I met a Prince Charming this weekend. We were acquaintances in college more than a decade ago. My brother was his RA. He was that God-fearing, strong, ROTC guy that exuded honor and integrity. After resonating with a few of my blog posts, he reached out to me about meeting up for coffee to “swap stories” since he’s also in Virginia.
It didn’t take but a few sips for me to know he was still that guy from college. As we shared about our failed marriages, I was incrementally inspired by his stature of forgiveness, commitment, and authenticity. Admittedly the better listener, he provoked me with intelligent interjections that were, as he’s promised along with the invitation, cathartic.
It was a rainy fall day, the kind when you want to put on a sweatshirt and go for a run just to feel the drops bounce off your cheeks. On my drive to meet Charming, I realized that if I were falling in love with fall, I should start acting like it. I needed to decorate my home, and not in a required-of-a-grown-woman-with-any-sense-of-housekeeping kind of way, but rather the woman-devoted-and-infatuated kind. The next day I would buy and put up mini-pumpkins and scarecrows and hay and even autumn flowers for the empty vase on my dining room table. I would ask my mother whether or not to pull up the summer flowers in my garden beds, and she would tell me I didn’t have to say good bye to them yet.
But while I was hanging those decorations, I wasn’t thinking about fall. I was still reflecting on that three hour conversation with Charming. He wasn’t charming in the fairy tale sense. Maybe he could have been if it had been a date. It wasn’t a date. For a date, we’d be meeting to carve pumpkins and bake an apple pie talking about our favorite hobbies and books, not offering up the unpleasant details of our heartbreaking past relationships.
He’s charming because he’s like fall. The temperature moves between warm and cool, different memories triggering the varied sides of him. His insights, stories, suggestions, and confessions made him brilliantly colorful. And there’s a fire just starting to warm the brisk, dark nights of his soul. He’s recovering from a season of hell’s heat, and he’s seeing all the dead leaves gently fall away in a crisp breeze.
One of fall’s defining qualities is its ability to announce its reign with falling leaves. We arrange them into patterns to decorate our front door wreaths. We rake them up in piles, and the younger spirited of us either resist the urge or jump right in. At the moment, I can’t think of any other dead nouns I’d roll around in. Somehow as you throw them in the air and watch them dance back down on you, you accept the end of summer and embrace the cold.
I’m embracing the cold. We all have our preferences, and I love summertime. I’d prefer the warm comforts of the sun on my skin and my toes in the sand. I’d prefer the other side of my marriage when I was hopeful, optimistic, and carefree, with my whole life unblemished before me. But fear of fall doesn’t keep it from descending on us. Seasons end. Seasons begin. Seasons change. Fall is here. Summer ended, and that version of me with it.
So this fall, I’m embracing the harsh, cold reality of my marital status. It doesn’t define me. I’m Auntie La La to two of the tiniest, most important humans in my life. I’m Ms. Palma to a hundred and twenty teenagers that matter the most. I’m daughter to the man and woman I respect and admire most. I’m sister to the men and women who’ve shaped and influenced me. I’m only an ex-wife to one person.
Why should that define me? I have to quiet that nagging whisper in my ear that I’m not good enough for a quality man. I’m no longer licking my wounds, but the scars are still obvious. My sister-in-law Gabrielle gave me a fortune cookie tonight that reminded, “Time heals all wounds.” While I appreciate the premise, time does little to heal the scars. The scars remind us that we’re damaged, and we needn’t look in a mirror. We wear them at the forefront of our minds. They’re etched behind our eyelids.
Every day, at some point, I acknowledge that I’m divorced. My school secretary asked some of our teachers to fill out a little bio. Question 10: Describe yourself in three words. I might as well have put passionate, joyful, and divorced for as much focus as I put on the latter. But I’m other things… talented, musical, athletic, devoted, persistent, loving, organized, analytical, and those have defined me for decades, not years.
So I quiet the voice of the scars that remind me I’m damaged. I embrace the fall, and with it the end of summer. I’m ready to say goodbye to the impatiens and begonias. I’m ready to lay optimistic and carefree days to rest. But the hope remains, the spark for the fire, the beginning of warmth in the dark night of the soul which will welcome in a new dawn with freshly fallen leaves from morning gales.
We host our editor meetings in yearbook sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce in a circle on the stage in my classroom. We’ve been developing a theme for this year’s annual centered on wind, but we’ve been belaboring the binding title for over a week. As we tossed out ideas, googled synonyms and idioms, throwing out, “Gone with the Wind,” and “Breezy”, I ransacked the storehouses of my brain and uncovered a song cue. “Winds of Change!” I gushed excitedly.
Really, I have fall to thank. In our discussion today, I asked my students to describe how wind makes them feel and what they think of when the wind kicks up. They detailed leaves falling, vivid colors, and changing temperatures, citing feelings of calm and tranquility. When I reviewed their contributions scribbled on the board in summary, I saw autumn, my new love.
Prince Charming will find a new bride in another season of his life, I’m sure of that. His defining qualities are myriad, and divorced isn’t a word I’d use to describe him. He may not be my Prince Charming. In fact, I may never see him again, but a few hours with him profoundly impacted my perception of life after divorce.
And since I never drop a song cue, I’ll give the Scorpions they’re credit with the lines, “The future’s in the air. I can feel it everywhere, blowing with the wind of change.” Out with summer, and in with leaves and colors and bonfires. My kids were right. The wind brought calm, and I think I’ll let it redefine me this year.