The Do-Over

It’s midnight.  My tears have finally dried.  My lungs have stopped heaving.  I have wadded tissue around me and my dog is by my side.  I have cried my first deep cry since I’ve been here in the Asheville area a month now.

imgresMany would say there’s nothing to cry about.  There should be many things I am thankful for.  Just today, I got an apartment that I can move into starting September 7th.  I have made my first big mark on my white canvas life.  On what one of my friends called my “do over.”  Why then all of these tears?

Are they tears of relief or anger?  Maybe both.  I now know I have somewhere more permanent to land.  This cottage has been far from ideal.  It is not the “writer’s retreat” or the “lover’s paradise” I was hoping it might have been.  The pictures on the rental site are nicer than the actual space.  There is a mildew smell that wreaks havoc on my lungs and causes me to break out in rashes every time I walk inside.  Mold once covered the entire insides of my window AC unit and the tiled shower has it in droves.  I scrub everything daily, stirring up more allergens probably than necessary, but I itch so much that I can’t stop trying to clean.  Ants march around my food and the recliner has so many stains I’ve stopped counting.  I don’t read by the standing light there anymore once I found that the light bulb is on sideways and held together by duct tape.  I can’t enjoy the backyard with my dog because it has piles of dead sticks among all the pine needles, gravel, and black plastic pushing out from underneath like blackened weeds.  The cottage gardens are overgrown, and instead of scented wisteria vines and honeysuckle, there are bagworms and spider webs at every turn.  I must face the fact that I cannot get back what I once owned and called “mine.”

Are they tears of grief?  Maybe.  I miss my friends and family daily, yet I do not wish to return to my old life.  That old life was a tight, itchy sweater that I only kept on wearing because I thought I had to.  Because I thought it was expected of me.  And though it wasn’t comfortable, it was comforting to know that the restrictions I had placed on that life at least kept me safe.  Yet they also kept me small.  They kept me in what I thought were my expected roles:  The reliable daughter.  The authoritative teacher.  The know it all big sister.  The eccentric aunt.  The go to friend.  I never dipped my foot into the other part of me that has been calling for a very long time.  That part of me that knows how to be sensual, to be sexy, to be earthy, to be creative, to be divinely feminine.  In my previous life, that larger role was a threat to all these smaller, more comfortable facets of myself that seemed more appropriate in polite company.

Maybe the grief is due to the fact that I have begun to face the facts that I will probably not physically have a child of my own.  That I have no man I deeply love in my life to warm my bed.  To hold me in his arms.  To protect me from all of the elements as I face my inner fears.  I have to face them alone.  With no one else’s help.  And I must confront myself and my fears more fiercely than ever before because as Rumi once wrote “What you seek is seeking you.”  I must surrender to myself and to the forces inside of me that know I can no longer look outward for my happiness.  I have arrived in the location I was meant to be in. Now there is no turning back.  I have mysteriously been drawn to this particular land.  To find within its cool mountain streams the pool of soul-recognition.  Now, I must look deep into that watery reflection and see that I have carried what I have been seeking all along.  And at some point, I must bring whatever that is forth.

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This is my Romantic side calling me.

The practical side of me says “Cut all of the poetic bullshit.  Dry your tears.  You get a do over.  So, don’t fuck it up.  You can’t make any mistakes here because you can’t turn back.  Besides, what’s there to go back to?  You fucked all that up.  So, let’s come up with a plan to make your life easier and get you back to being a full-fledged member of society.”

