Rainbow, Sunset, Lightning Strikes

June is almost expired.  The one true, unadulterated summer month is nearly upon us.  I’ll usher it in on a camping trip in the mountains with a group of fellow wanderers.  Instead of moving out of my rented house and preparing for a pre-week multi-family vacation in the OBX prior to the wedding that was cancelled, I’ll be caring for a friend post-surgery.  I’ve been applying for jobs, fixing things that are broken, and finding any excuse to sink my toes in the sand at Fort Monroe beach.

I don’t know what it is about that place.  On Sunday night, I wanted to collect my thoughts, so I grabbed a shiny, new journal and aimed my car in the right direction.  Autopilot, almost, if my reliable old Honda had the technology for it.  Leaving Hampton up Settler’s Landing and weaving through Phoebus, it seemed all the traffic was exiting the fort, backed up for nearly a mile in either direction. By the time I’d crossed the bridge on Mellen Street and made the familiar left turn down toward my favorite spot up the shore, I realized I was the only one going to the beach.

I parked where I always do, the same place my best friend took me on our first beach visit more than three years ago.  I grabbed my green gel pen and notebook before locking the car and securing my keys.  It was just in time to write into the sunset, as I’d planned.  The colors playing in the sky were rich, and I’d have the beach to myself.  Fifty feet from the car, the sky open down poured.  With my newly blonde hair, I covered my journal and returned to my white Fit for a dry escape.

Fort Monroe was a parking lot.  Clearly, all the traffic was leaving the beach because some people pay more attention to weather alerts than Pokémon Go.   It was twenty minutes before the scheduled sunset.  I’ve lived in Hampton long enough to know that if you don’t like the weather, you should just wait ten minutes.  It has a moody personality, like me, and it’s worth it when you wait for the rain to dissipate and give you not just a miraculous sunset to the West, but a full rainbow over the Chesapeake Bay to the east.   The beach traffic left me behind, just a beach chair to keep me dry as I wrote through the sunset.

I thought about a conversation that day with my gym mentor, that regardless of the endless first world struggles that seem to pop up in trios and quartets these days, that I smile more than I used to.  I will admit, hugging my legs into my chest, feeling the salty, sweet sting of ocean air that stirs one’s lifeblood, digging my bare toes into the Virginia sand as if the solitary strands will anchor me somehow… I was smiling.  I love it on that beach on any day.  But Sunday, I planted my floral chair on an empty shore facing the water and distant lights of Virginia Beach after the rain, and the bay gave me a full rainbow to complete the symmetry of the sunset behind me.

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The obvious symbolism of a rainbow warmed me in that hour, knowing the coming days of a search for a new home to continue my eleven year career in education will require more than a lucky leprechaun.  In English class, my students learn the archetype of a rainbow used by authors in literature to symbolize new life, not unlike the changing phases of the sun.  I’d waited out the rain, and I got a sunset and a rainbow.  For a half hour, I planned out my summer projects and finalized an eight-step strategy to knock out my job applications by mid-week.  That’s when the lightning began.  I put my green pen down.

The sun was still setting behind me, and I could still make out ROY G. BIV in the waning arch before me, but the sky had deepened from a soft blue permeated by fluffy, white clouds to a cerulean better fitting the vast sea all around me.  The strikes illuminated the 64 bridge tunnel to Norfolk, cars sitting still escaping the storm.  I was alone, ten toes in the sand as far as my eyes could see.  I could have kept writing a few more minutes with enough light not to hear Grams warning me not to damage my eyesight, but this was clearly one of those gifts that you miss when you stick to the plan.

I’ve been sticking to a plan for a very, very long time.  I’ve passed the six bins of clothes I’d moved temporarily into the study to sort through on a daily basis since ending my engagement six weeks ago.  Every day, the plastic tubs take up a little space in my brain.  It’s a tedious project, so I avoid it.  It no longer has an urgency, so I avoid it. I know trying clothes on will aggravate my shoulder, so I avoid it.  In reality, I have enough other projects to keep me productive for the next few months that I should have no problem simply returning the tubs of clothes to the shed.  Only, it’s taken six weeks for me to realize that was an option… without being considered a failure in some way.

