The Last Spring

A sweet Carolina sunset taunts me with spring. There’s promise in the tulips, hope in sparrows, and new life evident in the allergy attack seizing Pickens County.  The juxtaposition of life and death sobers me now, and the mountains here are likewise juxtaposed with the oceans I left behind: the abundance of muchness with the absence of anything at all.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Because he’s neither here nor there.  Joshua Welker is in heaven.  Yes, I blink as I craft a euphemism, and yet another to account for his passing, most enigmatic in the daytime.  A great light went out of the world, and I need to write through this twilight.  I’ve been selfish with my words recently, storing them up in my head, discarding them before they make it to the written page.  Tonight, I emerge to honor Joshua.  Only God could know that last year would be his last spring.  This one starts without him.

His may not be a universal household name, but it extends across the country from his West Coast professional contributions.  In Hampton Roads, there are a hundred kids who will remember him well.  It was 2020, just weeks before the whole world shut down.  My middle schoolers were writing research papers about recognizing what was most important in life.  Josh came for a visit, and I roped him into being interviewed by each of my classes. 

Reading through those essays in the days since Joshua died so unexpectantly is admittedly a bit surreal.  His words of wisdom to my students are captured in a Google Time Capsule.  Each class asked different questions, but within his responses were universal themes that convict me in this moment.  Post-quarantine, Joshua’s answers appear all the more relevant and timely.

He told them that life was fragile, so we needed to set priorities.  “You’ve got to have goals, something you’re working towards,” he told them, “Do what you love.  It’s easier to gain success if you work at what you like best.” From stage to screen, Joshua was never more himself than when he was performing.  He could manage a restaurant and command authority.  In each phase of his career, Josh made a living doing what he was made to do.  That’s living well. 

Another continued theme was about relationships.  Josh shared with my kids, “My family was very supportive.  Without family, it’s harder to make big decisions and take risks.” We hit a similar crossroads at a similar time, and when I opted to leave everything I’d known for Music City, Josh and his brother made the move to Los Angeles.  That was the kind of support he got to experience from family while alive.   “Relationships play a role in almost everything we do… they can be like a grounding force,” Joshua had told my students.  They certainly motivated all his major life choices.  He smiled and made people better for having shared moments with him because they mattered most to him.

Joshua collected family in more than blood, abiding friendships wrought through time, shared trials, and doing life together.  We first met when I was seventeen at my oldest brother’s wedding in Huntsville, Alabama.  When this handsome country boy four years my senior asked my father for permission to take me on a date the next night, I suppose Dad was thinking a love interest who was older but far from New York was a safe concession, and he said yes.  I soon understood what southern charm was, and I don’t know how many syllables he made “Laura Joy”, but that drawl made me want to hear it again. 

“I have three friends that are as close as family,” Josh told the middle schoolers. “They can make school – and even life – more bearable, especially in the teenage years.”  He believed that the friends we pick had a huge effect on our lives, and he prioritized those relationships.  After we met, we corresponded with calls and letters and AOL Instant Messenger, and it’s true that he both made my life more bearable maturing into adulthood and prioritized me. 

“Positivity is important,” he’d told my kids, “because negativity and positivity are both contagious.” For my first two years of college, we were both in the Chicago area, and my best summation is that we tried not to date seriously.  Joshua was pretty much the perfect guy, and I knew his acting aspirations would take him to far and unpredictable places, and I’d still have years of school to complete, but our friendship endured.  Josh told my students that without family and friends, you can become isolated and feel lonely.  It was impossible to feel lonely around him.  I’ll never forget turning nineteen in a college dorm with my girlfriends dressing us up in evening gowns, leading me to a limo on campus with Joshua and a bouquet of red roses at the heart of the surprise.  Josh took the time to know his people well so that he could love them well.  Italian cuisine in the Windy City could never taste as perfect as it did that night.  Joshua’s optimism was palpable, hope in the recipe.

More than goals and relationships, Josh told my kids that it was important to balance life with hobbies to keep a healthy mindset.   Josh’s passions were contagious, too.  He took me up the Sears Tower when I was eighteen and showed me what the world really looked like.  He made the drive west from Oak Park to Wheaton to pick me up and take me north for Willow Creek church services on Sundays.  When we were grown, it was trading gardening secrets and cooking together that added spice to life.  When I learned of his death, I started playing “Walking in Memphis” on repeat… but in my humble opinion, Marc Cohn can’t hold a candle to the vocal stylings of Joshua Welker on this particular song.  He could take my breath away when he sang, literally the only thing I could see or hear or feel. 

Josh taught my kids that failure was to be an expected and accepted part of life.  “If one thing has failed, others may do the same, right?” He’d challenged them.  “You’re going to fail way more than you succeed, but it’s also a way to learn from your mistakes.”  I see that now in a way I didn’t before.  My marriage failed ten years ago, and I thought I’d fall in love again and have a family.  But there were more failures, more mistakes, and ultimately, more growth amid successes that I gloss over while focusing on the loss.  Josh would tell me to see all I’ve gained instead.  We never had children of our own, but our brothers’ and sister’s children have gotten our full love and attention, present in ways only singleness could have fostered. 

“Some people say that living and surviving are the same.  Well, they aren’t to me,” Josh posited before COVID-19 rewrote our routines.  “Living means really be the best in life and work on your goals with trial and error, whereas surviving means just being able to live with the bare minimum.”  Refusing to settle for surviving is a consistent theme in Joshua’s life.  When I was content to be a school teacher with a predictable paycheck and schedule, he took all the risks my performer spirit never could abide.  Even in death, I admire his daring, let-me-be-first attitude in facing the unknowns beyond the grave.

And while Josh lived intentionally and poured into those relationships he cherished consistently, he would be the first to admit he didn’t have a well-balanced life.  “I have too much work and not enough of the other things,” he told one of my classes.  I get it. Like him, without the family ensemble, I’ve found myself settling into the imbalance of a workaholic lifestyle, as though a career deserves 150% to compensate for our social shortcomings.  I’m reading his words now and, again, feeling conviction. 

Nevertheless, there is a message of promise.  A common emphasis in each of Joshua’s interviews was on the importance of faith.  “It affects my family and friends. If religion is a part of your life, it may guide you with love, work, and your social life.”  Joshua’s faith was fundamental, and it was the ultimate relationship grounding his life.  He believed that he had a Savior, that no matter how much good he accumulated this side of heaven, he was a sinner saved by grace through faith. 

And so I cannot grieve as one without hope, and I might comfort myself with the thought of a choir of angels welcoming Joshua’s booming baritone contributing to harmonies I’ll join in on myself one day. 

Joshua told my class that of all the relationships you’d find in life, “the relationship with your lover is the most important because it lasts the longest.”  Oh, ours wasn’t the typical love story.  We started and stopped too many times to count.  It was never the right time.  But Joshua Welker loved me well when I was young and carefree and beautiful.  When I was old and beaten down and worn out, he loved me well too.  He loved me for twenty-three years, longer than any man not related to me.  We didn’t have to be in the same city; I felt more tethered to the world when Josh was in it. 

I haven’t been writing. But Joshua is no longer breathing and I am.  He will never capture another audience and I can.  He can’t anything anymore, so Lord help me to do something more with what time I have left.  We will never have a right time.   Waking up is not guaranteed.  Joshua’s still impacting my life, advising me even now, though I wish I wasn’t learning it the hard way… the hard-to-breathe way. 

