When the Fog Clears

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.

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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.

End of Volume Two

While many of my friends and family were tuned in for updates on the royal wedding this weekend, I was trying to figure out how I would soon have to explain to them why there won’t be another one in July, why Prince Charming is moving to Germany alone, or why I hesitantly slipped off the ring that, for a season, dubbed me a princess, returning to the pauper-dom of schoolteacher simplicity in my rented house where I can hear each play narrated from Darling Stadium as the field lights carry the announcer’s voice to the foot of my front porch.

My parents think I’m crazy.  I don’t blame them.  Charming is still the fulfillment of every adolescent, innocent wish for the husband of my dreams.  I fell in love with him almost immediately, and he would be my purpose before long.  So immersed in our possible future, I straddled Virginia, living with one foot in Hampton and another in DC, hoping that he would be the father of my children… wanting those genes to mix with the Palma family’s and produce brilliant, Type A worldchangers who feared God.

Yet, even as I dreamed, I battled for balance with the part of me still planted in Hampton.

I say this now as if I were conscious of the divergent path I took to distance myself from Charming and ultimately hurt him enough to finally move forward with his life with a clear conscious, unburdened by any further responsibility to me.

I wasn’t aware.  I’m not even sure I’ll connect the dots right.  I haven’t spoken to my parents since the decision to cancel the wedding was made.  They are in shock… and not that the marriage is off, but that my choices made it an inevitability.  From the day that Charming proposed, I’ve dismissed this nagging sense that I am caught up in a current pulling me ferouciously toward the future that I always wanted.  I ignored the discontent I sensed in my relationship with the man I loved because I should have been grateful.  He is perfect in all the ways that matter.  A friend told me that if I didn’t marry my prince now, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

And maybe I will. All I know is that if I trace my path from engagement until now, I was clearly dragging my feet.  Wedding preparation hiccups felt like mountains.  Wedding planning with Charming felt like military strategy sessions.  I had no sooner survived the application process to Northern Virginia than we were suddenly moving to Germany.  Mom fanned my writer’s flame, and I held tight to the realization of the financial freedom to live abroad, to research and write my family’s story in Italy.  Charming and I were perfectly suited for each other.  Our families have fallen in love faster than we did, even.

So I can understand why someone might drop in for this particular blog post and wonder how this could possibly be the end of our story. In fact, several faces come to mind, and I’m picturing the horror, shock, disappointment, perhaps even the judgment and wrath morality dictates flickering in your eyes.

How do you live with yourself after you realize that you chose to avoid reality, to drag your feet while moving ever closer to a future you’re not ready for any more, to pull away from the greatest man you’ve ever known until his company no longer makes you smile.  Regardless of the myriad obstacles that plagued us, when my grandmother died and it was time to head north for the funeral, I wanted to go alone.  I should have faced it then, but we were so deep in that it seemed logical to continue in the darkness with the decision we had made in the light.  Amongst all my family members, Charming fit better than I ever had.  When a limited edition comes your way, you don’t put it on consignment.

No, I didn’t have the guts.  I kept dragging my feet.  A W. B. Yeats poem echoes quietly, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”  The rising temperatures only turned up the heat on my disillusionment with our coming nuptials.  Instead of admitting second thoughts or hesitations, I let the current keep pulling me forward.

Charming and I would never be a team after my grandmother’s funeral.  The realization that I was not happier with him was quickly squelched as my mother embraced her future son with a joy in her eyes I’ve never seen before connected to a man that I’d chosen.  I thought perhaps this season was like a slingshot, being stretched back almost to breaking so that I could catapault into my happily ever after with my prince.

Charming offered me the fulfillment of every dream I’d ever had.  And it wasn’t enough.

I’ve had ups and downs in my faith journey enough to recognize them and anticipate God will draw me back to Himself, but if it takes a couple of years like it did when I left my ex-husband, it will certainly be too late for that suburban family picture I’d so vividly painted as a child that it’s etched behind my eyelids.  Charming would have given up Germany, postponed the wedding, even moved to Hampton to make me happy.

It wasn’t until I was sitting face to face with a close friend at school, having just come clean about every stupid choice that led to another lie and another deception until I had systematically accomplished my unconscious goal: Charming owes me nothing, that his incredible character, commitment, dedication, and sense of responsibility do not have to extend to me.  He’s free to start over and find a career woman who fears God and carry the torch.  I can only hope that my betrayal doesn’t prevent him from trusting her and building a team that works well together.