I’m thirty-five years old, and I have devoted so much of my existence to should and oughts that I don’t even know what makes me happy anymore.  Yes, I’m good at knocking off the items of a to do list, but in the absence of some of the strongest influences in my life, I’m beginning to question why I do the things I do.  I love Fort Monroe.  It inspires me.  The wind and waves sooth my wayward spirit.  Most of my visits there are impromptu, and only this one surprised me with rain, a sunset, a rainbow, and a lightning storm within a forty-five minute span.  It’s when I’m out of my routine that writer’s inspiration strikes.

And sometimes, it’s like lightening.  You see everything clearly, crisply, in better focus than you thought possible for just an instance, then you’re plunged back into the dusk, post-rainbow haze where you have to remind yourself that just because you didn’t have children of your own doesn’t mean you’re not still connected to all of this somehow.  When did I add that to my life’s to do list?  I was probably about five, changing the diaper of my baby check-up doll, admiring my role model’s life such that my play world looked like hers, with four children, and that made life meaningful.

I’m not sure if I will be happy in five years or in ten years, but I lived three and a half decades preparing for a life that didn’t happen.  It’s possible, I think, to be too forward thinking.  I’d convinced myself and almost everyone else that I’d be happy in Germany with the perfect man.  Then, in the future.  If I’m real, authentic, honest… the kind of blogs that tend to attract more readers, I think it’s past due that I figured out how to be happy with me in the here and now rather than shoring up stock in a future plan that might be better altered.

Like Sunday night, I might get wet and run for cover.  I might have to wait for the weather to change to see something more than what I’d come for.  I might have to go in the opposite direction of all the traffic to land my solitary beach chair into a rainbow spanning the Chesapeake Bay.  I might have to write with the awareness that a promise of hope in new life covers me from north to south, accept the sunset’s eventual exit, and welcome the lightning strikes like the fireworks that will replace them in a week’s time.  I am happier now, alone and honest, than I’ve been in a long time.  It’s worth a smile.

Pride, Power, and the Pen

The subtle softness of dusk’s glow only highlights the inactivity post storm, my freshly pruned rose bush’s thirst now satisfied, and just the orange cones and clean concrete a reminder of the gas line’s noisy month-long project.  They’re a friendly bunch who keeps me company while I finally attend to those neglected garden beds.  Yesterday, one said he liked my Supergirl look.  That was a new one.  Wonder Woman, occasionally.  I glanced down: red top, blue shorts.  Oh, then it hit me.

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The beachy blonde waves, a product of about $20 bucks and Angel’s Wednesday night and a super fun curler courtesy of Amazon Prime, had unwittingly opened me up to a whole new realm of  likeness comparisons. This past month has been pregnant with life-altering changes in trajectory.  If it weren’t summer vacation, I’d still be filtering my perspective though the elements of a short story, surprising myself with plot twists I set in motion, watching as supporting and new characters rise to fill vacancies for regulars now pursuing solo careers.  The story is changing.  I’m changing, and I’d never so strongly sensed the desire to make a drastic outward modification to reflect the new tone of a familiar setting.

I’ll admit, when I woke up the next morning, I had shocked myself.  The hairdresser’s words from two weeks back echoed between my ears as I took inventory of the olive skin and dark eyes as she urged me to cherish my brunette locks before begrudgingly compromising with some golden streaks Angel would later cover and color.  My Italian heritage wasn’t compromised by a bottle dye job, despite any texts my bestie may have received from my mother begging her not to make me a blonde.

That’s probably the most obvious character missing from my narrative these days as I’ve attempted to respect her wishes not to make any mention of my family in my blog.  Losing someone’s trust is easy.  Regaining it is a challenge.  That’s life, and accepting the responsibility for one’s actions isn’t enough.  The void of daily afterschool calls with Mom is impossible to ignore, but that’s what happens when you drop a bomb on your future marriage.  I hadn’t thought about the fallout or casualties.

The blonde is growing on me.  The archetypal color of the sun is warmth, hope, goodness, and even truth.  A visit to Walmart and some quality time with Angel allowed me to make a change to my protagonist that would fit the theme of the new story she’s writing.  The reality is that I’m not Supergirl.  When the key breaks off the FOB in my car and the top drawer of the cabinet snaps in two and my Google account gets prematurely disabled and my car is making a rattling noise, my gut reaction is not to look up and soak in the sunlight.  No, I question myself.  I doubt, I fear, I pity.

