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.
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.