Joshua lived intentionally, loved passionately, worked courageously, and spread positivity like it should be a pandemic.  “If you live life to the fullest,” Joshua told those hundred kids and me, “there will be less regret in the end.” By that standard, may Joshua Welker rest in peace.  He didn’t say there’d be no regrets, but less.  May the same be true for me when I’ve seen my last spring.

Grandpa’s Garden

These glossy, green globes are a sign of growth, an assurance of a future harvest promised by nature in my little garden bed.  Absent the mature red hue, would you even know they were tomatoes?  I plant them now like Grandpa Joseph did decades ago and Great-Grandpa Angelo nearly a century before that.

Growing up, tomatoes meant homemade sauce and Sunday family dinners all year through.  Grandpa’s precision-spaced rows of plants manicured that perfectly kempt back yard Upstate, his retirement garden in stark contrast to the one at the parsonage of the church he’d pastored in Queens.  Where in his life’s work, he’d shepherded a flock of Italian Pentecostals, Grandpa opted to move to the suburbs of Syracuse when I was born, where he’d tend to vegetable gardens and feed our growing family. 

That is, ironically, the reverse timeline of his father, Angelo, my great-grandfather.  In honor of Father’s Day, I was commissioned to write a tribute to Angelo for my brother’s blog, Embracing Our Roots.  The Story of a Lamplighter tracks his immigrant journey from working the fields of Benevento, Italy to lighting the lamps of New York City in 1912 to hearing the gospel for the first time in 1931 on a subway car and then working as an evangelist, minister, and missionary for the rest of his days.

But always, they kept gardens, even while living in the tightly stacked neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens.  Angelo died when my mom was just a girl, but I don’t have to wonder where Grandpa’s passion for gardening originates.  Having been raised in NYC, Grandpa knew his father as a conductor who worked the swing shift and a pioneer in Christian ministry and kept a garden, not tending his grandparents’ fields in a mountainous region in Campania. 

Agriculture isn’t just an ancestral career path – it’s a way to fill the dinner table, a means of sufficiency.  And out of this sufficiency, they filled their homes with people, fed them, loved them, and served them.  My childhood memories are punctuated with sepia-colored memories like an old film reel capturing the Palmas in Grandpa’s basement making sauce from his tomato harvest.  His wife Santa stirred epic pots on a stove, and if I was lucky, I’d get to do my favorite job of pushing the tomatoes into the old sauce machine that my father had motorized.

Grandpa likely watched Angelo like I watched him as a young girl, fascinated by the noticeable changes in the plants with each visit to the backyard.  There’s something that’s still magical about watching stems grow tall, thick with leaves, then producing flowers and buds with the fruit just peeking out, and seeing the bulbs fatten and change color.  Grandpa would let me be his little helper, and as we walked the rows, he’d teach me about the different plants’ needs for light, water, and nutrients.  It wasn’t magic, just the way of nature.  We plant things, tend them, and then there’s a harvest. 

At least it seemed that way to me with Grandpa’s green thumb setting precedent.  The mortality rate of my prior three years’ attempts tells me experience might play a role in improving seedling life expectancy back there.  The Rubbos were experts at growing good things.  Mom had a little vegetable garden when she and Dad were first married, before we were born.  While she always planted beautiful flowers in the spring and kept color in the window boxes, I think she had her nurturing powers tied up in raising four children in the decades to come. 

This week I got to share a meal with a family from church.  Like Mom, they have four children, each with a subtle glow evidencing light in the soil.  There was a moment between bites of chicken and green beans that my old dreams choked me.  It had been my careful plan, pre-puberty to have four kids, live in a house in a neighborhood in the suburbs, eating dinner every night around a table like this one. 

But it was just a moment of grief, covered quickly in silent prayer, and I was back in the joy of a meal shared with good conversation.  The eldest girl sat beside me, a sweetness to her smile incapable of saccharine, listening as I answered the question of how I’d come to know Christ as my savior.  I was the same age as she was when I got serious about my faith and chose to be baptized.  So much life in twenty-five years… when I was that hopeful girl beside me, I would never have imagined being the single adult at the table.

Six months ago, the subtle evidences of grace shared with that meal would have been overcast by the shadow of my idol.  If you’d asked me what I needed to see on my death bed to feel my life had been well-spent, it would have been children and grandchildren.  During my first conversation with new friend from church back in January, I was wielding a little comic relief to shroud my grief about being alone.  “At least the eggs I get from the grocery store have an expiration date on them,” I said, then pointed to my tummy.  “These ones don’t.  I’m afraid I’m running out of time to be a mom.”

This wise sister wasn’t tempted from seeing the truth to light: “Laura Joy, if it were right and good for you to be a mom right now, you would be a mom.  If it is right and good for you to have a child at fifty, God will open up your womb and give you one.”  Two sentences, one compassionate admonishment, and the hidden altar I’d been worshipping at for years was lit up… and it was ugly.  My life was only worthwhile if my desire to be a wife and mother was fulfilled.  I can’t remember the last birthday that didn’t sound the alarm for my biological clock, but I’d been sent home with a chart and homework to pray about the attribute of God I was struggling with, which I still hadn’t figured out.

When you’re aching for something good to grow from you in your thirties and aren’t married, you might wind up planting tomatoes like I did.  As a child, I enjoyed being caught up in the magic of seeds maturing to bear fruit.  As a woman, I am inside of the miracle, used somehow in the process.  The idea of using my homegrown herbs and veggies in dishes I can prepare for friends and their families delights me, as it has three generations of Rubbos and Palmas.  

But these baby green tomatoes don’t have magic properties.  I’ll eat it and be hungry.  Plants wither and die eventually, whether by time’s passing or storms or draughts, fostered and well-nourished or overgrown and overlooked.  We cannot make water or sunlight.  We plant tiny seeds and follow instructions on how to make them grow well.  If we reap a harvest, we feed the body not because of the fruits of our labor, not because the earth provided enough – no, because God was and is and will be Sufficient.   My pastor would say that God works to make much of what little we surrender, and then gives us more than enough to share with others. My inadequacy binds me to a sufficient Savior.

Everything that grows and dies and when isn’t just the way of nature; it’s implementation of God’s meticulous design.  We think somehow that since we’re tending the seed, be it vegetable or child, that we control whether each lives or dies and when, but the original seed would be the creator of life, a Sovereign God.  He is in control of all things.  I asked my mom what she’d need to feel her life had been worthwhile.  She said, “That my children would know Christ as Lord.”  Mom imagines her father would have had the same answer.  Each child in each generation will make a choice, maybe more than once, to walk with God.  The colorful tapestry, each interweaving strand a story of salvation, like the one I shared the other night at dinner, that young girl beside me. 

Like the theme driven by symbolism in Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, I’m left tonight fully aware that every temporal good thing will end equally, food and family alike.  Since childhood, I saw the family tree going back so far, saw my name there at the end, and wanted branches to come from me, so that I would be a part of a legacy.  Frost’s poem alludes to the story of Adam and Eve, personifying Eden as sinking from grief.  They were the first of men, so could I trace my family tree back to them? They were entrusted with a garden, too, tasked to tend the earth. 