Are these tears of frustration?  Maybe.  How do I listen to my Muse and bring forth my imgres-1inner Romantic creative and beautiful soul-self on a larger scale yet honor some of the practicalities of trying to get everything organized and managed well enough so I don’t lose what money and resources I have left?  I am being pulled in these two very opposite directions almost every day and I don’t exactly know how to regulate each one.  I came out here to eat good food.  To play.  To create.  To be in nature. To feel connected.  To explore my options.  And any time I start really getting excited by that, I listen to the practical side that worries more about how much money I spent on a Glade plug-in at Walmart so as to ease the mildew smells of the shack, (er I mean cottage).  After each exciting encounter with the new life and the new me,  I then revert to checking my bank statements and holding back on eating out more often.  I choose to stick with tuna fish sandwiches and chips as opposed to experimenting with my cooking or trying out a new restaurant.  It’s as if I have relocated that old, itchy sweater of my past life and keep putting it on again and again in hopes that it will fit and feel good now that I have made some major life changes.

But that’s not how a do-over should work, right? Maybe.  Maybe not.  But just maybe it’s more like the metaphor of reaching the end of your leash.  You keep coming back to the point where you left off and touch base with the familiar in order to remember that you no longer want that anymore.  Then, you grow stronger and braver and again reach the end of the tether you tied yourself to long ago.  And a few strands break, but not enough to set you free.  Or maybe you got a little too scared that it would snap all at once propelling you too forcefully and into a space that’s not ready toimgres-3
catch you just yet.  So, you come back to the start  again, and again.  You regroup before stretching out even farther the next time, where even more fibers of that old rope break some more.  Until one day, you are floating and then flying and then soaring into the new side of yourself that has been seeking you all along as much as you have been seeking it.

 

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Glory Days

Welcome to high school!

As a high school teacher, I get to relive many other people’s “glory days” year after year.  The biggest of those days culminate the week of Homecoming.  The entire week is dedicated to creating school spirit and getting the student body excited about the first home game.  On “dress up” day, I look forward to watching kids dress up by class, whether it be freshmen as “hippies,” sophomores as “nerds,” juniors as “rock stars,” or seniors as “senior citizens.”  After reading the announcements to my 2nd hour class, I am supposed to tally up how many students did the dress up that day and then pass out a “tootie fruity” candy to each one.  (Like the candy addict I am, I always save a small handful back and snack on those during breaks.)  Homecoming week is also an excuse for me to dress casually and wear my “spirit gear” (e.g., school t-shirts, jerseys, sweatshirts, etc.) and pair it with jeans or khakis.   The week ends with the Homecoming Assembly where students participate in games on the gym floor. There are dance routines performed by cheerleaders and other clubs, and teachers and assistant principals get a pie in the face as a way to boost student morale and raise money for charity.

Oh, and then there’s “Sliders.”

“Sliders” is a tradition that goes way back.  The concept is for  kids (and teachers) to do a dance routine to popular songs, and at the change of each song, they slide into formation to spell out the school’s name:  WEST.  Ok, I understand the appeal when it gets paired with the homecoming’s theme like this year’s “superheroes,” and the entertainment comes with each participating group’s spin on that theme.  Oh, and it is also exciting to watch the male teachers do their “Sliders” routine because there is something inherently funny in watching grown men dress up in costumes (most of the time one is at least dressed like an ugly woman) and try to perform an organized and cohesive routine.  They always knock it out of the park as far as humor and creativity go.

The female teachers’ sliders team is great as well.  They’re clever, organized, energetic, and well, really good.  I always enjoyed watching the sliders from the sidelines.   It’s fun to listen to the roar and cheer of 2,000+ students cheering on their teachers and peers.  But, as far as participating in the event, I’ve gone “under the radar” for 12 years now. I’ve always lived by the phrase, “I teach high school, I’m not in high school.”  Until this year.

I won’t get into the specifics on why I chose to do the routine this year (peer pressure); but I finally said “yes,” simply because our new administration has given our school and our teachers a much needed boost in morale.  I figured in the end, why not contribute back to this place that has given me so much?  Oh, and did I mention “peer pressure”?  😉

Anyway, at our first morning practice before the beginning of the school day, I decided to go for a good first slide and ended up getting two bad floor burns on my forearms.  I laughed it off when inside I was in some serious pain.  It didn’t help when I took a shower later that evening and felt the sting and burn all over again.  But, I survived and showed up every day at practice with enthusiasm.  I also enjoyed the camaraderie with my fellow science, math, English, German, French, art, and Learning Strategies teachers.  They’re great women, and it was refreshing to get to know them better all for the sake of having fun and wanting to make memories for our students.  The routine was easy too.  I just had to show up and practice my sliding.  Everything else was well-organized and under control by two well-organized, calm, yet energetic women.

