Crickets hum. Old school R&B beats fade in and out of focus. The sky beyond magnolia branches is a Wedgewood blue haze, a fog framing this waning, May Tuesday like bookends featuring Hampton Road’s best seller weather, where rain and sun swap protagonist roles in the encased series. It’s the beginning of another volume in my blog as well, the one after the fairy tale. The one I write even if the fog settles in beside me, sifting through the sounds of twilight for a truth that abides.
Seasons change. Jobs, friends, homes, cities. Like my street tonight, it’s almost quiet, but beneath the crickets, a subtle spring breeze carries the echoes of life. Across the street, a For Sale sign long ago replaced the shrieks of girlish giggles as two sisters played accompaniment for my earliest writing nights. In the three years I’ve contributed my narrative, I’ve been inspired by the family’s laughter and alternately envious of it. Now, I miss it, wondering how I would respond to the presence of young children when I shot my reproductive organs in the foot by choosing to start another story. Again.
Job applications interweave with grading poetry projects, editing the yearbook supplement, completing the English department’s textbook inventory, and personal emails are read but left unanswered. When you unconsciously yet systematically destroy your best planned future, you make yourself a contender in your own Hunger Games where survival of the fittest requires you to turn inward and strategize. Seasons change. People change. The ebb and flow of disconnection ultimately connects us all. This isn’t the first time I’ve surrendered my always and forever at the feet of an independent unknown, but now I’m three times past due on starting a family.
I should be afraid now like I was when I left Nashville and never looked back. No goodbyes, just a clean slate I placed in front of the dirty chalkboard that marked the first decade of my adult existence. I never thought to clean the board. Perhaps now that I’ve managed to make a bigger mess, Music City’s mistakes are easier to face. When I ended my marriage, it was a decision the people closest to me supported. I didn’t have to face the broken hearts in my wake, from students I’d taught to friends from church. Within two years, I’d effectively established myself in Hampton with few ties to the creative, transient city that wooed me in my youth.
When the fog clears, and it will, I’ll be here in Hampton soaking up another salty sunset, maybe realizing I’m missing the delighted glees of the little girls who moved away because they were a part of my story. The longing to be a mother, a wife, it subsided when the fairy tale tide began to recede a few months back. There was nothing strong, brave, or courageous about how I secured yet another new beginning. Two weeks ago, I was hurtling headlong into a marriage and move that I was still refusing to believe I no longer wanted. My choices were selfish and indefensible by any traditional moral standard.
Yet, I made them. And I will live with them, too.
There’ve been a lot of questions about why the wedding and move to take place in less than two months have gone the way of the tide in the bookend fog down at Fort Monroe. Like broken seashells, the shards of questions almost formed are left unanswered. They cut too deeply to sort through amongst the remains of everything else in the wake of the storm. I suddenly have no short term or long term plans, and those boulders take priority. Last week, I lived here. I woke up and went to work and the gym and saw my brother’s family. I survived the onslaught of disappointment and disillusionment, deserved open expressions of disgust and derision, and yet, no expected anxiety or stress seized me.
In fact, I’d slept peacefully since breaking the engagement, even unassisted. Having made it to the weekend, I allowed myself to reread all those unanswered emailed, cutting my fingers on the broken shells the tide left behind. On Friday night, I didn’t want to sleep. No one was calling for my help citing sources with parenthetical citations, and I could be the woman beneath the teacher. It was after midnight when I drove to the water in the dark. Fort Monroe was still the welcoming abyss of wonder and mystery as it was the first day I’d laid eyes on the shoreline creeping out past Paradise Ocean Club. Moonlight found the rocks where I’d shared what I didn’t know would be my last sunset with the man of my dreams. Within days, the ride would end prematurely there before happily ever began, and I would choose not to be a princess after all.
Had there really been a man beside me on those rocks, a week and a half earlier, a man who is now a half a world away starting over without me? Could he already feel like a part of another story? When I started writing this blog, my words were for me. I prided myself in authenticity. Perhaps my pride came before the fall, that I believed I was incapable of knowingly hurting a man I loved. It started insidiously with little secrets until covering the truth became fibbing and white lies steamrolled in black clouds I couldn’t find my way out. The fog cleared, though, and even though I’m standing alone, I’m standing.
I cannot boast in bravery at breaking a man’s heart instead of making a mature choice to dismiss the ideal man, not just one my parents would have chosen for me, but one who met every criterion I could have dreamed up during my summer of online dating. When I looked over the still water of the Chesapeake Bay this weekend, I knew I was also finally still, that the ebb and flow of a two and half year trick at sea writing my own fairy tale had turned a Hallmark love story into a Lifetime tragedy. I had loved a man and said yes when he proposed, and somewhere my mind was just too afraid to tell me it had changed course.
There was no fog on Friday night. It was warm and still and silent. The holiday weekend would congest the fort in daylight, no doubt, but in my favorite place after a week of survival of the fittest, I finally let myself fall apart. I wept on the rocks, grieving the sunsets, the children’s laughter, the houses and front porches that never will be. After, I didn’t sleep. I went home and faced the one room of my house that was packed for an overseas move. Then, I labeled a banker box with what will no longer be my new last name and filled it with every remnant of a royal courtship. By the end, there were three boxes. Nothing physical was trashed. I’d savored every treasured moment again, allowing my heart to be fragile enough to realize every single thing that is different now.
After the fairy tale ends, when the fog clears, who are you? A few months ago, I hated the person I saw when I looked in the mirror, and that was before I hit my personal moral all time low. Maybe I knew I was running from the truth. Maybe the fear was a current far greater than the Chesapeake Bay’s. Maybe I saw anxious twitches instead of smile lines.
I’m starting over again, and I know it’s the right path because I can look at myself in the mirror and the woman before me is true. I’m not asking for a clean slate. I’m not putting one chalkboard in front of another. I’m still writing a story with my life, and because I keep writing it, I know this volume will hold unexpected adventures that will grow me beyond my greatest failures.
After the fairy tale ends and the fog clears, I see myself in the sunset alone, a silhouette smiling into the stillness of the beach that stole her heart a thousand sunsets ago.