Mom’s been begging for a reason why I would destroy the best thing that ever happened to me.  After a few days of retreat, of silent reflection, I think he was the best thing that could have happened to me for her, and after my first failed marriage, shouldn’t I just trust they know what’s best for me?

Things fell apart.  The center couldn’t hold.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  It wasn’t clear.  It wasn’t intentional.  I just kept doing what I knew I should do right up until I’d broken Charming’s heart.  Deep down, I knew the consequences of my action would dismantle any modicum of happily ever after that we might have found together with a fresh start in Germany.

Quieting that still, small voice in January was the beginning of the end for this ride into the sunset.  No, I didn’t want this to end, and yes, I did love him, but somewhere over the course of two and a half years, I’d also bridled that sassy, free spirit.  No amount of resentment for the waiting and deliberating that preceded Charming’s proposal nor for his expectations for the chameleon colors I’d shown him could begin to justify the way that I would come to hurt him.

I pass the same trash heap every day.  It grows outside the cafeteria doors.  Broken chairs and discarded pallets litter the pavement, and I ignored it for more than three years. After deciding the theme for our wedding would be “#ANewThing”, I opted to find trash that we could transform into decorations.  I’ve been pilfering discarded pieces from the pile for the last few months, picturing the new life they would find with the right stain and chosen message to scrawl in fancy letters.

On Monday after lunch break, I walked by that old trash heap on the way in to pick up on our career discovery adventure quest with my sophomores.  I’d just received confirmation that I did not sign my continuing contract in time.  I was literally a day late.  I’ll have to reapply to the district.  I don’t have a job for next year.  Kids wandering between classes might have wondered at me standing there beside the trash bins, almost admiring the brokenness.  I still see what they could be.   Redeemed.

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Last summer when Charming proposed at Fort Monroe, I thought it was the beginning of happily ever after.  The sun sets.  The sun rises.  And as the sun glittered on shards of glass, I saw beauty in the broken pieces of my childhood dreams.  I was standing still for the first time in years, two feet firmly planted in Hampton Roads where I have Tuesday night dinners with my brother’s kids and Thursday date nights at Marker 20 with Angel and hear the cheers sneaking up the street on writing night to keep me company.  I’d destroyed my best chance at forever with Charming, but I was free to stand among the trash heap no longer crawling in my skin from the lie I’d been living.  Best intentions mean little after you break someone’s heart.

We wanted our wedding to be a celebration of the way that God redeems, restores, and renews.  How can this premature end become one of those blessings that comes through raindrops, for Charming or for me?  I don’t know.  I didn’t write this story, and I won’t write that one.  An apology is too small a gesture for a prince, though he did not withhold forgiveness.  Character.  Integrity.  I know I’m letting go of a limited edition.

What I do know tonight is that had I been brave enough to face the disappointed Charming’s fans when that tiny voice begged recognition, I might have spared his heart.  Walking away from the trash heap to teach what still might be my last unit at Kecoughtan, I was surprised to find that I was somehow smiling after the dust cleared.  Because really, I was standing still.  The current stopped pulling.  There is no storm, no widening gyre.

Maybe Fort Monroe sunsets stole my heart be fore Charming did.  Maybe I’ll die an old maid.  Maybe lots of things.  But one thing is obvious long after the sun has set: I am still and at peace, and I can only identify its presence because of the weight lifted in its absence.

End of Volume Two

While many of my friends and family were tuned in for updates on the royal wedding this weekend, I was trying to figure out how I would soon have to explain to them why there won’t be another one in July, why Prince Charming is moving to Germany alone, or why I hesitantly slipped off the ring that, for a season, dubbed me a princess, returning to the pauper-dom of schoolteacher simplicity in my rented house where I can hear each play narrated from Darling Stadium as the field lights carry the announcer’s voice to the foot of my front porch.

My parents think I’m crazy.  I don’t blame them.  Charming is still the fulfillment of every adolescent, innocent wish for the husband of my dreams.  I fell in love with him almost immediately, and he would be my purpose before long.  So immersed in our possible future, I straddled Virginia, living with one foot in Hampton and another in DC, hoping that he would be the father of my children… wanting those genes to mix with the Palma family’s and produce brilliant, Type A worldchangers who feared God.

Yet, even as I dreamed, I battled for balance with the part of me still planted in Hampton.

I say this now as if I were conscious of the divergent path I took to distance myself from Charming and ultimately hurt him enough to finally move forward with his life with a clear conscious, unburdened by any further responsibility to me.