Ouch! My war wounds!

On the morning of today’s assembly, I started to get “pre-game jitters”.  “What if I mess up?” I thought.  But it was all under control after a half hour practice at 7:45 a.m. and 10 run-throughs of the routine that left us all sweaty, hot, and stinky.  As soon as practice was over, I rushed across the school, ran up 3 flights of stairs while lugging my satchel and other miscellaneous items, and arrived at my locked classroom door at the end of the 2nd bell.  26 students were piled up outside of my classroom asking me where I’ve been.  “Sliders,” I said breathlessly as I tried to balance my large load while fishing my keys out of my pocket as my students stood by in annoyance.  “Ms. H, you’re bleeding,” one girl said.

“What?  Huh?” I mumbled while balancing my bag on one shoulder, my sweatshirt and jacket in one arm, keys in the other hand, and papers in my mouth.  Once we were inside and everyone took their seat (and I had tossed everything haphazardly onto my desk), I looked at my arms and saw blood trickling down.  “Oh, gross,” I thought, and grabbed a Kleenex and wiped myself off right before I handed out the papers for the day.

I played the “sympathy” card the rest of the shortened schedule day and begged my students to cheer me at the assembly.  For whatever reason, maybe because I was going to be up in front of a large crowd of hormonally challenged teenagers later that day, I began reminiscing about my “glory days”.  I was not a popular kid.  I was a middle-of-the-road band geek who had crushes on boys that didn’t know I existed.  I played basketball for the majority of my high school years, but sat most of the time on the bench.  I wore braces for my first 2 years and a retainer for my last two.  (After a late night of “cruising,” I once retrieved my retainer from a McDonald’s trash can after having taken it out to eat my quintessential teenage meal of cheeseburger, fries and a Coke.  But, I digress.)

I went to assemblies and played in the pep band.  I marched at football games and went to dances.  And, though there were happy times interspersed in those 4 years, the majority of the time I worried.  A lot.  I felt like a big microscope was on me, and I feared that everyone would notice every single mistake I would make, and then later judge me for it.  I worried about my looks, my clothes, my grades, my homework, cute boys, and mean girls; and I worried about where I would sit in the cafeteria, and with whom I would be sitting.  I thought I was abnormal because I was having more of these “worry days” than I was “carefree, glory days.”

Now that I’m a high school teacher, I see the reality of high school and teenagers.  Even the popular kids, the bully, the mean girl, the freakishly quiet kid in the corner, the jocks, the band nerd, and the drifter worry about the same things I did.  Back in my day, I was searching for my true identity.  I thought it existed in how I decorated my locker, how I styled my hair, what catchy words and phrases I used, and with whom I decided to spend a majority of my time.   I questioned why I was feeling lonely, melancholy, crucified, mortified, embarrassed, awkward, angry, or confused one minute, and giddy, happy, confident, pretty and smart the next.  And though there were happy moments and fun times in my life as a high school kid, and though I enjoyed a majority of my classes, teachers, and classmates, there was that nagging feeling that I was waiting for my “real life” to start.  I didn’t know that it had already begun.

As I was recounting my “war wounds” to my senior writing students this morning, I saw myself in their faces.  An odd thing happened to me too:  I got “school spirit” and I wanted to let them know that today is a good time in their lives.  Tomorrow or Monday, or three weeks or a year from now might not be, but today is because they have a chance to cheer, to act silly, to dress funny, to laugh, to take pictures, and to enjoy a fleeting moment of a fading childhood.