Today, after a traditional back-to-school breakfast with my son, I did the usual: I kissed him goodbye and climbed into my car to head home where a long list awaited, one designed to keep me dizzyingly busy so I wouldn’t get swept into the salty sadness that heavied the early morning heat. Yes, my man-boy had sat across from me, all dressed up in his new dress-down clothes (band t-shirt, jeans, skaters’ shoes), but one thing was markedly different. This year he had driven himself to the restaurant and he would, then, take himself to school. As I drove home and saw the mother at the pool parking lot who had lined up her three, unsmiling high school boys for a first-day-of-school picture, I had to grin, knowing I had spared Seamus that thorn. He was a good kid and I was grateful for his strength and independence—but, I think, we were all relieved that school had finally begun, as summer was wearing us thin with its lazy persistence. There was another elemental difference about this fall: I would also be returning to school, a good distraction and a necessary move because I had been floundering for years. Something had had to change, or maybe everything did.
January was a war-zone in my soul and the household mirrored that. (I won’t detail cause or effect, or pretend to suppose I know which came first, the chicken or the egg? Suffice to say, we were all pretty unhappy.) And, although I had made efforts to change the dynamic, nothing seemed to budge and no stirrings led the heart to trust that change was already underway. I had tugged and I had shoved, pushing at the parameters, and it all felt like a frantic waste of energy.
In February and March, we tried it all. For the soul, we’d joined a Bible study, knowing that part of the discontent was spiritual, and that my husband and I had no outlet or social network to support us in our struggles. Professionally, I had joined the Writers’ League of Texas and signed up for their summer conference, hoping to meet like-minded individuals. Creatively, I was seeing a play almost every week as an Alamo Theatre Arts’ Council Drama Judge. I had home improvement projects. I was reading and exercising, praying and waiting. We met with a counselor. I tried disciplining myself and then indulging myself, until I was absolutely terrified because I had done everything I could think of to break the drought and nothing worked. After all of that, there still was no rain, not really.
Then, I considered school, yes, to stimulate my brain, but also because I would love, one day, to be called Dr. Rita (although even whispering the notion of a PhD before I’ve completed a single day of the Masters’ program feels ill-advised). From March until May I struggled to put out the fires that erupted and to build bridges across the gaps that, then, appeared: getting transcripts, recommendations, GRE scores, requirements to meet already sailed deadlines. In April, while I waited on acceptance (into a field that was a bit of a stretch, considering my previous degrees), I stumbled upon an organization that Steve and I have grown to love, a hobby we both equally enjoy: the American Volksport Association. As a result, Steve and I have hiked 110k in parts of Texas we’d never heard of and the exercise, the travel, and the shared journey of it has done more for our marriage than any counseling could.
Tom Hanks directed and starred in Larry Crowne, a film about a desperate middle-aged man who tries to fix his life by riding a scooter to college--where he gets madeover by the youngsters (kind of gagging but, at least, he's not trying to make out with the coeds) and, although the circumstances of my situation are different, I do feel a bit like a Laura Crown myself, looking forward to living life from a different vantage point.