Friday, May 28, 2010
I'll tell you one thing: the past seven or so years have endowed me with the quality of acceptance- not fully, because complete acceptance can sometimes look a lot like giving up- but sometime recently I have learned to appreciate the elegance of just letting go.
It didn't hit me easily, or all at once, like a stone falling out of the sky into your waiting hand, but slowly and diligently, the way an ocean whittles at its shoreline.
I remember the one defining break up of my life- the one after college, a really nasty one- as being like major surgery. The dread and pain, the agonizing recovery and the feeling that you can't do the things you used to do, at least not in the same way.
In my last days in North Carolina, I felt none of that. I just felt tired, with no desire to try and make sense of anything. Maybe the sadness swam way down beneath language, maybe it wasn't there at all. I was overcome with the need to go, to push forward to whatever was next.
The morning after I stayed up all night with Sarah, wrapped in her blanket on the porch, I packed up everything I could still call my own, and I left. My goodbyes, the ones that found me, were quick and seamless affairs. If I had it my way, I wouldn't have said goodbye to anyone. In a world where everyone is constantly either coming or going, goodbyes seem superfluous, a drain on limited emotional resources.
I drove North towards West Virginia, through deep valleys of immense green and glory, and wretched stretches of highway with billboards admonishing me not to kill babies or I'd burn in hell, signed GOD, each letter as big as a man. A thunderstorm hit in the third hour with a barrage of rain and bursts of lightning, and by the time I pulled into Fayetteville around 7pm, I was consumed by a strange, unreasonable energy. I burst into Pies and Pints, the one palatable restaurant in the small town, and found each table occupied by my former students and their families, up for the weekend of graduation festivities. I scurried between each table, sitting briefly at each one as I said hello, my toe tapping frantically against the concrete floor. One of the mothers put her hand on my back and pressed on it. "Slow down," she said, "you're not in the car anymore. You can relax."
But it wasn't the long drive that was jolting me, it was something else loose inside of me, creating this intense desire to move and talk. Maybe it was being shot out of my quiet life in Boone and cannonballed backwards to this previous life as a member of the school, or the fact that I could just as soon pretend I'd been with them the entire time and never have even moved to North Carolina, for all I had to show for my previous few months. It was unsettling, best not to think about too deeply, and it made me want to remain in motion, as if I were a tightly wound, mechanical thing, ready to spring.
I sat with the staff and a handful of kids, the latter completely involving themselves in a conversation regarding whether or not a dollar had been stolen between them two months ago. The staff looked worn out as always and didn't say much. They fixed their eyes on a television set mounted television set above the bar and made a handful of comments about the peculiar snow sport being broadcasted. I thought about myself a year ago, at the same table in the same restaurant. I hadn't wanted to speak to anyone. I had wanted to sleep, or run away, or somehow disappear entirely. Of course, that had been under very different circumstances.
I went back to the school house for a little while after dinner, watched part of a movie and swung on the hammock with the girls. I went into the little attic room where Tino and Lorenzo slept, the whole place littered with twenty different boxes of Tevas. "Sent to my by my sponsors," Tino said, picking up a box and casually removing a shoe. "What could anyone do with 20 pairs of Tevas?" I asked, and he shrugged, put the box to the side of the mattress and picked up his guitar. We sang Sweet Baby James and The Fox and "Dragon Wheel", Lorenzo's Chilean-pronounced version of Wagon Wheel.
Then I stood up, said goodnight, drove to a friend's house to sleep, and threw up.
And that is how I spent the entirety of the weekend. I threw up all over Fayetteville, in many different locations, wearing many different sun dresses. The daylight hours of Saturday were spent on Lower New; all the kids and staff kayaked and the parents rafted down through the big water and sizable rapids of the gorge. Even though I'd been looking forward to it for weeks, I wisely stayed behind. I had once before been in a vomit studded river run situation and found it undesirable at best and unwarranting of repetition.
Lying on the damp cushions of an outside couch, alone at the house of a friend who in reality is 99% a stranger, knowing everyone else was enjoying themselves out on the river in the ridiculous heat, I felt like the world's most pathetic human. At one point it crossed my mind to walk down to the gas station and buy a ginger ale, until I remembered with a sudden stab through my haze that the last time I had visited that gas station, I had driven away with the gas pump still in my car. The woman behind the counter - who, judging from her appearance, was about three years post mortem, - was livid, and upon her insistence I gave her my name and phone number. Whether or not she called regarding the damage I will never know, because both name and number were invented on the spot, with the one downfall of the plan being I could never set foot into the Little General again. No big shakes.
Until now, when I needed it badly, with its wealth of packaged crackers and refrigerated soda pops.
I did manage to attend the graduation banquet, and the graduation itself, knowing I'd be able to jump ship during both engagements if the need arose. And did it ever. I stood in front of the crowded dining room at Fayetteville's historic White Horse Inn, presented Taylor with the photography award, accepted her long, tight hug, then quietly back stepped out of the room, ran to the bathroom and threw up in an antique toilet. Twenty minutes later, I accepted my own recognition as being a great and dedicated teacher who mysteriously quit, accepted my brand new NRA sweatshirt and shorts and a long, tight hug from my boss, then ran to the bathroom and threw up. And that was only in the first hour of a marathon evening.
Towards the middle of the evening, I began to wilt, perking up momentarily when a parent announced he was splitting his bonus check amongst the teachers. Other than that lofty moment, I couldn't summon the will to remove my head from the table where it lay heavy on my folded arms. I could feel the roaming eyes of parents, who in the scant hours they had with us teachers- we who led their children to third world countries on a slalom course through earth quakes and volcanoes- always considered us with an eye of extreme scrutiny. Understandably so. Those parents who compared my jittery, manic temperament at dinner the night before and juxtapositioned it against tonight's slump and misery may have drawn the conclusion that I was coming down off some spree of drug use and other outlandish behavior. May they always wonder.
By the time of the actual graduation on Sunday morning, the worst of my flu had worked its course and I was feeling a bit more on solid ground. Regardless, I missed that wonderful moment where the seniors throw their caps and then hug each teacher in turn, because my dog was misbehaving. I had spent the majority of David's speech hissing bad dog! bad dog!! across the balcony to no avail, and I had to run across the stage, grab the dog from her tied up perch, throw in her the car where I whispered that I hope she rotted, and returned just in time to see everyone filing out, full of energy and excitement, the ceremony over.
All in all, graduation did not go as I had anticipated.
It took a full day for me to recover to the point where I could face a day's worth of driving. Tuesday morning I again tied down the boats to the car and headed North. During the 16 hour drive I could eat nothing but milkshakes, which is not as good as it sounds.
Picture me, 11 o'clock at night, finally shoring up in the verdant, lilac covered hill of my home in New England, staggering out of the car and hitting the long overgrown weeds of my lawn in a heap. I looked up at the hot, white stars and almost couldn't bring myself to feel the relief that poured through me, so precious and powerful did it feel. At that moment, all the events in past week felt so pale, and distant, as if they were fiction, stars shooting randomly through the sky with very little relevance to me at all. Here I was, back at home, where I always ended up no matter what transpired previously. My life felt like an ellipse, always ending up here, the point where I had begun. I'm here, I'll always be here, I've always been here.