But, isn’t the author of man also the Creator, the Alpha and Omega, where the beginning and the end are eternally juxtaposed?  Adam and Eve weren’t first.  They are names that point to a promised Savior.  God is first above all things, and His supremacy positions me inside an infinite family tree connecting me, on that lonely branch, directly to my Father in heaven.  By living out a season mediating on who God really is, His grace to me has been seeing His sufficient and sovereign hand.

But tonight, it’s His supremacy that silences me.  At the end of this life, will I be a name that pointed to eternal life? Somehow last night, I found my way back to a journal entry I wrote at fourteen, a year older than that sweet girl sitting beside me the other night, budding with promise.  It was two months before Grandpa’s battle with cancer brought him home to the Father.   

December 22, 1997

I offer my life!  All that I am, all that I have, I lay them down before you, O Lord, all my regrets, all my acclaims, the joy, and the pain, I’m making them yours.  Everything I’ve been through, use it for your glory.  I’m offering my days to you as a pleasing sacrifice. 

Things in the past, things yet unseen, wishes and dreams yet to come true, all of my hopes, all of my plans, my heart and my hands are lifted to you.  What can we give that you have not given? 

What do we have that’s not already yours?  All we possess are these lives we’re living, and that’s what we give to you Lord.

And in the silence, I’m praying those words again now.  Over and over. 

Share Your Cup with Me

Coffee.  Teach virtually.  Work out.  Eat.  Sleep.  Repeat.  That had become my relentless cycle of life over the past ten months.  So many weeks would pass without physical contact that the occasional hug felt awkward.  The world became very small.  I became smaller. 

The unilateral impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is global disruption of the daily routine.  The best laid coping strategies of mice and men have been leveled in the wake of the social hurricane to the point where Socio-Emotional Learning strategies have been given a relevant platform in public schools.  While my brother’s family has happily survived quarantine in a home activity-based bonding utopia, other kids have lost their safe haven.  Without school, they don’t get to escape their home lives and experience positive, edifying relationships in the form of teachers and friends. 

We’ve had almost a year to adapt to the new normal trifecta: masks, sanitized hands, and social distancing.  We’ve capitalized on technology’s stronghold, learning how to operate businesses and educational institutions to weather a biological threat with too many question marks to plan ahead for the secondary functions that made the work worthwhile.  We live to work, and we work to work.  Working to live doesn’t seem like an option right now. 

Forced isolation upset my Arcadian rhythm, in a figurative sense.  The reality was that I had ultimately withdrawn from personal relationships about the same time I stopped blogging over two years ago.  For nearly four years, I’d been writing a weekly chronicle of my growth as a woman and writer.  Writing through hardships typically meant discovery through self-reflection.  When initially diagnosed with a mental illness, my response was reclusive.  I was ashamed and embarrassed, immobilized by fear of stigma and rejection.  If I could not write about what I was going through, I couldn’t blog at all.  It wouldn’t be authentic.

It was about a year after my diagnosis that schools closed.  That’s when the world got small and I got smaller… because I’d designed a world where all my social interactions and relationships were tied in to a job I no longer went to, with people I would no longer see.  I’d been hiding in silence, and now I existed in silence.  And in the silence, humbled in the darkness of my desolation, after many months of quarantine and seeking to fill a never-ending appetite for something ever elusive, there was God.

I could cook a hundred new dishes to try and quench the hunger, plant a dozen gardens, paint my dreams in acrylics, or binge-watch every binge-worthy show on Netflix, and I would still be left dissatisfied.  It wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.  I’d been hiding in the same pew for years, in a church I never really felt at home in, keeping silent and keeping still.  I didn’t want anyone to see me.  

With the coming of the New Year, I decided to try out a new church.  Having checked out seventeen before COVID-19 closed churches, I didn’t have high expectations.  I started with the next church on that old list, and from the second I slid into a pew in the middle, I felt like I had come home.   Hampton Roads Fellowship made me feel safe and welcomed, face masks and all.  For a couple hours on a Sunday, I was reminded of a woman I used to be, a woman who was a part of a much bigger story.   The world was getting bigger.

Then I retreated back to my typical solitude, and the week seemed somehow shorter looking forward to the next service.  I met a woman after church who introduced me to the pastor, and he introduced me to a girl I might get to know.  It turns out she lives on my street with her roommates, also members.  She invited me out for lunch with some people from church, and my world got bigger.  She and her roommate picked me up for a five mile walk down Chesapeake Avenue along the bay since Monday was a holiday, and as we talked, the world got bigger. 

I attended a Zoom prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and as I listened to other members share words of encouragement and personal trials, the world got bigger.  I got to virtually meet my pastor and find out about becoming a member, and I had plans on Friday night for the first time since the pandemic for a singles’ spaghetti dinner.  I stayed out too late laughing and woke up too early so that I could walk with one of my new friends, and we spent half the day talking and working at a coffee shop over and matchas and lattes.


It was there in that coffee shop, after a week of safely socializing with new people, that it hit me.   Apart from God, no good can come from me.  In my silence, no good came from me either.  When I share openly about my struggles, trials, weakness, and brokenness, it’s not me that people are looking at.  Mr. America, an old family friend (whose name I mispronounced as a child and it stuck) shared at my parents’ small group eight years ago, “God did not intend for us to go through this battle alone.”  Those words echo back at me now.

This Coronavirus world is a battle in the wilderness.  Absent our busyness and the normal ebb and flow of life before quarantine, I think we’ve had more time to think about our small worlds, and that reflection has a purpose.  I saw my desperate need for a relationship with God, and that prompted me to seek out a community, a church family.  They put the world back in perspective. With every new person who was vulnerable with me this week, I saw that we are connected in the thorns that torment us.  My battle with depression in these recent years has made me able to empathize with the current struggles within a world that keeps getting bigger. 

Perhaps the fundamental distinction is that I stayed small.  That doesn’t mean my new friends won’t remember my name, I just hope that when they think of me, they are encouraged by my story.  Those years I spent hiding and protecting my secret, I chose to be in the battle alone.   God wasn’t glorified in my silence.  He was glorified when two women spoke of him while sharing a cup of coffee. 

We’ve been studying the art of persuasion in my seventh grade classes.  The rhetorical triangle: ethos, logos, and pathos.  Aristotle claimed that we persuade others by establishing credibility, reasoning logically with facts, and appealing to emotions.  Meanwhile, our pastor is teaching the gospel of John, and it is essentially an artful persuasive essay, urging others to believe that Jesus was God.  The apostle John persuades through John the Baptist’s testimony and the recounting of Christ’s miracles in an effortless Aristotelian argument, documenting facts and observations, building Christ’s character, and introducing a savior. 

John the Baptist was “a voice in the wilderness” that pointed to Jesus.  My brothers all have Bible names: David, Paul, and Timothy.  Their names each have a heritage, a legacy connected to men who lived thousands of years ago who pointed to Jesus.  I might not see my name in the Bible, but since “Laura” means “crown of beauty”, I would joke as I child that I was the joyful crown of beauty for the King of Kings.  I haven’t been that happy, go-lucky girl in a long time.  I don’t feel beautiful. 

But the joy of the Lord isn’t a mood or a mood swing.  It’s not euphoria or a state of mind.  It’s a condition born of the freedom that I’m not the savior, but I have a savior. 

