, promise and possibilities, however different than they were twenty years ago.
“What do you imagine your life will be in twenty years?” my fourth grade had tasked me. My essay ultimately answered a different question. What did I want my life to look like? Armed with the innocence of youth, my yellow pencil did not discern a difference. Now, marked by endurance of decades of change and disaster, I’ve learned to divorce imagination and want. Asking myself that same question now, pragmatism and realism practically dare me to answer at all.
So, let’s aim for a hopelessly romantic view of my life in twenty years, a projection that might provoke a midlife crisis when I reflect back on these words, regretful of all I still did not manage to accomplish. At fifty-two, I will have a family of my own. I’ll be married to a man who makes me feel beautiful inside and out but doesn’t let me wrap him around my little pinky. We’ll have two children who are well-adjusted and kind-hearted. I’ll still be working in education, but I’ll be teaching teachers how to improve the quality of education they are giving their children by coaching them through the ever-changing landscape of training up digital natives. We’ll live near family.
And yes, we will have dinner together every night as a family until they leave the nest. I’ll cook creative meals, and my husband will do the dishes as an act of gratitude. I may not have the comfy cushion of a doctor’s wife, but I will have wealth in memories wrought in love and intention. These are desires I couldn’t have known I would long for at nine. I resign myself that up to this point, the branches that have been put to valuable use are those grown and then chopped up as fuel for the classroom, but I’d like to grow my own family and have that be my legacy.
Each day is one nearer to death. Conscious of time’s passing, not an object personified, I tell myself, “Let my century-long existence count for something.” We’ve yet to find out what color my blossoms will be when they bloom.