I pick myself up eventually, but it’s not pretty.  Writing has always been my therapy, my safe free place to unburden my brain, untangle the strands of spaghetti to light on something that will make me better, make someone else better even just by saying what no one else will.  It never ceases to amaze me that my most well-read posts are not the uplifting, encouraging ones, but rather those times where I laid bare my brokenness and said things like I’m about to say now.  I’ve never really liked myself much.

My gym mentor is MIA this week with his wife at the beach, but he left me with tidbits to reflect on.  I’ve been wrestling with how to write authentically these past few weeks without having the freedom to write about what’s most weighing me down.    Chuck likes my family, but in this instance, he caught another glimpse of what has defined my self-worth all my life: their approval.  No standing ovation was needed after a performance, just Mom’s delighted smile of pride.  In my eyes, she was always the perfect woman, no superhero powers necessary.  Wonder Woman couldn’t have raised four kids with a full time job and made us all feel loved.  Mom made it look easy.

The effects of her praise, it turned out, had a superhuman reach after all.  Somewhere over the decades, I think I forgot how to be proud of myself.  She’s always been my number one cheerleader, and I will always be grateful for that.  Now she’s silent, and I’m grateful for that, too, because as I’ve been tackling job applications and interviews these past few weeks, the urge to call and ask for advice has been reduced to a palatable level.

My counselor’s brow went up when he confirmed during a recent visit that this was the first time I’d heard that thirty-five year olds don’t usually talk to their mothers every day.  While having a strong relationship with your parents is certainly a positive, I don’t think I could see the dependence I’d come to have on mom until she exited by way of a plot twist I subjected her to that was a far greater shock than my blonde hair will be, I imagine, and perhaps even longer to outgrow.

I’ve lost that smile of approval.  I don’t want it anymore, at least not until I don’t need it.  I’m in the subtle quiet of my street after the storm tonight typing beyond fear of disappointing by isolating that Supergirl strength, in my DNA or hair dye.  I’m Wonder Woman’s daughter, and if I had to change the color of my hair to reaffirm the commitment to find power and self-worth beyond her legacy , to choose to overcome rather than throw a pity party, well, then blondes don’t just have more fun; this character trait change is an attempt to alter more than hair color.  Streaks weren’t enough.  It was all or nothing.  Dark to light, all over.

My greatest healing power is in the pen, and I can’t write my way to a person I can be proud of if my hands are tied.  I held back last week, restricting myself to the safest topics among the relationship rifts created by my marriage-ending bomb, but another week of tiptoeing around in this brave new world has given me sufficient opportunity to find my own opinion, my own voice – I am finding that I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and that like my students, being forced to own my learning instead of relying on the wisdom of others exercises a critical thinking skill that might just help me change that pesky, internal narrative that says I’m not enough.

I might have resembled Supergirl yesterday, but I have years of bad habits to unlearn.  It’s going to take more than a few bottles of hair dye to eradicate the dark spots.  I loved my brown hair, just like my mother’s, and I’ve always loved being my mother’s daughter.  I’ve never loved me. I want to love me.  I want to be someone full of light and hope and warmth like my beachy blonde hair does, encouraging me whenever I catch a glimpse in the mirror.  Mom’s text to Angel didn’t stop me from making the change, but it freed my writer’s integrity to pursue purpose in my life with the power of the pen.  I’m not much of a writer if I’m in a room full of elephants and fail to include them in the setting.

The storm was over before I sat down to write, but stubborn spurts of showers kept me company as settled into an authentic rhythm.  The cool, summer breeze soothed me as I stirred up dust with my words.  The darkness of night contrasts the golden locks framing my face as if to confirm we’re at peace, Mother Nature and me, that change is possible, that all things take time, and the time between the sunset and sunrise only seems longer than its lighted path.

Breaking Free

There are blonde strands falling into my eyes as I type to the “drip, drip” drumming of the gutters in twilight.  I tried to go blonde last week.  The stylist wasn’t my faithful Michelle; I didn’t let her cut a strand, but she painted my virgin locks with lightener and dye.  After two hours and the great reveal, I asked where the yellow was, and she reluctantly surrendered the rest of her evening adding some bold highlights.  I thanked her and tipped her well, but neither of us left pleased with the end product.