Our humility is born in our humanity, juxtaposed against God as man, sinless beneath the skin.  Isolation made me see how small I am, like our pastor quoted today, a speck of dust.  Pastor then asked what can be expected of dust, and while rhetorical, I thought, “There will always be more.”  Every name in scripture somehow pointed to God.  I can be silent, or I can be a voice in this distinctive wilderness that points to God.  My name isn’t in the Bible, but it’s written in another book that man cannot see because I believe John won his argument that Jesus is the Christ.  Not because of who I am, but because of who God is, even a speck of dust can serve His purpose.

I don’t have to have all together.  I don’t have to be good enough.  I am humbled by my failures and weakness.  That’s where intersecting with others in this church family has begun a transformation in my life.  These people have been transparent, and I’m not alone anymore in this battle in the wilderness.  The conversation always ends up being about who God is, not who we are.  You don’t have to share your cup with me, but share it with someone.  And if you’ve been looking for something to fill the void, maybe start with the book of John.

My Digital Pawprint

Five years ago, it happened like it did tonight, yet on a night so unlike tonight.  I had to write.  I started this blog.  Now, it’s been 287 days since I posted, and were it not for my neighbor’s prompting, I might not be tapping to the pings of the raindrops beyond my front porch.  We can’t go anywhere.  We can’t do anything, and while that’s almost hyperbolic, I think he just wanted me to give him something to read.

I think about writing.  It was easier when I was happy and in love and it flowed as I glowed, tapping to a marital drum. Tick tock.  There were no wedding bells a year and a half ago, and I’m not getting any younger.  I teach writing, yes, I still teach writing despite the closure, to sixth and seventh graders at Spratley Gifted Center in Hampton.  Two years ago, I thought I had my dream job.  A year ago, I worked in an educator’s nightmare, and this year, I landed a post for which I never anticipated I’d soon feel I’d been groomed my whole life.

These hundred kids affected me, altered me, changed the way I saw the classroom and my role in it.  From September, I was immersed in Gifted Strategies professional development sessions, gaining exposure to and, in turn, utilizing these strategies with my students.  In January, I started my required graduate work in gifted studies to earn a gifted endorsement, taught by my own assistant principal.  Life had a natural ebb and flow like the ocean tide, coming to high tide and receding each day.  I taught by day, hit up Planet Fitness before making dinner, and fell asleep watching Netflix only to start the cycle again.

And then school was paused. And canceled until further notice.  And now, I won’t see my students again this year.  And isn’t it truly ironic, unlike most of Morsiette’s song, that the social media channels we (not parochial aged students) deemed as distractions and interferences to authentic communication are now only means by which we have to collaborate with our students.  Hampton City Schools has wielded the power of Google Classroom and the Google Suite to attempt to continue facilitating instruction during this closure.  Via Hangouts, I have seen my students; we collaborated for a planning session about the coming quarter.  We all agreed that how we teach and learn has to change.

The ebb and flow of daily life has been indefinitely interrupted.  I remember reading an article about the Black Death in an SOL remediation session last year.  The plague raged six years, claiming more than twenty-five million people’s lives.  I’ve never lived through a pandemic crisis.  Stateside, we were nearing 4,000 deaths last I checked, and about 42,000 worldwide.  I sit here on my writer’s perch, cuddled in a pink bathrobe, writing to the foreground of fuchsia azalea bushes in full bloom and the backdrop of grey-white skies and wet streets that reflect the porch light of my new neighbor across the street.  There are no children playing, but no one told the birds to stay inside.

And here, absent ebb and flow, routine and normalcy, and here, confined to this still street in downtown Hampton with only the rain and the birds to remind me I’m not alone, I realize that it’s not just how we teach and learn that has to change, but how we have to live.  I can give you something to read.  I don’t have answers to the fears or uncertainties.  I just have my voice, my written word, with which to interact via social distancing, a practice that’s not unfamiliar to those who’ve battled with depression.  I’ve been there.  I don’t want to be there again, and so I have to change.

My new weekday routine involves waking up to the new love of my life.  Dante is a tiny Terrier-Chihuahua mix I inherited in January after someone gave him up.  God knew I’d need a companion, and though I took him in at first as a foster pet, within a week Amazon had delivered his personalized dog collar with my contact information.  He snuggles with me on the couch as I grade, call parents, update email correspondence, and plan new digital lessons.  When my Fit Bit nudges me to get in that minimal 250 steps at ten until the hour, Dante watches me with perked ears in curiosity as I run a repeated loop through my kitchen, dining room, family room, and study.

After eight hours, Dante dances in the doorway, silently begging for a walk.  Some days we go to Sandy Bottom Natural Park and make the three-plus mile outer loop.  The first mile, I try to shut out the noise of the interstate, hoping to find the stillness on the rocky trail.  Then the rocks turn to fallen pine branches and the highway to a sea of backyards, and I try to shut out the inner voice that cries I was supposed to be in one of those houses by now, with a child and not a dog.  I know the trail will end soon when the whir of I-64 returns, but by then I welcome it, preferring to wonder where the cars are going to what’s happening inside those picture-perfect houses lining the second third of the trail.

Some days, we go to Fort Monroe Beach and park at the end by Paradise Ocean Club.  I hitch up Dante’s leash, kick off my shoes, and let him lead me through the brush down to the water.  I pass the spot where Charming proposed, there and back, and sometimes it doesn’t cross my mind.  I make footprints in the sand and I remember what was, then I see Dante, his tiny footsteps, and remember what is.  And what is… well, it’s good.


Before the Governor’s orders to stay inside, Dante and I joined my friend Leila’s family for walks at Sandy Bottom and Fort Monroe.  Her oldest is actually one of my sixth graders.  She’s bonded with Dante.  During our hours of walking, I was able to really talk with her, and not just as her teacher, but as her God-Aunt, as she calls me.  She told me about her experience with life since the closure, what she misses, what she likes, what teachers have tried, what hasn’t worked, what she wants more of… on Saturday, we passed the interstate and the backyards and I barely noticed.  I miss seeing my students.  They are my inspiration.  While my God-niece spoke, I was re-energized and excited for the changes to come for all of us.  Our world was always changing.  I just think now we have the time to stop and witness it happening.

The ebb and flow of daily life has changed for all of us.  I drink my coffee at the computer instead of in the car on the way to work.  Planet Fitness is issuing refunds.  I ordered Just Dance for the Wii of eBay and sweat my way to my step goal.  I look at a computer screen an average of ten hours a day, including the hour and half reserved for learning Italian with DuoLingo.  Most days, Dante and I simply try to remember what living is supposed to be, even it’s just the two of us.

Being told to stay indoors can be a gift, or at least it has for me as it’s forced me to reevaluate myself and the world around me.  I don’t know what will happen in a month or two, but fear hasn’t gripped me.  Instead, I’ve been overwhelmed by a need to look inside and see what I can fix with this time I’ve been given.

Demystifying Depression

It’s still light out, the overcast kind of day where indigo lines the clouds.  Birds chirp.  Children play.  My next door neighbor sits on his front porch, too.  It’s the kind of Hampton summer night with that dip in temperature that invites the average person outside to enjoy it.  I’m not average though.  I wrote half this post inside because going outside didn’t match my writing mood.

