Me and My Magnolias

Despite any concern the premature buds wouldn’t survive the cold nights, in just a week’s time, those hundreds of tiny, tulip shaped pods are in full blossom.  Turning onto my street after the gym tonight, the sun was shining through the effervescent pink blooms of my twin magnolias.  My first March here, they surprised me.  Knowing they were coming – last year, this year – doesn’t dampen the same sense of surprise, wonder, and awe.

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For at most a couple of weeks in early March, the two Japanese magnolia trees come alive, though they lay dormant, barren, unassuming in the summer, winter, and spring months.  My landlord disagrees with my identification, citing the common Southern Magnolia’s description.  Dig deep into the tulip-star hybrids, and the flowering Japanese saucer magnolia’s two week run is like winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics – the experience, however short-lived, is defining.  Had it not been for a morning where, absent a single leaf, all these tulips had bloomed lining the branches in mass harmony, I wouldn’t have the proof I needed to determine the gorgeous trees’ origin.  It was as if while I was sleeping around this time three years ago, the twin towers in the front lawn had been reborn.

It shocked and delighted me then, and it does still, even though I know it’s coming.  The life cycle of a plant, however, is far easier to predict than those common to the human experience.  I’m not going to see my magnolias bloom again.  This time next year, maybe there will be a little family in the love bungalow behind me on this white wicker love seat where I write my way to clarity, night after 155 Tuesday nights to date.  It would be a family because it’s a three-bedroom home, which is meant for a family.  That empty guest room, girly and frilly and blue, was supposed to be for a little girl I’ll probably never see again.  It reminds me of the woman who moved into this house.  She looks familiar, but she’s not me.

Because she’d never seen those magnolias bloom yet, hadn’t been so inspired on March 10, 2015 that she just had to write.  It wasn’t until that sunset on this writing perch that I was reborn, and I swear those magnolias yielded a special power over me from first bud to full blossom, that year and those since.  Every Tuesday since, I found my way here to make meaning and share it. And every time someone unexpected has reached across time and space to tell me that there was meaning for them, too, I dream of being able to be a writer.  In those early posts, I wrote about that breakup with the guy that was supposed to be my safe “rebound”, how writing let me see where our paths didn’t match up, how I wandered into Liberty Baptist even though I wasn’t sure I believed anymore, hadn’t for two years at the point.  Writing nights helped me let go of a man and his daughter, exposing to the light the undeveloped film strip of the family we were never going to be.

The guest room stands empty, but after all this time, I’m almost embarrassed to answer the question about the third bedroom.  Surely, it seems unnecessary for a single woman.  Charming’s parents stopped in this weekend for lunch at Venture in Downtown Hampton.  They’d never seen my house, and prompted by my fiancé, I gave them the grand tour, noting the typicals… the grand bookcase my grandfather built, my grandmother’s dining room oriental rug, They’re gone, but they live on in my home.  For a few months more, at least.

That tour was different.  I was wondering what kind of furniture Charming and I will end up choosing.  As I presented various items with sentimental value on our tour of my whole 900 square foot dwelling, I couldn’t help mentally assessing the actual worth, value, and likelihood of actually making it into my future home with my future husband.  This tiny place has been my sanctuary.  I grew here in ways I never imagined would be possible.  Like the magnolias that first March, I see these punctuated bursts of color in my history here.

Braving a snow storm with a teacher friend to make it to the gym and resolving afterward to beat Super Mario 3 because everything else is closed.   Rob’s softball games with the shipyard team.  Thursday night dates with Angel at Marker 20 before she moved a town away.  Fort Monroe beach days.  Running into students every time I need to buy something at Peninsula Town Center, greeting them readily except when it’s the line at Victoria Secret or the checkout at Emerson’s Cigars.

Yes, the empty bedroom symbolizes the great reality that the best laid plans of mice and men always go awry.  Like plants, God gave us life, but our cycles are not four seasons of predictability.  I’ve felt myself withdrawing in greater capacities, exponentially, since Charming and I got engaged.  Largely, it happens at a subconscious level, but writing takes me outside myself in an analytic mode that detects emotional risks and clicks the eject button.  I’m more inclined to decline than accept a party invite.  Maybe because, like my magnolias, I’m always adding up the “lasts”.

Last week, I got a text from my friend Linda over at Hop’s Place.  She wanted me to call.  There was no way she knew my AC was blown, just as I had no way to anticipate I’d need the AC in February.  It was Nandy, my mechanic.  He’d suffered a massive heart attack and died there at the shop Tuesday.  I was writing last week just like now, and his smile had already been snuffed out.  We just don’t know how much time we have at any one given place or with any one person.  We don’t.  It was Tuesday the AC blew.  Same time Nandy passed.  You just don’t know.

This morning, I received notice that today would be one of my yearbook student’s last days.  We talked it over when she arrived at my class, and the transfer would be good for her.  Still, we were maybe both a little teary-eyed.  I will truly miss her.  This young woman’s subtle charm and desire to be truly good despite impossible circumstances that try to harden her heart… she disarmed me, and it’s always hard to say goodbye.  Then I started to think about June 16th when my incoming class graduates, and I with them say goodbye and start a new life in a new world with none of the familiar routines.

I wouldn’t have invested less in this girl if I knew she’d leave midway through the year, and I have not a single regret for having tried to improve her life in some small way through her position in the yearbook staff.  I’m a teacher.  It’s who I am.  I’m also a writer.  That’s how I find me.

This afternoon, I was trying to explain the difference between difficult commonly confused words like affect vs. effect and accept vs. except.  My shoulder was throbbing, so I stood up front trying to explain these concepts without the white board.  There were puzzled expressions, though I knew I’d come up with a couple new tricks on the spot inspired by this bunch of bright young minds, so I faced the pain and took up an Expo marker.  I wrote the words “Action – Verb” above “Affect” and “Accept”, briefly referencing the prefix “a” meaning to or toward, denoting action, but they all start with A. The light bulbs went on that.  I tried it with a few more pairs.  Nodding.  Grinning even, surprising themselves at quick mastery of fewer vs. than.

It was as if until we took these concepts and presented them in an organized fashion the brain could digest, the neuropathways fired aimlessly.  Simply by jotting down a few phrases, however painful, my kids began grasping at how parts worked as part of the whole because the abstract concept has been made concrete in the visual.   And that’s what I’ve been doing here on this front porch for all these Tuesday nights.

How do you replace a workout buddy or even a favorite shrink?  You don’t.  God gives us seasonal gifts of friendship though, when we truly need it, and he provided Dr. Huff after Dr. Bogin died.  They’re nothing alike, but I’ve come to love, respect, and admire both men for their devotion to me.  My gym dad Nate back in Syracuse misses me, and my gym mentor Chuck didn’t substitute for him.  They’re all different men, appointed in my life in different season to help me grow and blossom like the tulip magnolias illuminated in streetlamps on my street.

Tonight, it’s me and my magnolias.  In July, they’ll be just one man I’ll need.  My life will be our life.  My street, his street.  Tonight, it’s me and my magnolias, but next year, they will belong to another family.  And maybe I’ll be fitting a guest room for baby furniture by then.  Or maybe I’ll have a heart attack or Charming will get a transfer.  We just don’t know.

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