The air is sticky, with salt from the Gulf of Mexico and the slightest hint of the smell of raw fish. There’s a sea breeze today – the kind that nestles deep in your bones – and some stray palm fronds float down to settle alongside the road.
I drive and drive and drive. Past the orange groves. Past the falling-down homes, then the mansions. Past the three stoplights and the Wal-Mart. Andrew Byrd sings to me, then Ben Howard, the music of high school and life in a small coastal town. The sun is high – not a cloud in the sky – as I finally pull into the beach parking lot. Stepstepstep. breathe. I climb the wooden stairs, ground down with bits of sand and beer bottles and that salt that just grinds into any surface it touches. Over the boardwalk, alongside the dunes, then down the steps, there it is, a clear expanse of shimmering blue. It is endless.
This water has always been the same for me. Tide in, tide out. Like that Tennyson poem we studied in AP Lit. In and out, the sun and the moon and so it goes, no matter the day or the year. The time my coach was killed in a freak car accident. The time I got into the college of my dreams and couldn’t afford to go, so I didn’t. The time I got a scholarship. Up and down, that tide has been the same, the peaceful expanse into nothingness.
In these moments I forget I’m a teacher. I forget I’m responsible for other people, for learning, for teaching, for doing and feeling and being all at the same time. I don’t behavior-manage anyone. I don’t have to receive feedback on my professionalism or content delivery or classroom culture. I don’t have to smile as a kid tells me, aw Miss, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just a first-year teacher. In these moments by the sea I am me, my full self, restored by the sea of possibility I see before me.
They say you can’t outrun your problems. I know I can’t. I graded unit exams today and cringed at the low grades. I don’t know if my kids are learning, and I don’t really know how to help them learn better, but for now I don’t think of that or anything else. My #1 priority has been spending time with my family. I’ve missed so much of their lives these past few months. It’s time to catch up. We don’t celebrate Christmas, which has worked out wonderfully – we got Hannukah and Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and now we have time together, without any other holiday season stressors.
I got a text message from my favorite student today. Merry Christmas, she wrote. And happy new year too! I miss you!
I miss you too. I miss you, and I’ve missed home, and now that my heart is in both places I have been forever changed.