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.
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.