I wasn’t aware.  I’m not even sure I’ll connect the dots right.  I haven’t spoken to my parents since the decision to cancel the wedding was made.  They are in shock… and not that the marriage is off, but that my choices made it an inevitability.  From the day that Charming proposed, I’ve dismissed this nagging sense that I am caught up in a current pulling me ferouciously toward the future that I always wanted.  I ignored the discontent I sensed in my relationship with the man I loved because I should have been grateful.  He is perfect in all the ways that matter.  A friend told me that if I didn’t marry my prince now, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

And maybe I will. All I know is that if I trace my path from engagement until now, I was clearly dragging my feet.  Wedding preparation hiccups felt like mountains.  Wedding planning with Charming felt like military strategy sessions.  I had no sooner survived the application process to Northern Virginia than we were suddenly moving to Germany.  Mom fanned my writer’s flame, and I held tight to the realization of the financial freedom to live abroad, to research and write my family’s story in Italy.  Charming and I were perfectly suited for each other.  Our families have fallen in love faster than we did, even.

So I can understand why someone might drop in for this particular blog post and wonder how this could possibly be the end of our story. In fact, several faces come to mind, and I’m picturing the horror, shock, disappointment, perhaps even the judgment and wrath morality dictates flickering in your eyes.

How do you live with yourself after you realize that you chose to avoid reality, to drag your feet while moving ever closer to a future you’re not ready for any more, to pull away from the greatest man you’ve ever known until his company no longer makes you smile.  Regardless of the myriad obstacles that plagued us, when my grandmother died and it was time to head north for the funeral, I wanted to go alone.  I should have faced it then, but we were so deep in that it seemed logical to continue in the darkness with the decision we had made in the light.  Amongst all my family members, Charming fit better than I ever had.  When a limited edition comes your way, you don’t put it on consignment.

No, I didn’t have the guts.  I kept dragging my feet.  A W. B. Yeats poem echoes quietly, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”  The rising temperatures only turned up the heat on my disillusionment with our coming nuptials.  Instead of admitting second thoughts or hesitations, I let the current keep pulling me forward.

Charming and I would never be a team after my grandmother’s funeral.  The realization that I was not happier with him was quickly squelched as my mother embraced her future son with a joy in her eyes I’ve never seen before connected to a man that I’d chosen.  I thought perhaps this season was like a slingshot, being stretched back almost to breaking so that I could catapault into my happily ever after with my prince.

Charming offered me the fulfillment of every dream I’d ever had.  And it wasn’t enough.

I’ve had ups and downs in my faith journey enough to recognize them and anticipate God will draw me back to Himself, but if it takes a couple of years like it did when I left my ex-husband, it will certainly be too late for that suburban family picture I’d so vividly painted as a child that it’s etched behind my eyelids.  Charming would have given up Germany, postponed the wedding, even moved to Hampton to make me happy.

It wasn’t until I was sitting face to face with a close friend at school, having just come clean about every stupid choice that led to another lie and another deception until I had systematically accomplished my unconscious goal: Charming owes me nothing, that his incredible character, commitment, dedication, and sense of responsibility do not have to extend to me.  He’s free to start over and find a career woman who fears God and carry the torch.  I can only hope that my betrayal doesn’t prevent him from trusting her and building a team that works well together.

Mom’s been begging for a reason why I would destroy the best thing that ever happened to me.  After a few days of retreat, of silent reflection, I think he was the best thing that could have happened to me for her, and after my first failed marriage, shouldn’t I just trust they know what’s best for me?

Things fell apart.  The center couldn’t hold.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  It wasn’t clear.  It wasn’t intentional.  I just kept doing what I knew I should do right up until I’d broken Charming’s heart.  Deep down, I knew the consequences of my action would dismantle any modicum of happily ever after that we might have found together with a fresh start in Germany.

Quieting that still, small voice in January was the beginning of the end for this ride into the sunset.  No, I didn’t want this to end, and yes, I did love him, but somewhere over the course of two and a half years, I’d also bridled that sassy, free spirit.  No amount of resentment for the waiting and deliberating that preceded Charming’s proposal nor for his expectations for the chameleon colors I’d shown him could begin to justify the way that I would come to hurt him.

I pass the same trash heap every day.  It grows outside the cafeteria doors.  Broken chairs and discarded pallets litter the pavement, and I ignored it for more than three years. After deciding the theme for our wedding would be “#ANewThing”, I opted to find trash that we could transform into decorations.  I’ve been pilfering discarded pieces from the pile for the last few months, picturing the new life they would find with the right stain and chosen message to scrawl in fancy letters.

