After Happily Ever After

What do you do with an inspired Saturday night when you’re a single schoolteacher? Lesson plan, of course, into the still hours of the morning if the mood strikes. It did this weekend after a day of children’s birthday parties at my friend Angela’s. Husbands and wives and children at the party. Silence in my home.

The air is cooling as autumn claims my magnolias’ leaves. The summer months were aflutter with activity, beach days and online dating among them. My email daily reminds me that, “Opportunity knocks on eHarmony!”, but I haven’t checked in… could it be months already? Saturday nights were spent out with friends and live music, not clicking away at a keyboard rebranding my Yearbook curriculum.

Which leaves me falling in love with fall somehow, for the first time. Though classroom dreams don’t demand my creative gene operate at maximum performance, my teacher instinct does. I sleep better now than in those carefree days gone by, having earned a deep slumber that replenishes my innovative storehouses for another dozen or so hours of output.

Though our afternoons still peak in the seventies, early morning now begs a light sweater. When I leave the gym in the evening, the crisp air cools my skin. The past few days, the sun has been on a vacation. Who can blame it? It fully sponsored my summer of dating bliss. Okay, I smiled and giggled a little, but bliss it was not. Still, there was hope in the hot rays of untold romance and passionate kisses at sunset overlooking the vast ocean, even if the only kiss was actually an awkward, forced one in my doorway.

Looking back, this summer was exhausting. Weekly outings to Busch Gardens and Water Country coupled with trivia night, kickball games, beach days, and bands may have reenergized me, but getting to know potential suitors sapped the energy up with a vengeance. Too old for summer flings, I could not be moved by the advances of any near-perfect match.   Four months after creating my online dating account, I haven’t settled. Neither have I found true love.

True love. What does that look like? Today, my tenth graders and I were studying archetypes. We considered the hero and the damsel in distress. We evaluated the impact of setting on the mood. Place your characters in the forest, and they’re facing the unknown, on an island it’s isolation, in the garden it’s paradise. We analyzed the role of conflict in moving a story forward, that without a conflict, there can be no plot.

The damsel in distress is usually a single, attractive young woman who needs to be rescued. Fortunately for her, the hero needs a quest. And so the two meet in a forest, though they might end up in a garden reciting vows, because a conflict needs to find resolution before happily ever after. The conflict may come in the form of an external conflict with an opponent to the two’s deep, abiding love seeded by one or two magical encounters. (By the way, we also touched on verbal irony, so let that serve as Exhibit A. )

What characterizes true love in fairy tales is a recipe of a dash physical attraction plus a touch of circumstances with a sprinkle of devotion and a rolling pin of permanence. Our protagonists naturally seek a joint commitment to forever, the pursuit of which is a means to an end… and the fairy tales end, perhaps comically, when forever begins.

Give me Cinderella Part II when her mother-in-law begins quibbling about proper princess attire and behavior or Beyond Snow White when her prince becomes jealous of Bashful’s compliments. While I love reading fairy tales to my nieces, I can no longer identify with the damsel in distress archetype in literature or film.   She needs to be saved, and being saved somehow always leads to true love.

The rose-colored glasses of summer are off. In the gentle chill of the night’s air, surrounded by crickets and evening glories, I feel the absence of an arm around my shoulder. I fully anticipate the exponential growth of that absence as winter encroaches ever nearer, that come Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s or Valentine’s Day, I’ll be clicking away at this keyboard with lesson plans extraordinaire.

There is something good that comes out of thirty-some singleness. My principal doesn’t have to worry about the learning taking place in my classroom. It may be becoming increasingly eccentric and unorthodox, but it would be nearly impossible to sleep through my class. All the hours of getting to know you messages and texts and calls and dates are now better spent reinventing my teaching methodology.

Summer has always been my favorite season. I loathed fall because it meant summer was over and winter was coming. So what is it about this fall? My plants are still blooming. Leaves have yet to change color. Fall is just beginning.

I’m falling in love with fall because I need to fall in love. I need something to be passionate about when my students’ laughter is beyond earshot. I need a companion in the quiet of the night, and I find it the extra blanket that comforts and warms. Fairy tale true love sounds like a dream come true, but those aren’t my dreams anymore. I don’t fit the archetype. I don’t need to be rescued.

I mow own lawn. Take out my own trash. Fix my own electrical socket problems. Earn my own wages. Pay my own bills. Own my own car. I’ve made a life for myself, and though I would introduce myself to Prince Charming if he crossed my path, I’m not sure he’d notice me absent a need to be saved.

Too much of my life I invested in the fairy tale model, focused on the wedding day, not what came after it. Those tales did little to prepare me for divorce or reestablishing myself as an independent woman. They do nothing to remedy the apprehension about what comes next. Yet, I recognize that conflict is essential to the plot, and my life is not a short story with one central conflict. It’s a series, or a novel at the very least, or perhaps an epic poem might better serve my life’s narrative.

So, I’m writing Part II of my fairy tale. It’s about an average schoolteacher. It’s set in a small city in the fall. She wants forever and always on a front porch swing, and the central conflict is an internal one. She’s jaded and fighting loneliness. I’m only in the exposition, so I don’t know how it will turn out yet. Maybe she’ll meet a man that will soften her, calm her, woe her, and claim her. Maybe she’ll find companionship in the changing colors of the leaves adorning her magnolias. Maybe she buys herself a front porch swing and imagines watching children play in those leaves.

I’m falling in love with fall, not for the promises of intimacy or true love, but for the need to impassioned. Prince Charming’s only quest with me would be to break through the cynical repercussions of Part I and inspire me beyond Yearbook curriculum or brisk, autumn mornings. But the story I’m writing isn’t about him yet. It’s about wanting something more than what I have, but cherishing the parts of my life that still inspire me.

It’s my story, and I’ll fall in love when I meet my perfect match. For now, it’s a season.

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