Sunsets, Salutes, and Summer

The symphony of twilight tempts me to isolate the calls of familiar birds rather than isolate a thought.  Beneath the cacophony, I’m missing the Tuesday night therapy of three years ago, long before my hands found a suitable clone for Dr. Bogin in my laptop screen.  It receives information, as he did, and it doesn’t need to speak; my faithful psychologist’s voice still guides me.

It’s not audible, don’t worry, and I’m not in the market for a real life replacement.  None would do.  More than a year of Tuesday nights putting virtual pen to coded paper, and the process is as reassuring in its predictability as the outcome is in its weighty revelations.  Like we did in Dr. Bogin’s office for a year and a half up in New York, I start at the surface of what’s on my mind, enumerate the many dots subsequently triggered by a previous thought or emotion, then trust the single session to connect them and reveal progress.

It’s exhilarating because it’s challenging and taxing to find meaning where there was none two hours before.  Tonight, I started with a memory of Dr. Bogin.  He’s been on my mind more often now that Charming and I are two months into couples counseling.  In fact, the other day I slipped when previewing my weekend with Mom and Dad on the phone, saying we had our appointment with Dr. Bogin on Saturday morning.

I quickly corrected myself.  It’s been just over three months since he passed away, my captain in the sunset I called him when I first got the news.  We’d been studying the poetry in Dead Poets Society, and Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain” really resonated with my students.  At the end of the movie, I always cry as Mr. Keating thanks his former students with tears in his eyes, after they’ve defied authority to stand on their desks and salute him as their great leader, now fallen, like Abraham Lincoln’s death was depicted in Whitman’s poem.

Those boys stood on those desks because Keating had changed the way they thought about and perceived life.  Through poetry, he’d challenged them to think for themselves and be willing to take risks by revealing their perceptions of the world in their own writing.  Such unorthodox methods certainly appeal to the teenage demographic, but for me in my thirties, Dr. Bogin was my clinical Mr. Keating.  Let my stand on a desk in salute come in the form this continuation of our Tuesday nights together, now years ago.

In a way, Dr. Bogin prepared me to be the ideal patient for Dr. Huff in our couples counseling.  On Saturday morning, we could isolate our issues far more easily than I was doing with the birds before the moon coaxed them into silence before the crickets.  Charming’s reluctance toward marriage, my biological clock and temper, and our conflict resolution.  Dr. Huff was impressed that Charming had prompted us to complete the Myers Briggs testing, and in summarizing our results for the doctor, I sensed that my leading man and I are already understanding one another and communicating better.

One thing I discovered through the testing was how well suited I was to be a teacher.  It was encouraging that despite the meager earning potential, I landed right where my psychological DNA predestined in my personality genes.  The empathetic, intuitive mentor finds a way to incorporate the building and sharing of perception into the core curriculum.  Every one of my students passed the Writing SOL this year, but that data can’t compete with the brilliance of self-expression in the poetry my sophomores composed in the months that followed.

In essence, my primary aim as their educator must have a dual purpose: prepare them for the SOL and equip them to build and share their perspectives.  I can’t control my biological clock, but even Myers Briggs agrees that I am fulfilling my calling.  I hope that motherhood will be another one, but after my very last class with my favorite class of all time, I must be satisfied and grateful for the year that God has given me.

Thursday afternoon was the last time I’d see many of these teens that had given me something incredible to look forward to every other day since they first captured my heart back in September.  It happened just before the final bell that would dismiss most to summer vacation, others less fortunate to a week of final exams.  I was sitting at my desk signing a student’s yearbook when a boy called for me to look up.  “O Captain, My Captain.”  The words echoed through my room, words belonging to my kids who were standing on top of their desks, saluting me.

I gave them tears, yes, I did: authentic tears won by twenty-some adolescents who gave me the distinct gift and honor of our countless hours together.  In their young minds, I ranked up there with Mr. Keating and Dr. Bogin.  It was sobering, and it was bittersweet.  Hugs and goodbyes followed.  In his death, I imagined Dr. Bogin walking into a sunset, rest ahead, long journey behind, at peace.  Our last class was a sunset too, as I watched my students file out of the classroom, feeding the growing mass in the hallways, sophomore year in their hindsight.

Honestly, after that emotional last day of class with no exams or students to fill the remaining week of work, I needed Charming’s weekend visit more than I realized.  I don’t have my last block class to look forward to.  In fact, I could retire now and quit while I’m ahead.

But come this weekend, Charming is going to live in Hampton Roads for the summer.   After a year and eight months of mid-distance dating with creatively manufactured weekends to maximize our face time, I honestly don’t know what Charming is like on a Wednesday.  We’ve never experienced the ordinary ins and outs of day-to-day living.  He’ll start classes the day I leave for Italy, but when I get back, we’ll have eight weeks to do life together.

I showed him the garden before he headed back north for his last week in DC until the fall.  I was hoping to coax him into tending it for me, toying with his emotions by pointing out the cucumbers and tomatoes almost ripening.  Charming had little interest in the foliage.  Though he appreciated the fruits of my labors, his mind had other priorities.

Charming asked me where I’d stood in the selfie I took last week in my garden.  I positioned myself there, and he fell into place beside me.  “I want the same picture of you with your garden, but with me in it.”   That’s what I want, too.  This experiment in thirties, post-divorce coupledom is a little scary.  Have I grown too selfish in all these years alone?   Am I willing to sacrifice and compromise and alter my routine?

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Or will we thrive, like my garden, as we sit around the dinner table enjoying fresh vegetables, night after night, establishing our own routine?  I know what my garden looks like with just me, and it’s good.  But with Charming, the potential for growth is exponential, the bounty magnified by the joint contributions we make to each other’s lives, rounding out one another’s personality hinges.

The sun set on my year with the best class a teacher could ever hope for, and now I’m hoping for a summer of sunsets with Charming, here in the place I call home, a summer to live and love and dream.  A summer to wait and see.

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