On Monday after lunch break, I walked by that old trash heap on the way in to pick up on our career discovery adventure quest with my sophomores.  I’d just received confirmation that I did not sign my continuing contract in time.  I was literally a day late.  I’ll have to reapply to the district.  I don’t have a job for next year.  Kids wandering between classes might have wondered at me standing there beside the trash bins, almost admiring the brokenness.  I still see what they could be.   Redeemed.

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Last summer when Charming proposed at Fort Monroe, I thought it was the beginning of happily ever after.  The sun sets.  The sun rises.  And as the sun glittered on shards of glass, I saw beauty in the broken pieces of my childhood dreams.  I was standing still for the first time in years, two feet firmly planted in Hampton Roads where I have Tuesday night dinners with my brother’s kids and Thursday date nights at Marker 20 with Angel and hear the cheers sneaking up the street on writing night to keep me company.  I’d destroyed my best chance at forever with Charming, but I was free to stand among the trash heap no longer crawling in my skin from the lie I’d been living.  Best intentions mean little after you break someone’s heart.

We wanted our wedding to be a celebration of the way that God redeems, restores, and renews.  How can this premature end become one of those blessings that comes through raindrops, for Charming or for me?  I don’t know.  I didn’t write this story, and I won’t write that one.  An apology is too small a gesture for a prince, though he did not withhold forgiveness.  Character.  Integrity.  I know I’m letting go of a limited edition.

What I do know tonight is that had I been brave enough to face the disappointed Charming’s fans when that tiny voice begged recognition, I might have spared his heart.  Walking away from the trash heap to teach what still might be my last unit at Kecoughtan, I was surprised to find that I was somehow smiling after the dust cleared.  Because really, I was standing still.  The current stopped pulling.  There is no storm, no widening gyre.

Maybe Fort Monroe sunsets stole my heart be fore Charming did.  Maybe I’ll die an old maid.  Maybe lots of things.  But one thing is obvious long after the sun has set: I am still and at peace, and I can only identify its presence because of the weight lifted in its absence.

Stuck in a Sunset

I’m stuck in a sunset, and I’m not sure that I can write my way out this time.  The sun disappeared behind the residential Hampton skyline, a handful of porch lights unable to cut the weight of this particular dusk. Writing authentically has me immobilized as I fight the urge to slice through sugarcoated sentiments and expose the core.  I guess I’m afraid I won’t be quite so endearing.

Stuck in a sunset.  It’s not silent, though other Tuesdays before this one carried the same, small measure of neighborhood noise that I typically invite to accompany me, motor and bark and laughter harmonizing while my brain rifles through a trove of thoughts to produce a pregnant, publishable perception that will illuminate, illustrate, and maybe even ignite change.   Tonight, however, each passing car seems an intrusion, a tether to the moment I can’t get lost in.

Charming came to town for an unusual weekday visit.  Having processed out of his post at the Pentagon, he’s managed to maintain an adventurous social calendar despite his move to Germany in less than two weeks.  He’s energized, proactive as always, disciplined and regimented in his approach to the relocation such that I have to stop and admire.  His patience, tenacity, and ability to adapt continue to surprise me.  After battling the typical I-95 and I-64 traffic, Charming suggested I turn dinner into a picnic.  Knee deep in a moving to do list of epic proportions, I welcomed a little excursion to feel the ocean air.

A half hour later, we were watching the sun set over Hampton from Fort Monroe, perched on the rocky shoreline snaking its way south and west only to terminate in the Chesapeake Bay.  The cloudy sky hid the sun from the human eye, its colorful metamorphosis a heavenly display reserved for birds who could transcend the cloud barrier.  Instead, the pink and orange hues fragmented a blue sky, a cloudy sunset savored with chicken fajita wraps and charming company.  You smile in a sunset, even a subtle one, even if you don’t feel like smiling.

For thirty-five years, every day of my life, there has been a sunset.  Yet, oddly enough, I can only recall a few choice evenings where the sunset scored a spot in my memory bank.  When Charming and I took a cruise to the Bahamas early on in our dating, the golden dance of the sun dipping beneath the Atlantic Ocean registered permanently.  I remember leaning into him wishing we could ride off into the sunset together, that I would be his wife and all my dreams would come true with him.

Charming has always lived up to his name.  He is patient, tenacious, and adaptive with me, too.  This past year has tested is in every way, and if I were to write authentically, this blog would not read like that of a woman getting married in less than two months.  Neither of us would have guessed when we got engaged nine months ago that I would still be searching to find an alternative solution to sleep without medication.  I’ve made progress, but it’s been slow, so slow that like my knock out roses, you just don’t notice the change overnight.  A month’s sunsets create affect.