I still Google depression in varied search terms about once a day, figuring that someone out there must have found an effective, immediate cure for the abstract mental illness that’s found its home on me.  The causes seem logical.  My mother would name disillusionment and mourning as two potential culprits.  I’m mourning my old career at Kecoughtan and a relationship gone wrong, so disillusionment follows as two primary pillars of my life are in disarray, both being a part of a school community where I loved going to work every day and being a part of a marriage that would have likely led to a family.

But identifying the root causes hasn’t produced a cure, hasn’t snapped me out of this funk.  My searches have focused on unearthing coping strategies, always hoping I’ll find something I haven’t already read in another article or blog post.  Advice bears some commonality.  Exercise.  Eat right.  Go to social activities.  Engage in a hobby.  Talk to a cognitive behavioral therapist.  Write in a journal.  They’re all good suggestions.  I try them all, to some degree.  Nevertheless, I’m still not back to being me.

I can only guess that writing a blog post can’t hurt, if it does anything to help.  The problem is that I always write about what’s on my mind.  That’s the authenticity of blogging night.  And if I write about what’s on my mind, this channel is going to be all me, all the time, because that’s what depression is.  School’s out.  The days are long.  I think a lot.  And it’s always about depression.  I don’t know that I’ve come across anything published online by someone written while battling this illness.  There are plenty of survivors who over hopeful tips, but I imagine, like me, during the darkness, who wants to do anything, much less write about it on the internet.  Unfortunately, tonight that’s what’s on my mind.

School let out at a half day on Friday, a welcomed gift to most teachers.  I, however, didn’t know how I would use up the extra time.  I eventually landed at the beach.  It was one moment that, for me, defined depression.  If I wanted to explain what depression was like to someone who hadn’t experienced it before, I’d use my experiences – like this one, at Fort Monroe beach after school let out, to the spot I would have typically called my favorite place.

Depression is sunbathing at the beach, being aware of the way the skin warms even as the insides chill when subjected to prolonged cerebral conversation.  It’s hearing nearby children laughing while building a sand castle then reciting the pledge of allegiance that they’d probably just learned in school, now out for the summer, and it’s finding all of that is somehow absurd.  All the while, you tell yourself that that is normal, combating those negative thoughts, simultaneously only reminding yourself you’re still not normal.

Depression is plotting to fill all the empty hours between rising and sleeping again, searching for tasks to occupy those waking moments at a functional level and for purpose and worth at a spiritual one. It’s doing those things even though you don’t feel like doing them because you secretly hope that doing them will bring you out of the darkness. It’s knowing that just because you can’t feel God’s presence doesn’t mean He’s not real – in reality, you don’t feel anything anyway.

Depression is failing to see a photograph worth taking, browsing through the camera roll to discover what used to be worth capturing in digital, and wondering if you’ll ever see beauty in the horizon again.  And when you realize that, you force yourself to stop and snap a selfie, then frown at the image on your screen.  Depression is watching family home videos and trying to remember what all that joy and inspiration once felt like.  It’s questioning why, when you want it so badly, you can’t just be that person again.


Depression is clicking “Delete” on every piece of junk mail in the inbox, instantaneously resisting any possible temptation, unable to fathom how one could possibly need anything at all.  More things would just require more to maintain and take care of and more locations and organizational systems to store them.  The muchness and abundance of life overwhelms you.

For years, I found comfort perched on my front porch in this white wicker love seat.  I long to feel that again.  I don’t know if I’ll write again next week, but I gathered the gumption to try and contribute something to the online community that might be beneficial to another human being that’s out there Google-ing the same search terms as I am.  I may have started this post inside, but I came out into the light when I realized what I was doing in avoiding the brighter mood.  Shouldn’t that be another sign of progress?

Doing Things Anyway

It wouldn’t matter if my street were alive or silent.  No outside factors could set the tone for writing night to be uplifting or chaotic.  I don’t feel like writing.  I don’t feel like doing anything these days.  Sitting down to put metaphorical pen to paper requires something inside me to generate content, and I’m not sure anything of value rests below the surface of my skin.

I long for one thing only: to feel like myself again.  I want this depression to lift and free me to experience joy and inspiration.  I want my thoughts to flow onto the page the way they used to every Tuesday night in a manner by which I could set my watch, so constant and dependable.  But you can’t fast-forward your way out of depression.  I’m learning that the hard way.  The only way out of it is through it, it seems, continuing to hope the next day is better than the one before.


Every time I Google how to get out of depression, I find a blog post or article reminding me of the importance of physical activity.  I still go to the gym nearly every day, and while my workouts aren’t legendary, I put in my time on the elliptical and sometimes muster the energy to hit some machines.  During this period of my life, my time at Planet Fitness is what I look forward to most, not because of the exercise that’s supposed to boost my endorphins and give me natural good feelings, but because of Chuck, my gym mentor.  I don’t really need a paid therapist when I have Chuck to listen and advise roughly five days a week.  While I don’t doubt there are mental benefits to physical exercise, the relationship I have with Chuck is a more important constant to me.  While my own internal dialogue is more like a monologue in recent weeks, I find hope in his council.  He greets me with a smile and a hug, and he challenges me to take more steps… like writing this blog post.

In the last week, I’ve focused on completing tasks I assigned myself as actionable steps I could take out of this season of depression.  Some goals are physical like eating right with cheat days and drinking water.  Others are personal or mental like reading certain books.  Since I lack the internal motivation to do things, I’ve simply started filling empty blocks of time with these tasks, figuring the least I can do is try and make myself a better person while I’m fighting my way back to happy and healthy.  I committed myself to texting a friend every day, and after a few days, she sent me a text before I reached out.  The intentionality of making contact with her, a focus on someone other than myself, resulted in building a relationship.

Not every adventure has been successful.  My nieces graduated from pre-school last week, and while I sat with a smile, I didn’t feel the joy of the occasion like the others in attendance.  I smiled and hugged them but couldn’t name pride or excitement.  Last weekend, I went to Water Country, one of my favorite places.  I thought that surely I would laugh and scream with glee when dropped from the top of Vanish Point, but even the thrills of the rides couldn’t stir any genuine emotions.  At this stage, I’m not sure if it’s the depression or the anti-depressant medication that makes me largely numb, which is not a good set-up to try and write an inspiring post.  Instead, I’m writing about this very thing: not being able to feel the good or the bad of everyday life.  It’s like I’m perpetually bored from the inside out, and though I keep looking for fulfillment in external things, ultimately until what’s inside is right, I’m not going to find the emotional connections I’m looking for out there.

On Monday, I tackled a more difficult relational task.  I met with someone with whom I used to be very close, someone who I wronged deeply.  My actions led to the end of that relationship, and even on a good day, it’s hard to face someone you’ve hurt.  I pushed aside the numbness and hoped my apology would be sincere despite the emptiness I sensed at my core.  To my surprise, when sitting face to face with him, I felt the full weight of being sorry, and although it was painful, I realized what a gift he’d given me.  I didn’t know how much I needed his forgiveness.

Feelings are tricky when you’re battling depression.  You can’t trust them, and often they don’t come at all.  Rather, life becomes a mental battlefield.  I decide to wake up and go to work.  I decide to drive two hours to meet an old friend and be forgiven.  I decide to go to the gym and see Chuck.  I decide to send a text message and check on a girlfriend.  I don’t feel joy, but my feelings can’t be trusted.  I don’t want to write, but maybe this boring journey through depression will mean something to a reader.  I don’t feel like doing anything, but I do things anyway, and the results make life better to varied degrees.  And maybe when I’m finally out of this depression, I’ll be a better person for it.

