Last week, a hurricane didn’t hit Hampton, but it still wreaked havoc, damaging any sense of normalcy in its potential wake. Stores closed. The government evacuated homes. Families stockpiled water and canned goods. We prepared. Braced ourselves. Waited expectantly. Its course shifted, and though the winds stirred swiftly, a true storm never came. In the aftermath of a hurricane that wasn’t, I’m recovering tonight from a week’s departure from my normal routine.
I’ve always been a creature of habit, but it wasn’t until this past week that I realized how desperately I rely on my normal routine to keep my brain balanced. With no school for three days to add to the weekend off, the gym closed for my daily workouts, and my best friend out of town missing the inaction, the unfamiliar, uninhabited hours loomed eerily after my last post was live. Writing night concluded my commitments. Every other obligation or responsibility was dismissed with the threat of the storm.
When I awoke Wednesday, I inventoried all the possible ways to make the unexpected day off a productive one. I cleaned and shopped and baked and laundered and still didn’t make a visible dent in my task list. When my new teacher friend texted that she’d taken me up on my offer to ride out the storm here with me, it was rinse and repeat until she arrived that night. We spent a couple of days like college roommates, always intending to crack open the books to plan for our eleventh graders, but talking into the wee hours of the morning instead. Worlds collided. The teacher next door was now a millennial in my guest room, and I hoped my mid-thirties night life of nightcaps with friends and Pokémon Go shiny hunting wouldn’t disappoint Dalmatian, especially when all Hampton’s offerings were closed.
Even Fort Monroe beach. It would be days before I’d step foot in the sand, but that’s what an impending hurricane does. What’s the value of routine if you don’t have enough water to survive an extended shutdown of utilities? Dalmatian was dogsitting for her roommate, and she suggested we get outside and expend some energy before being cooped up by the storm. Instantly, I thought of Leia’s kids and messaged her an invite to walk with us. Fort Monroe is her favorite place, too. Options limited, we opted to walk the abandoned streets of downtown Hampton and play Pokémon Go.
Though Dalmatian was a good sport and had played the augmented reality game with me and my friends, she surrendered her phone in favor of running and playing. Leia, on the other hand, is torn. Whether born out of a desire to spend more time with me or out of dissatisfaction with her same old routine, Leia created an account. She’s a fast learner, leveling up quickly, always asking questions, and her excitement is refreshing. Leia likes the game and my company. She’s caught between real life and the game, and our stroll through the windy streets and down by the bay made a picturesque backdrop for her growing Pokedex.
Unlike Dalmatian and me, Leia is a mom. Her oldest warmed immediately to my new teacher friend and hound, contented to run with the dog on a leash, smiling a toothy grin, all pre-teen authenticity. Her youngest was glued to me, partly because I was hot-spotting internet to the device I loaned her to play with during our walk. The two girls are like night and day. This one objected to beach outings regularly until I introduced her to Pokémon Go. Now, Leia’s girls join us for time in the sun and in the game. Thursday afternoon, we walked into the wind, five girls and a dog, all driven by different motivations at different stages of life and yet pleased by the surprising moments cultivating kinship in the calm before the storm. We had the common goal of enjoying the fresh air together in our own ways.
The storm didn’t come. Dalmatian packed up her roommate’s dog and headed home. Friday, my house was quiet again. The previous two days had been almost corporate, hanging out with friends and making decisions on the fly, and while I needed some alone time to recharge, anticipating three more days until we’d return to the normal routine forced me to call the gym and discover they had reopened, despite what Google said. I was mentally already in the parking lot before hanging up.
A little bit of normal and a steady endorphin release primed me to devote Friday night to grading. I worked more than I played for the rest of our impromptu break, fitting in workouts and chores and schoolwork, always seeing more that I should do, but refusing to reject an invitation from Leia. My life’s been pretty windy these days. Adjusting to a different school system, managing life around a longer commute, and trying to make a new normal flow has me perpetually preparing for a storm that is coming eventually. I’m flirting with the workaholic mode again already, only now I hear Stefano, our tour guide in Italy, telling us that Americans live to work while Italians work to live.
I reply, “Yes,” to Leia’s invites because we’re in a similar place with a similar threat of storm, both having worked too hard without living enough, dissatisfied with the real world such that King’s Street looks more promising through the screen of a device that might spawn a rare Pokémon. Whether it’s hitting the beach, walking downtown, or even joining her for my first step class at the Y while my gym’s door was lined with sandbags, Leia is my silver lining. We laugh as sincerely together over a drink at Marker 20 as over her silly kids on the swings at the playground. She has the kids I dreamed of mothering, and I have the independence that active house makes her crave. And we’d never venture that the grass would be greener if we swapped shoes.
We’ve done enough living to work. We’re counting wrinkles and days. We’re measuring our lives against traditional values and coming up short. We’re feeling the angst of not knowing how much time we have to make something meaningful of our lives and sharing the fear that we’ve wasted too much already to leave a lasting legacy. Leia’s girls just couldn’t grasp why we had spent so much time and money preparing for a storm that didn’t come. She explained that when a hurricane is coming, we make the most of the moments before we have to hunker down, stockpiling, preparing for the potential worst case scenario.
Sunday was the first day we didn’t have face time in over a week. We were both preparing for the work week. I wrapped with an afternoon grading AP dialectical journals in a beach chair with the tide licking at my heels. The wind whipped the strands of my hair and the papers in my lap, but I hadn’t felt so still or calm since school let out last Tuesday. Tonight, alone again on my front porch, the air is calm, but I’m feeling the winds kick up. I’m writing about living and finally naming the storm: Death. I’ve been living to work, stockpiling for a future that I still haven’t arrived in yet, always preparing to live more.
In the threat of a hurricane, we prepare for the worst. What if instead of preparing to live more, get more, attain more, achieve more… what if we prepared for that impending storm that could strike at any moment? What if we lived like we were preparing for the worst, facing death and question marks and concepts like infinity. Leia and I have been un-tethered in our crises, whipping about in the wind like my schoolwork, and I never pass up a chance to spend time with her because, somehow, we anchor each other in an unexpected way.
Leia’s my silver lining in this season. Like working with Dalmatian at school during the day, living life with Leia in my free time is better, easier, more enjoyable when it’s together. Dalmatian said just the other day that no matter how much schoolwork she does, there is always so much more. It will be that way for all of us until June, every year, rinse and repeat as long as we’ve got passion. I’m giving Dalmatian Stefano’s advice, and working with Leia to live the example.
Our lives might not look like they thought they would. We might not have lived up to our own expectations. But what we might have done or not done is irrelevant; contemplating it only serves to prevent us from living now, from seeing the shiny potential in the moments in our everyday routines. Leia is the silver lining to my life after Charming; she makes the real world look promising again… it’s comforting to be navigate these winds of change together.