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It was fun and different.  At thirty-five years old, I’d never experimented with even a single color streak.  This is my season of change, after all, and the nature of a weekly blog makes that public.  I’ve penned my path through some of the most sensitive experiences, careful to avoid supplying unnecessary salacious details or content high in shock value but little else.  When I make a mistake, Tuesday night writing sessions keep me honest.  When I destroy a marriage, the balance between personal and private details indulged complicates in manifold by all the hearts broken in my wake, the loss and grief compounded as my voice alone attempts to strike through the absence of silence.

It’s been too long to remember a time when I was the subject of gossip.  My students often confide in me when their so-called friends are talking about them behind their backs, and it’s easy to console another human being simply by giving her a chance to set the record straight with someone who matters in her eyes.  Ending my pending nuptials too late to renew my teaching contract at Kecoughtan paints question marks in my future horizon, and still I find myself able to laugh at the newest evolutions of the telephone game rumors coloring me black and white and shades of gray in the community where I served tirelessly to bleed Warrior green in establishing dynamic Yearbook and Writing SOL programs.  Goodbyes are hard but a part of this very public changing of seasons.

When I was packing up my classroom this afternoon, the great painted tree on the wall caught me waxing nostalgic amongst sample projects I’d selected to save and a pile of records for the next department chair.  My senior girls had added their handprints as promised.  One of their mothers snapped me a picture of the graduates with green hands standing by the tree after yearbook distribution last week.  We’d planned that I would add mine, too, before leaving for Germany with my new husband this summer.  I dismissed the sentiment and returned to sorting through four years of my blood, sweat, and tears…

And still, I found myself able to laugh as I flipped through journals and recalled innumerable discussions we’ve held in CD23 that are uniquely unrepeatable.  Few will understand a reference to the OG Palma or Alcatraz, but those on the inside were a part of something rumors don’t change.  They’re superficial changes, semi-permanent says the box; these chunky blonde highlights don’t make me any less brunette by nature. We don’t always get a chance to set the record straight, and that’s as good a lesson for my teens to learn as any.  Fortunately, I was raised to believe that people will eventually see you for who you truly are, and at the end of graduation on Saturday, I’m confident this particular bunch of graduates will recall me in time to come as an influential educator who helped them become better versions of themselves just as they have done for me.

The details, the gossip, the rumors, the permutations, the deviations, the nuggets of truth – they’ll be as irrelevant as these streaks soon, growing out with time to reveal what’s real.  My best teaching years were here.  The peak of my career was in that room with those senior girls who grew into women while I wasn’t looking.  Some of them, I took as far as Italy last June at about this time.  I made a wish that I would marry the man of my dreams on a mermaid rock in Capri.   It was supposed to come true in a year’s time.  It almost did.  I can live with my choices now, because I’m grateful to be breaking free.

It’s an odd expression given the comedy of errors that my life seems to be these days, but my gym mentor used it earlier today after enjoying being back to our regular routine with physical therapy behind me and improved sleep latency giving us back three afternoons a week.  In the absence of my former fiancé’s voice, his greatest fans are missing in action now.  Yet, even packing up my classroom into portable boxes for my shed, my world feels bigger and more welcoming than it has in a long time.  Friends and colleagues have come out of the woodwork to offer encouragement, advice, or just companionship. I’m breaking free of the expectations I set for myself as a girl, because every five years or so, I still start a sentence the same way, “My life doesn’t look like I thought it would at…”

What should my life look like?  I just trashed the painting I’d been making of my forever and always, and behind it I see Angel, Chuck, and my brother’s family still ready to fill the frame.  Casual acquaintances that I’ve made through a shared interest in Pokémon Go have evolved into friendships and lots of new faces on my front porch.  I’m not sure what I’d wish for if I could pass the mermaid rock in Italy with my students again, but this is a good life. Why had I not noticed how much I enjoyed the company of so many people who’ve been here, watching me pull away to move away?  I’ve always suffered from the fatal flaw of believing life started when I became a mother, and FOMO drove me to a few FML moments, I’ll admit.  Now, I don’t see a typical family filling the frame, and there’s freedom in that.  Had I married and finally fulfilled that dream, would I have actually been satisfied?