When You Start to Notice

Though it’s after eight, the street is still buzzing with barking dogs and laughing children.  It’s hard to believe it’s been more than half a year since I sat at my writing perch and typed my way to sanity.  For nearly one hundred and ninety Tuesday nights, I protected my blogging binges at all costs.  That changed as I entered a particularly dark season of my life, one I’m still finding my way through.


This morning while crossing the Hampton Roads Harbor, I noticed that the sun was shining, glistening off the surface of the water.  It didn’t make me smile or warm inside, but I noticed that I noticed.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had been aware of the sun.  For too long I’ve been going through the motions, driving to and from work, hitting the gym without enthusiasm, feeling time passing slowly like an hourglass that’s been jammed by grains of sand.  Winter’s always cold and dark, and I hoped my moods would lift with the arrival of spring.  The sun came, and with it warmth, but my world still felt cold and dark.

I’d been fighting through the darkness in silence, unable to identify its root or power.  I no longer felt interested in personal passions and hobbies.  It was February when I sat through a professional development session entitled “More than Sad”.  It was about understanding mental illness.  It was there, sitting amongst colleagues after school in the media center that I realized I was more than just sad.  I was depressed.  The trainer on the video screen had listed all my symptoms and put a name to them.

Even the sanctity of this white wicker love seat and the established practice of writing as therapy couldn’t inspire me.  For a woman once driven by impulses to find herself void of them was like opening coffers of gold to find the treasure had been stolen.  For a while I did the things I knew to do, but eventually, absent desire, I just stopped doing entirely.  That’s when it started to become a challenge to get dressed for work and wash my hair.  Even at my nephew’s soccer games, I felt disconnected and on the outside of the life happening around me.  Time slowed so much that proctoring a student test for three hours felt like actual torture.

And as I write those words, I know I’ve made progress.  Like noticing the shining sun, there are tiny glimmers of hope that I’m discovering myself again, if not a slightly changed version.  It started with seeking help.  I saw a counselor and then a doctor.  I was put on medication.  I ended the silence at work and confided with an administrator who was very understanding.  I sunk lower somehow and found that, after telling my friends what I was experiencing, they still wanted to be in my company even if I was feeling low.  I didn’t want to do anything, but often they encouraged me to go to the beach or meet for a drink, and those normal outings sometimes held glimmers of hope that things would be better.

One day a couple weeks ago at the gym I was feeling so low that I actually googled “How to get out of depression”.  I scanned some typical articles then landed on some blog posts.  One suggested that the motivation or drive to do something didn’t initiate action, so a person struggling with depression needs to act first instead of waiting for the desire to come.  It was the first piece of advice that altered how I approached life.  Since that day, I’ve scheduled tasks to fill up the empty hours between work and bedtime.  I rarely want to do them, but I have to admit there has been some level of satisfaction in the doing itself.

Another blog mentioned that the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns hadn’t cured her depression, but it had marked a turning point in her way of thinking.  Mostly, it totes itself as the non-medicinal cure, but ultimately, it’s a guide to understanding cognitive behavioral therapy.  Its premise is that there are certain dysfunctional attitudes and types of thinking that are at the root of depression.  In essence, I don’t want to be alone with myself because my brain is a negative space.  I might personalize an unreturned email from a colleague to infer an imagined problem when the email simply was filtered to a spam folder.  After reading this book, I’ve been intentionally trying to change my internal monologue to avoid dysfunctions like that.

With every Tuesday since October, I’ve thought about sitting down to right but always dismissed it for some reason or another.  Until tonight, I didn’t feel I had anything worthwhile to write about.  I don’t have a dream job or a man who loves me.  There’s no princes or weddings or lights at the end of the tunnel.  It was just this weekend while talking with a friend about his life problem’s that I realized my battle with depression is my reality and therefore my subject manner.  Since sharing my struggle with my administrator, I have gained confidence being open about what I’m experiencing.  And I’ve found, more often than not, that the people on the other end of the conversation have fought their own battles and understand.  I’ve mostly imagined the stigma attached to the diagnosis, too.

Perhaps the greatest change I made, inspired by Burns’ book, was to make a list.  It started out as “10 Actionable Personal Challenges”.  I began thinking about things that I could do to change my life circumstances, to make this season without impulse one framed by self-improvement in all areas.  At first, I wasn’t sure I could come up with ten, but the typed list grew and the table expanded until I had thirty things that I could do with all my uninspired time.  Having accepted that the will wouldn’t be there, I chose action.  I went from curling up on the coach after work to having more than enough to do in a day… not mindlessly watching Netflix, but reading books and completing meaningful tasks.

I’m on day four, and like noticing the sun shining, opting to curl up on my front porch on a Tuesday night again shows progress.  That’s the thing about depression.  When you’re in it, you lose all passion for life.  So when you’re coming out it, you get to appreciate the little things again, savoring them one at a time.  The street has quieted around me as I’ve typed, the sun past setting.  Chirping birds replaced the laughing children.  And I notice them, too.

Truth vs. Transparency

The Phantoms and the Hurricanes battle it out at Darling a couple of blocks south.  The stadium lights illuminate the treetops between us; though I can’t see the football game, a familiar voice announces the plays; though it won’t be quiet on my street tonight, the loudspeaker is drowned out by the devil on my shoulder, with a still more familiar voice.  My insecurities perk up when it heckles me, and the potential inspiration in my blossoming evening glories is subsequently vanquished.

My juniors explored a released writing prompt today asking them to form an argument supporting or defending the statement, “Failure is not the worst thing in the world.  The very worst is not to try.”  So far, this topic has been the most popular.  When asked to take a position about raising the driving age, these students struggle to move beyond the juvenile it’s-just-not-fair support that lends itself to ranting rather than arguing.  Failure and trying, however, teenagers have an opinion, and supporting their position comes more naturally when they’re convicted by reason and experience, not just required task.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to church.  Our discussions today left me marveling at the power of a young person’s shared voice, the collective sum of three classes weighted like a weekend retreat.  Some students offered age old adages like, “You never know what you can do until you try.”  Others supplemented diction, volunteering personal claims such as: “Failure can be a good thing because…”  Is trying and failing worse than having tried at all?  Year after year, Michael Jordan is provided as an example.  No one ventured to disagree with the statement about not trying being worse than failing, at least not out loud.  This discussion was the best all year in my lunch block class, and I am smiling into the eerie twilight and drum line’s solo because the crowd’s cheers from afar coincide with the previous sentence on my screen.

Of course, my students were inspiring.  It’s far more acceptable to try and fail when you’re a teenager than it is when you’re in your mid-thirties, or at least the world’s response is safer, cutting you slack as you learn to navigate with a new mindset.  I’ve come to expect a fair amount of anxiety surrounding writing nights these days, primarily because the things I most need to figure out aren’t fodder for public engagement.  My fingers try to type while bound.  I write honestly, week after week, and I’m discouraged because while I approached these writing nights with a priority for speaking truthfully, the personal details absent in my public narrative can be misconstrued.  I’ve been authentic about the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I own.  Limiting my blogging topics might amount to a lack of total transparency, but I haven’t lied.  I’ve been as honest as I am free to be without violating others’ privacy or damaging reputations.