Charming’s visit was a blur of wedding plans.  We updated our wedding website, chose our male bridal party attire, waded through dozens of emails between various vendors, and finalized our wedding band selections.  Amidst the wedding planning, we reviewed our moving schedule, sorted through the details of each upcoming government move, packed breakables for the fast boat shipment, and called a few audibles on items we should ship rather than store.  Charming’s visit was to be all work, but looking back now that he’s fought interstate traffic north to watch a game with a friend, I’m struck by the notion he chose to start our time together.

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Fort Monroe is my favorite place.  I never planned it.  I hit up all the beaches within forty-five minutes within my first year in Hampton, and this one snuck into my soul.  Long before Charming, my blonde-beauty nurse friend shored up dozens of lazy beach days with me, her family, and our friends.  From wine coolers sipped from the still warmth of the sandbar to lunchmeat sandwiches thoughtfully prepared by Angel, our needs were met.  We racked up hundreds of hours in the sand, sun, and sweat, and I would read Christian romance novels and imagine the Charming I didn’t know already existed.

On our first Hampton date, I brought him there.  When Charming returned the favor and introduced me to his hometown, I knew I had nothing that could compete with a private tour of the Pentagon and the Capital building.  Still, God made Fort Monroe, and its splendor was the most impressive feature of the place I call home that I could think of sharing with him then.  Two years later, he’d propose on that same stretch of sand, and the sweat on my back as the sun set over two who had decided to become one.  It was my fairy tale ending.

Or was it?

My oldest brother married a writer.  Her perspective on traditional Disney fairy tales influenced me greatly in my twenties.  I came to value the tales of Scheherazade, a heroine who wouldn’t need a prince to save her.  She was empowered, brave, and a true overcomer.  Italian blood predisposed me to cherish traditional gender roles, perhaps, and while I’m grateful I can do most things I put my mind to, the flipside tends to be that I prefer my own way.  My stubborn independence has had decades to grow into a beast that’s tough to tame.

In reality, there are a couple of sunsets that I remember as vividly as if they were yesterday that were shared with Charming.  They are moments cemented in my brain by the smells and sounds the sights carried with them.  The rest of my sentimental sunsets are all a haze, running together over Fort Monroe, not with the laughter of Angel’s children on boogie boards splashing around, but a blur of two many nights two count over the last four years where I’ve escaped, alone, to the outcropping of rocks.  There, I sit and feel just how small I am. Most of the time, I’ll write in a journal.

Other times, like last night, though, there are no words.  I’m just aware that I’m stuck in the sunset.  When we teach archetypes, my students agree that we associate the setting sun with life coming to an end.  This spring season is my Hampton sunset.  It’s cloudy, like last night, and I know the brilliance of the end of this chapter is visible above the stretch of nebulas hiding our view of paradise.  And while the sunset symbolizes an end, perhaps even a death, in the thirty-five years I’ve been alive, the sun always rose again the next day.  It’s a promise from God that makes the sunset the bittersweet treasure we seek out on a Monday night in May.  The sun will rise.  Life will begin again.

Everything is ending, I feel.  My career, my lease, my life as I now know it will be unrecognizable in two month’s time, and all the love I have for Charming isn’t a powerful enough foe for fear to loosen its grip on my perspective.  I sat beside my future husband last night, as I have dozens of times before this, and sensed the foreboding loss of change.  He will soon be the only familiar thing under the setting sun.  As dear as his face has become, I know that our fairy tale story is only just beginning.

Yes, I know, two months before my wedding I am supposed to be a giggling bride, gushing over color swatches and table decorations, but I’m scared.  What if my heart breaks when I say goodbye to Fort Monroe?  What if I stay stuck in this cloudy sunset so long the sun doesn’t get a chance to rise?  Charming was bred for this move.  He’s ready, and I know he’ll thrive.  This creature of habit wants to hold onto the spiraling shore line of Fort Monroe because I know it, even if the grandeur of the Rhine River promises something far greater yet unseen.

I’m stuck in a sunset, a spring season of sentiment, storing up all my “lasts” and gearing up for an unknown land where my prince and I will start again.  It’s bittersweet in the sunset, tasting the beauty each ray touches until darkness ensues.  It’s my fear that makes it cloudy, like last night. Angel would tell me I’m overthinking it, that a sunset exists to be enjoyed… I suppose I’m waiting for the clouds to clear so I can giggle over swatches and wedding favors hand in hand with my dream come true.

Tonight, the most authentic story I can tell isn’t hopeful or inspired… I’m holding on to thirty-five years’ experience that the sun will rise tomorrow.  I keep smiling, even in the subtle sunset I’m stuck in, because that’s what sunsets make us do.