Maybe this is a midlife crisis, and if the rumor mill’s throwing shade my direction anyway, I figured I might as well look like something’s different.  I have no illusions that a blonde head of hair will make me happier, but summer at Fort Monroe could be more fun.  My best friend Angel encouraged the external change, and despite recovering from an outpatient procedure, she still took the time to game plan with me for our home makeover tomorrow night where she’ll do what I’d asked of the stylist last week.  My guess is that we’ll both be satisfied because we’re on the same page.

Four hours in a salon wasn’t my expectation for my first attempt at going blonde.  I expressed my desire to have a classy, golden do.  The stylist countered with praise and admonishment, urging me to celebrate my virgin, chocolate locks, and likewise discouraging such a bold metamorphosis in one sitting.  As an expert, I trusted her judgment, and the first round might have yielded some auburn hues, but after the second attempt, I left knowing I wasn’t going to be blonde in her chair.  She was in control, and she had a different professional opinion for what would be best and most natural for me.

But I’m not trying to blend in. My Pokemon raid buddy pointed at the blonde strands around my face and said, “I think you’d look good with your whole head that way.  All or nothing.  Black or white.”  And as ironic as that is, he’s right.  Sometimes we know the truth will be hard to hear, so we’re not that brave.  Afraid of hurting others, we justify tiny white lies until the whole head turns black and trust is tenuous.  Some love beyond question, some beyond control, some co-dependently, and some do whatever is in their power regardless of the produced effect.

My little experience at the salon last week assures me that relationships are beneficial when both parties have the same goal, and I’m grateful for a friendship like Angel’s in this season of change.  She lets me be me, and she loves me by helping me break free, not by anchoring my feet to the mud.  I can look back at the decisions I made that made me the source of gossip and they break my heart, too.

The only problem is that I can’t make much forward progress if I live in all the “what I should have done’s”.  I like the picture I see in this frame, filled with family and friends and truth and freedom in being myself and reestablishing myself.  Whether my hair is ash blonde or boring brunette won’t make a difference.  That frame still holds my yearbook seniors and their handprints on the trees, honoring the legacy we built at the Tomahawk.

Hair dye fades.  Someone will inevitable paint over that yearbook tree.  Rumors will go the same way.  If you never get the chance to set the record straight, maybe it’s because it’s not the record that matters.  There should be a little more black and white, a little more willingness to go “all in” and change the natural, best-fit picture.  Even with all the question marks, I’m sleeping soundly.  Breaking free.

Truth, Trust, and Trouble

The sun sets almost on cue in June, late enough to chase it down over the bay as the day rests.  In its warm rays, I rest.  In the after glow, the cerulean sky painted with slate-grey clouds, I find myself still, if not stagnant.  The last of my Kecoughtan days wanes, and my heart breaks at the bittersweet goodbyes knowing the senior girls who’ve labored on our yearbook for four years will soon replace it with new hobbies, that their smiles will no longer be a staple in my classroom.  If I could pause the world to catch up, I’d sit in tonight’s sunset for a few days at least, soaking up the hope in its kaleidoscope of color.

wp-1528243434618.jpgI’m not sure I have anything of value to write about that’s worth another’s time.  I flirted with sitting on the rocks beside the bay and abandoning a nearly one-hundred-and-seventy night streak of Tuesdays here on my front porch.  So much as changed, but I am still breathing.  Despite the challenges of this year, my yearbook staff produced an inspiring annual worthy of the legacy we’d built together, boasting green and white.  My sophomores gave me the best parting gift ever in the original poetry they produced this spring, and I’ll cherish the treasure it was to guide them to find their own voices.

I’m still finding my voice, it seems.

In the absence of my old routine, a daily schedule more than two years ingrained in my car’s GPS, I’ve found myself engaging in conversations with new players.  From my writer’s perch, I can hear my next door neighbor’s voice intermingling with our street’s landscaping expert.  They live in the houses to the right of me, and over the last four years, we’ve had ample opportunities to get to know one another.  Living beside me, I imagine this man knows more about me than some of my friends.  He knows when my routines change.  Today, we talked about family and time.  He reminded me that things work out as their supposed to, and I took to heart his fatherly reminder not to dwell on what I should or could have done differently in these past few months to have avoided causing others pain.   In a sense, I made this bed, I’m lying in it, and it’s the choices I make now that matter most.