So, last week, I identified my flirtation with taking a sabbatical.  I’ve been doing community service at the library across from Darling Stadium a few hours a week, and the change of pace from a high school classroom is refreshing.  On Saturday, it would have been warm enough to walk home after close, just before the sun set.  I’d spent the last hour restocking books, marveling at all the thoughts people published that I hadn’t thought about before.  The abundance of knowledge, the power of print, and Dewey’s master plan ordered my footsteps as a tiptoed through the stacks, looking always to the top or bottom shelf when pulling items for a hold request.  People can be predictable.  Themes apply everywhere.

I thought I would fail at blogging if I stopped these Tuesday night writing ventures.  But I also thought I would write my way back to life again, so if no good can come from words typed by bound fingers, then why I am here?  If I take the risk to share always more than I should, and that is not enough, and I’m not able to violate others’ privacy, then not sharing anything at all would certainly please the devil on my shoulder, the one taunting me as accompanied by a distant drum line echoing into the night, reminding me of past transgressions as though they are in present tense, and I try to fight the message that no good can come from me, that no amount of true words can ever change false ones in the past.

I love working in the library.  It’s slow and quiet.  The smell of the books welcomes me.  It used to be that I felt most at peace and in God’s presence here on writing nights.  I’m not sure if God is here or anywhere.  The confession attached to judgment of my eternal soul should illustrate a willingness to be authentic about what actually matters, and even as I strike at the letters on the keypad, I chide myself for being more aware of the devil on my shoulder than the evening glories blooming beside me.

I didn’t plant them this year, didn’t water or feed or trim them, and yet I enjoy their unexpected arrival.  The evening glories are, perhaps, the opposite of trying and failing: somehow not trying and succeeding.  I appreciate the existence of a single white blossom because it’s rare such life and beauty comes without effort.  There’s still an angel on the other shoulder, and it shows up in the stillness of the library, when I’m quiet, and I’m at peace, and I finger the spines of books published by writers who believed they had figured out the meaning of life.

I haven’t, but maybe I should be writing the story of figuring it out instead of weekly blog installments, treading carefully not to offend, condemn, or incriminate.  I used to sense a brightness to the darkest of Tuesday nights, like the sunset beyond the library walls when I reconvened with the real world Saturday evening.  Inside the locked doors behind me, books full of claims and thoughts slept in darkness, myriad opposing viewpoints lining the same shelves, contradictory truths side by side.

And I, tasting the sunset warm my skin after an autumn breeze, saw truth as it is instead of as we try to make it be.  Black and white is easy, like the Dewey system; everything has a place… until you hit the CD collection, and you have evidence that even Dewey didn’t have it all figured out.  My kids spent all day convincing me that trying and failing is better in the long run, and learning from my failures starts with writer’s growth, which would mean writing a story that makes others uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s time for a sabbatical, after all.


Should I Stop Blogging?

I invited the rain to accompany me for writing night.  It declined.  Instead, I type into the calm comfort of an October in Hampton Roads.  The stillness is punctuated only by the scent of my neighbor’s cigar and his R&B mix drifting over from next door.  I crave the quiet.  I prefer it, certainly.  Yet, I consider it writer’s growth that I’m not camping out on the back steps wishing things were different.

I’ve spent a lot of time wishing things were different, but I’ve never changed a moment in history.  My life stands full of new beginnings that were preceded by drastic failures.  I’m alive.  I’m here.  I’m waking up.  I’m working. I exist, and that requires survival, so I keep going through the daily routine.  It would be easier to still my soul if I could rest in the assurances my childhood faith provided.  Absent that foundation, everything feels like it’s falling apart.

Granted, that’s just a feeling.  Hating the drive to work didn’t make it any shorter.  It’s actually quite beautiful crossing the water after sunrise.  Often, I’ll leave Hampton, and by the time I’ve emerged from the bridge tunnel on the other side, the weather is completely different.  I think I remember learning that it takes thirty days for something to become a habit.  I don’t hate the drive to work anymore.  I stopped wishing things were different.  I accepted the interruption to my preferred plan before or after it became a part of my new normal.  It really doesn’t matter when.

Six months ago, it wasn’t just my relationship with Charming that fell apart.  I imploded.  I never returned to a normal routine.  There was no normal to return to.  Since then, I have been, essentially, rebuilding my life from the ground up.  The major problem there is that I haven’t found another foundation to replace the one I surrendered.  There were “Why’s?” before… but they were fewer in number.  I am quite certain I was the only one at my grandmother’s funeral who was mourning the loss of the coping strategy heaven used to be.

It’s never been safe to ask: What if there is no heaven?  Even in June, I couldn’t have asked it. I was still too programmed into protecting myself from shame or embarrassment. I teach teenagers to follow certain guidelines in what they choose to publish on the internet; would I be so reckless as to blog about my life or someone else’s if the public, permanent presence could do damage?  Yes, even in June, I was too scared to be myself, too scared to ask the what if’s?  I don’t know what to believe about heaven or hell.  I can’t change history.  I wake up and work, and I’ll do it again next week.  I share this, publically, because it is my story and my truth.  I can be most honest about events which concern me.

I’ve been trying to focus there in recent weeks in an attempt to fight the self-imposed writer’s block of avoiding telling other people’s stories. Over the years, I’ve written honestly about experiences where eight different people were involved and eight corresponding versions of the truth.  Recently, I’ve respected confidentiality when people in my actual life don’t wish to enter the annals of blogs, and thought it’s been difficult to navigate, I’ve experienced tremendous growth as a writer plowing through blocks that exist because what I write should promote growth, not disparage or expose.  It didn’t happen right away, but I’m finding a new normal in my weekly blog as well.

Don’t be distracted by the cute pictures of me with babies or food or nature.  You’re reading along on my journey to find my way back to life again.  You might miss the confidence, the faith, the hope, the story of falling in love and a promise of happily ever after… but you’re getting a deposit of authenticity each week.  I’m living.  I have it better than a lot of people.  I don’t expect or deserve more.  I wake up five days a week and focus on living my life now, seeing the sea of young people in front of me, and finding comfort in the reality that they are growing as writers and thinkers.

Much of my free time this past week has been devoted to grading personal narratives.  One of my AP kids chronicled succinctly within page requirements about how she came to terms with death’s inevitability.  I’d been grading for hours when I got to this one, and as she described attending her uncle’s funeral, I was standing in the cemetery across from Shoppingtown Mall in Syracuse before I realized my eyes were closed.  This young woman had selected just the right words and experiences to connect with me, and while I’m sure many others can relate, again, that’s not the point.


The point is that when I do what I have to do, I grow. Just as driving to work every morning has given me the time to reflect quietly about my life while the sun rises and Mother Nature provides an inspiring setting, grading narratives reminds me of the individuals filling the seats in my college-level class.  They will likely encounter the question about whether or not there is a heaven, and I want them to ask it.  This year is about bravery.  Take the right risks.   Be intentional. I stopped grading the girl’s essay and let sleep come.  That’s a compromise I wouldn’t have made six months ago.  Sleep comes easier this fall than it has in ten years.