The More You Know

I’d start with the quote that was on my mind when I nestled my Capri jeans into the worn, blue paisley cushions of my white wicker love seat, but my subconscious filtered the opener out on the basis that it’s now cliché.  Once dismissed, my frontal lobe surrendered to the cerebral cortex’s cues and chose to focus on the pleasure of a cool night in Downtown Hampton, my wind chimes silent like the rest of the street.  Neurons fire, and I fight the ever-present narrative that breeds in silence: “This might be the last time…”

Certainly, it’s the last time I’ll see the azalea bushes framing my front porch alternating blooms for nearly two months.  These are concessions my brain readily accepts.  It has enough to process.  Last night, watching my nephew effortlessly recite lines in his first play, with dinosaurs no less, I was moved to tears.  The staging was good, the songs were great, the little actors were impressive – and still, I found myself hoping this wouldn’t be the last time I saw him walking in his father’s footsteps onto a literal or figurative stage.  Three years in Germany starts soon.  And it’s real, now.

Charming is already making arrangements for his start date in just a few weeks.  In two months’ time, I’ll join him.  We’re looking forward to a week vacationing with family and close friends prior to the ceremony, and we’re trying to stay optimistic about the massive move that underscores the typical joys of a pre-nuptial season.  While I’m trying to grade poetry quizzes and prepare the yearbook supplement, the reality of our overseas relocation nags at me.  Beautiful weather seized us all.  Even my juniors seem to have senioritis.  School seems to be the required location for our bodies, but our brains are skipping school this spring, or so it seems.

No, the alliteration didn’t escape me.  That’s something else I learned in school that didn’t change like the use of a quote as an attention grabber.  Synapses fired for a few paragraphs before the connections brought me back to where I began.  Nestled between myriad bookshelves and a piano my brother still plays brilliantly, my sister-in-law tried to carve out a corner that would beg her kids to select an adventure to sit and enjoy.  With or without piano, story time is a cacophony these days.  The twins are hedging in on four about the time they’ll precede down the aisle before me in miniature, white gowns.  They aren’t just read to anymore; they want to read to me, not just identify like a year ago.  They will interject with their own plot twists and ultimately follow their creative streams of consciousness wherever it takes them, regardless of whether adults present can keep up with the Power Wheels ride.

My brother’s children don’t need to be begged to pick up a book.  While J.J. already dominates the elementary academic arena, his sisters are sure to follow suit.  They constantly surprise and delight me with the things that they say.  After baths tonight, I tried to read Katarina a story beneath the words in the living room that Gabrielle had carefully selected and mounted: “The more you read, the more that you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” Dr. Seuss’ brilliance isn’t lost on toddlers.  Kat was tuckered out, lured away before a finished book by the flickering T.V. screen entertaining her brother and sister, but she’d already taught me more than a story’s worth tonight.

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In attempts to keep the house quiet while my brother is teaching his online class in the office, Gabrielle and I often wrangle the twins one-on-one.  Kat was my charge, and I spent our pre-bedtime routine time asking her questions about daycare.  Last week, she’d looked deep into my eyes and exclaimed with a wonder and awe reserved for small boxes at Christmas, “They’re brown!  Mine are blue.”  The excitement, unmasked, was as endearing as this child’s heart already is to me.  Then, at J.J.’s play last night, she looked at the row behind us where Gabrielle’s best friend and her daughters were sitting and disrupted the musical score to cry Eureka: “You the same.  You match hairs.”  Almost before I could digest the cuteness and quiet her, Kat almost shouted, “Is she your best friend, too?”  Gabrielle’s brunette buddy giggled with me at the question that seemed only too logical to Katarina.

Granted, I recognize this isn’t model behavior for her brother’s performance. It was her mother’s job to quiet her, and so she did.  As an aunt, I simply marveled.  I could guess at what Kat might be learning about in daycare, things like body parts, colors, and making comparisons; asking her was bound to lead somewhere.  In all her three-year-old strength of character, Kat told me that she’s learning how to behave.  How do you behave?  “Listen to the teacher. Obey.  Be good.  Follow the rules.”  Why do people like you?  “Because I’m special.”

Kat’s too young to see or recognize the irony in our training.  She basically summed up society’s current functional model while getting stuck in the sleeves of her nightgown.  To be good, conform.  To be liked, be unique.  Maybe it’s not that simple, but it seemed that way with the bath water draining a few feet away.   I asked her a few more questions, and I could see that the concept of cause and effect relationships was to be added to her growing tool kit of inspiring skills.  Moreover, the nearer we grew to bedtime, the more evasive Kat became.  Eventually, she no longer pretended to be answering me.