That’s why I wanted to pause tonight’s sunset.  The days are climbing ever forward, and I am not ready for what comes next.

It only came as a surprise to some that I had ended my engagement.  Our school accountant has become another dear friend since I moved to Hampton, and I’m grateful for her ear and counsel.  She has an uncanny way of seeing the silver lining.  I’m grateful for friends like her who call to check on me and reassure me that the future still has beauty.  Whenever I was having a tough day at work, I knew I could sneak into her office and she’d find a way to capture the hope of tonight’s sunset in a story about her life that encouraged me in the grey areas.

Truth and trust and trouble, they go hand in hand.  Truth should be black and white, but humans are too colorful to exist in stark contrast.  No, more like the hues of gold and amber interlacing with white puffs of clouds over a crystal aquamarine sea reflecting a half a dozen shades of blue, truth changes subtly when the light shifts.  The physical objects within the camera frame would be the same morning, noon, and night, but the play of the light across the docks and the water changes the picture.   I’ve crossed the Pembroke bridge to and from work too many times to count, and no two mental photographs are equal in shade or content.  Rather, the colors bleed together until you cannot see the lines.

My gym mentor Chuck levels with me.  In our chats this week, he’s been trying to help me figure out what to do after ruining happily ever after.  Instead of getting married and moving to Germany, I’m looking for work and mending fences.  Today while hitting the elliptical, he picked up on a theme and commented that I couldn’t please others if I wasn’t happy with myself.  I looked back at the road that led me here, to the same spot on my white wicker love seat as I’ve been for the last three years, but with an entirely different future than I had three weeks ago.  Truth and trust and trouble.  I’d stopped being honest with myself.  Trust was impossible.  Trouble was inevitable.

I can look at the sunset and tell you the colors that I see.  I can paint you a picture of my world at this instant, the sun long since disappeared, just the white slats of my front porch illuminated by the street lights permeate the night.  I can’t see the magnolia blossoms, just silhouettes that might be any tree.  I could take a photograph now and believe they were oak trees, and by this light, you might believe me.  I didn’t know I’d become a liar and fed you my shades of gray.  The trouble is in being human.

Because truth isn’t black and white.  There was a fight in my classroom a few weeks back, and though a handful of students witnessed the incident, I heard a smattering of variations in the story.  They were slight differences in details, but truth became subjective.  Just as the horizon doesn’t actually change beneath the sunset, the existential truth remains obscured by the light at day’s beginning, middle, and end.  Surely, the creepy statue freed from the shadow of night’s cloak is a wonder of man’s handiwork when the sun’s rays are dancing with the stone twelve hours later.  What I see before me know is different even than an hour and a half ago when I first popped open my laptop to write.

I saw it all in the fading sunset, the trees and overgrown grass and weed-infested garden beds.  I saw all that I should do if time could just pause.  All the weeding and pruning.  The trimming and ripping and work it takes to make something beautiful.  It’s intimidating.  I was leaving, so I didn’t plant a garden.  Now, I see the unkempt mess that grew while I wasn’t paying attention.  It’s overwhelming.

Now, it’s dark.  I know the work that needs to be done, but the grey hues of moonless sky are forgiving.  When I came up with the name for my blog, it was simply an observation of what writing nights had been for me.  I grew as I wrote, and those analogies began in the garden.  We have a lot in common now.  I’d love to pause tonight’s sunset, to sit and think about what comes next, to grieve the last chapter before starting a new one, to store up all the hope and wonder to carry me through what comes next.

Because even thought the sunset and the colors and shades and hues have resolved into darkness, what the light illuminated still remains.  I know all the weeding and pruning and trimming and ripping it will take to make me beautiful again, where it matters.  It’s beyond a gardening task for one.  After happily ever after, when the most familiar face is gone, the sun’s rays illuminate friends who had been there all along, waiting to help you pick up the pieces when the sun finally comes up again.