Maybe because I’ve been able to be honest about some, starting with tonight’s deposit.  I’m not happy and untouched by the broken road that led me here.  I’m not much to speak of, actually.  Just a high school teacher trying to make a difference in a small town with an inspiring drive, waiting for life to have meaning without a family legacy.

I’m not trying to convince myself that work and Pokémon Go are enough.  They fill the empty spaces, but they don’t fill in the blanks.  I don’t have it all together, and I’m learning to express that.  As it should be, I live my current life in the shadow of what was planned, but that’s not the point.  The point is I keep waking up and doing what I know to do, hoping the answers will somehow come to me without bringing me to my knees, though even Grams would have been praying for that at this point.  Life will bring what it will bring; like the music changing my trajectory tonight, I’m open.

Firsts, Lasts, and Always

The brisk air, nocturnal melodies, and charcoal smoke carried by a breeze from down the street make fall’s arrival undeniable.  Summer heat finally surrendered, having hung on far too long already, and autumn’s reign sees the colors changing.  Changing like I’m changing as I remember falling in love with fall three years ago while I fell in love with Charming.  Will carving pumpkins always remind me of our first date in Hampton?

It’s been nearly six months since I surrendered a certain future, an always and forever with him that was supposed to be the fulfillment of childhood dreams.  Like the smoke that appears from a chimney stack then disappears into the overcast, grey sky, I know that we were and that we no longer are, and in light of three and a half decades, three years might make for a handful of puffs of smoke.  Still, vivid recollections of moments when Charming and I first started dating seize me unexpectedly, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with the memories.

Is it strange that I’m simultaneously warmed and chilled when the breeze of Memory Lane settles on me?  I still smile in spite of myself when I’m reminded of bringing Charming to watch my nephew play soccer at Gosnold’s park or sitting on my front porch together reading G.K. Chesterton.  Though I tried to collect all the knick knacks from our courtship after everything fell apart, I still uncover some persistent reminder every time I clean the house.  We lived intentionally.  We crammed adventure after bucket list adventure into every weekend, making memories all along the East Coast from the Outer Banks to Upstate New York.  Now that it’s over, what should I feel when I think of the years we shared?

I don’t feel regret or disappointment.  There’s no anger or shame.  If I was going to experience that range of negative emotions at some point, it would have been with fall’s onset.  Maybe Charming will sneak into autumn winds for years to come, and I’m okay with that.  He certainly laid claim to all my best dates, and albeit the best of two proposals.  I remember keeping track of our dates the first few months on a worn receipt in my purse because there were so many amazing outings that I couldn’t keep track in my head anymore. The crumpled paper is in a box now, nestled between what remains of our three years doing life together.

The pitter patter of rain began moments ago, but it’s grown to a soft percussion band.  The weather is changing with my mood, or more likely, I with it.  The steady beat of raindrops on the treetops casts a net around my yard.  There is only this moment, this house, this laptop.  This life.  I’m still here, six months after Charming.  Fall still came, and it still inspires me.  I loathed this season all my life as summer’s kidnapper and winter’s promise.  Then, three years ago, it brought with it a man I would fall in love with and served as a stage to host the start of our relationship.

I bought bales of hay and welcoming pumpkins and scarecrows with smiling faces, arranging them beside this white wicker love seat.  An autumn wreath had seemed lonely on the red door once Charming came knocking, so I suppose I hoped it won me some good will to honor this budding relationship with some holiday décor.  With all our wedding plans and travel last year, I don’t think I even bought a pumpkin.  He agreed it would be wise not to decorate for Christmas given how many weekends I’d be away.  I should have realized then that something wasn’t right.

The best version of me couldn’t have compromised on Christmas, not even if I’d only be home one weekend out of five.  Eventually, I wound up decorating the yearbook hall with my staff as a winter snowman sales campaign.  I lost myself somewhere on I-64, driving back and forth from Hampton, the good life I’d built always in the rear view mirror, GPS drifting between the people I loved and those I would grow to.  Three years of cramming adult responsibilities into four days and enjoying the company of an incredible man on the weekends before and after one of us drove four hours… well, it took its toll.

I was living in Hampton, but I wasn’t mentally here.  It wasn’t visible – more like the transition of seasons where subtle changes collectively mark time’s passing. I gradually unplugged from my routine before Charming, typically declining invites because we had plans in DC.  After we got engaged, I stopped spending so much time with my brother’s kids.  I’d leave the soccer field and burst into tears as soon as my car door would muffle the sobs.  Every occasion was another “last”, and they collectively took their toll as well.

When I fell in love with Charming, I had everything I wanted right here within fifteen minutes of this white wicker love seat.  The rain had stopped, but the pitter patter is starting again.  On Saturday when I poked my head out the back door, the fresh scent of fall energized me for a cleaning spree.  While in the shed, the plastic bin of autumn décor caught my eye.  I pushed aside forlorn wedding decorations and, with them, the guilty tug of them collecting dust in the humid shed, discarded in disuse. There is always some reminder of him when I’m cleaning.  It was to be expected.  Path clear, I hoisted the tub up onto my hip and bolstered myself for the task ahead.

With every movement of my body, I was fighting a wave of nostalgia.  Surprisingly, though, the flood of memories wasn’t just the Hallmark movie type.  My nephew’s not playing soccer this year, and I was just chatting with a friend who coaches his kids’ teams about how much I miss watching him and playing with the twins.  It was good family fun.  While I positioned bales of hay and fake pumpkins, the loudspeakers declared from across the neighborhood that my old school’s team was playing, and I smiled recalling all the times I’d walked the two blocks with a camera in hand to snap pictures for the yearbook at Darling Stadium.  It was the way things had been before Charming in this good life I had built.

By the time I had propped up the smiling scarecrow to stand on its own, I recognized the merit of the fact that I was incredibly happy with who I was and where I was throughout the summer of online dating that preceded Charming’s introduction to my weekly normal.  While I wanted to find the right guy, get married, and start a family before my biological clock gives up, I hadn’t anticipated the fragmented mindset I’d develop when that guy wasn’t in Hampton.  I never really wanted to leave, but I had convinced myself and everyone else (a little too early on) that I was ready to start over with Charming wherever that would be.

I don’t want to leave Hampton; maybe someday I’ll have a desire to be somewhere else, but I’m not as young as I used to be.  I feel it more responsible to fall apart and face the disappointment than move across state lines.  I want to be there for as many of my brother’s kids’ “firsts” as circumstances allow.  I want to decorate for Christmas and be home every weekend to make the most of those lights.  It would have truly been a disappointment if last year was really a collection of “lasts” in Hampton.  I’d straddled cities for so long that I split, and I couldn’t get excited about leaving town… even if it was to marry Prince Charming.


The rain stopped again, some time ago, I think.  The veil lifted.  I hear crickets.  The air is cooler now, too.  The sky is lighter having unburdened itself, and I along with it, where the setting and tone serve as unseen forces mutually acting upon each other as my narrative unfolds, driving me toward the peace of an honest, autumn night at home, alone on my white wicker love seat recalling memories with a smile.  Nothing lasts forever…. not relationships, not soccer games, not perfectly carved pumpkins.

And certainly not fall.  But another will be back next year, and it’s okay if it always makes me think of Charming.  The winds have stilled, and my front porch and I settle into the peace of another Tuesday night in Hampton.