When you’re three, if you don’t want to answer a question, you say the first thing that pops into your mind.  I knew our “discussion” about Katarina’s recent daycare learning was over when her reply to, “What does it mean to be good?” began with a frustrated “Behave, but I want to play with the pink pen.”   There is a modicum of uncontrolled impulsivity that we tolerate from toddlers.  Sometimes, I wish I could be as honest.  Unfortunately, adulthood turns pink pens into sacrificial offerings.  If Charming asked me a question about packing boxes and I evaded with an admission of how much I’ve been craving Anna’s pizza, we’d both conclude I was running from something.

Part of me wants Katarina to keep holding on to those pink pens; that tenacity and focus, when wielded in the right way, will be weapons of choice for her.  These kids read, and because of that, they know a lot more than I expect them to.  Learning, however, isn’t restricted to the reading corner in the living room of my brother’s home.  As a reading specialist, Gabrielle’s passion for literature is deep-seeded in the DNA coding of these tiny humans I love so much.  Likewise, it’s true of my other brothers’ families as well.

The more they learn, the more they will grow.  There will be so many more firsts for my nieces and nephews, soon to be seven of them, scattered along the East Coast.  For the next three years, I can resolve my mind to accept that I will miss some of these firsts.  Like my writing growth has taught me over the past three years, learning is exponential, and there will be thousands of firsts waiting for me on the other side of a thousand days on another country’s soil growing a new life with my new husband.

A toddler taught me what I need to know for the moment, to quiet my moving worries and woes.  I need to listen and obey and follow the rules.  I will be good if I behave.  I will be liked if I’m unique.  Dr. Seuss was always a favorite author of mine, long before Gabrielle featured his legacy in her reading corner.  He played with imagination, showing children why to color outside the lines.

I see the cultural paradox: a constant propulsion of sameness, oneness, uniformity, and conformity as the behavioral management of society’s classroom juxtaposed against the creativity and imagination that will be required of individuals to distinguish themselves in a twenty-first century working world.

I pray that while Katarina learns about the similarities and differences in the eyes, hair, and skin color that she also learns the value in her desire to use that pink pen, that the world won’t stifle all the impulsivity and will and spirit that makes her impossible not to love.

Charming and I share that love of reading, too. I’ve watched him prop a couple kids at a time on his lap and give it his all.  I admire that.  We read, we grow more.  We learn, we go places.  Dr. Seuss may not have had Germany in mind, but my subconscious has been there most of the evening while I’ve been writing, I’m sure.  While my nieces and nephews are racking up their firsts, I think Charming and I will find a few dozen or so of our own to fit into a thousand days abroad.

I can only imagine the places we’ll go, that the little ones will go, before we’re back in the photographs for a week’s family vacation in the Outer Banks.

A Writer is Born

The seventies spring breezes tease me these days, beckoning me outside to see and savor.  Weeks of afternoons brimming with adolescent adventures in poetry are starting to run together, and I find myself as inspired as my sophomores, itching for an authentic night where I can write and feel, to apply the same tips I’m teaching these kids to get writing ideas and express them… maybe even without rhyming.

One of my suggestions in my “How to write poetry if there is a right way” lesson is to go outside and pay attention.  We did that in my honors classes, but a visit from the governor kept my average class inside even after I’d promised an excursion.  When they finished the block with a water bottle fight, I ascertained I’d made the correct call keeping them out of the hallways where they might bring mischief to the attention of some of our most influential stakeholders.

Earlier in the block, I’d explained for the third block in a row that I would teach when everyone had finished their first task.  What should have taken five minutes took twenty, and a one girl complained that it wasn’t fair that they all had to wait for the few lazy stragglers.  While I resonated with her, it’s impossible to teach the faithful over the chaos of post-lunch sugar rushes and flexing hormones.  Allergies and adolescents challenged my voice to echo over the chatter.

The reality was, some of them were intrigued.  I had to look past the clumsy disorder of the rest of the teens in the room to reach the few kids who might find, like I did in spring of my sophomore year of high school, that they are not just people who write… but they will find identities for themselves as writers.  They will find freedom and meaning in the cathartic process of putting pen to paper, abandoning structure and syntax to maximize the free flow of synapses into sentiment.

In short, when I write, I make meaning of life.  I try to teach my kids to do the same.  I see the knock out rose on my way to the porch and have to stop, sniff, savor, and connect the dots.

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My student aide whose blogging pseudonym matured from Star to Stella this year was in their shoes not too long ago.  In her post last week, she devoted written words to her thoughts and feelings as she poured over my past entries, denoting all the similaries in our thematic trends despite the double-decade age gap.  She was right, and she dove deep into her writing identities.  Most days, she shakes her head and wonders, like me, how we’ll get this bunch of students to stop rough housing long enough to teach them the freedom she found two years ago.

Yet, somehow, it’s happening anyway.  One girl anxiously showed me the poem she’d finished after our lesson today.  Another emailed me one to look over.  The first had potential. The second made my heart break.  She’s just a quiet child on the outside, but clearly, this young woman has a coming of age story waiting to be told.  With disjointed line breaks that fit her subject, she underscored what appeared to be grieving a mother choosing drugs over her children.  Was it a true anecdote that inspired this?  I may never know, but the incredible depth of detail suggests that it is.  Maybe, like Stella and I, writing will become her confidant and she will find freedom in facing reality by escaping into language.

Looking back on the past week of trials, I have no idea how great poetry is emerging from the unabashed, uncontrolled chaos.  It seems that this particular blend of adolescent egos thrives on defying structure and syntax – some of them enjoy breaking the rules, and knowing my audience, I sold them poetry as their one chance at an experience with writing that didn’t bind them to their brick and mortar chairs.  I told them that I knew my English nerds would love this unit, but I’d designed it for those young people who were not inclined to fall in love with it the way they are finding this spring.

I don’t look forward to this class.  They take everything I can give them, and for their sake, the more that I have, the better they are for it… because I’ve been reading some of their “first tries” at poetry.  I’m wrong to call them kids.  I was relatively sheltered in white suburbia where Jewish doctors had the best reputations.  It took getting my heart broken at fifteen years old to unearth authentic writing material, replacing the shallow, rhyming odes to love or nature that had dominated my attempts up to this point.

These “kids” are rising to my challenge to push the envelope by writing about those subjects that shake their souls, the good and the bad, and many of them have a loss of innocence tale to tell in shadowed stanza form, where all the academic social wrongs are protected by freedom of expression.  It’s happening in my average class to a degree, but in my last block class today, the poetic synergy was staggering.  How do you write poetry?  I rhymed in my grade school years because I didn’t know what made anything else an actual “poem”.  There’s been an equally tempting spring breeze calling my fourth block class to embrace this unit and expose themselves.  For that to happen, they need to feel safe.

We’d played with poetry during our writing workshop this afternoon, passing around colored sheets of paper on which each member of the class was to add a line of poetry.  There would be four papers circulating: two yellow poems where each student could see one line before theirs, each folding the previous students’ line over his own before passing it on.  You expect a little continuity, but the emerging poem we shared aloud before the bell gave me chills.   It was as if, in the safety of our poetic cluster, primed by the carpe diem lens with which Dead Poets Society’s John Keating first laid the groundwork, had united my teens.

We were all stunned to silence after recitation.  Devices were seamlessly intertwined.  They were one in their pain, in their joy, in their boredom, in their search for meaning. Two green papers circulated as well.  For these class poems, each student simply independently penned one line of poetry to contribute before folding her line over and passing it on.  Blind poetry, perhaps?  Ultimately, I’ve been doing these activities for over a decade, and there are always a couple of jokers.  I expect that.  We giggle a little at the lines that don’t fit, and we derive meaning connecting the lines that weren’t intended by the authors.  It’s fun.  The spring breezes tempted us all outside our comfort zone, however, it seems.

We shared just one of each of my fourth block’s creations.  I had teens hungry for poetry on the edges of their seats after the first two, so I wielded the power to wait and share the last two next block.  After all, there was no way that any class poem, not in all my years of teaching, could culminate into a class poem of more epic proportions.  It was as if twenty teens were sharing the same wavelength.  Every line flowed.  There was a common theme, a story woven that wasn’t what each, individually, intended to tell in the poem.

That’s the beauty of poetry.  It defies social boundaries, laughs in the face of traditional English language conventions, walks the line of school appropriateness.  When Charming sweeps me off to Germany this summer, maybe it will be that time in my life, finally, where I get to be a writer.  For now, as I coax this harmonious fourth block class to the finish line, I feel like I could retire.

Stella and the sophomore stars are still figuring out how they shine best, playing with poetry and words, but exposing themselves takes courage and insight that I’m honored to witness this spring.  When the breezes beckon me outside to write, I take my kids instead.

For now.  There’s some other writers who need to be born, first, I think Charming would agree.