First day back at school: sky August blue, puffy scudding clouds. I walk away from the classroom, feeling...what is it? I put my heavy book bag in the trunk of my car. I've been a bag lady for years. Twenty-four of them. Count them. I count them. Twenty-four. Loneliness moves through me like wind. I'm this tree that's been here forever. I look at the parking lot. I've looked at this same parking lot in many different states of mind. Today went fine. It was good to meet the students. I just feel...I don't know. Why do I feel lonely? I was just with thirty-five people. I shut the trunk of my car and stand there, staring at it, a black BMW. I had driven into this parking lot in a white VW Bug, a lime-green VW Bug, a yellow Metro, a white Miata. Many cars, many years. I have spent my life at this college. One day while I was teaching The Power of Myth, my mother was dying in the hospital. The class and I were discussing the chapter, "The Call to Adventure." The English Department Chair came into the classroom and said, "I'll take over the class. You need to call your sister." I drove out of the college parking lot to the hospital, driving up Highway 80 past Vacaville, over the place where my mother's car accident had happened. A few weeks later, I was sitting in my colleague's car in the parking lot. He gave me a gift, a small statue of the Buddha. It stands in the corner of my window by my bed. I haven't seen my colleague for fifteen years. We were once so close. The greatest experience of my teaching life was working with him. For five years, we team-taught our classes together. There were about seventy students in our combined classes. My colleague had been teaching for twenty-five years before I met him. We were a dynamic duo. A bit of the May/December deal going on: I was a young woman, he was an older man. We were a little in love with each other. I learned so much from him. He was truly one of the best teachers ever. Yes, he was the best I have ever seen. He could work the room like nobody's business. Our classes crackled with excitement, energy, enthusiasm, discussion, poetry, literature, presentations, drawing, play-acting, we did it all. We taught our classes in the science museum, and it had its own courtyard, with a few cherry trees. In spring, we'd spill out into the courtyard and do poetry readings or whatever we were doing. Someone always played the guitar or flute. Someone always sang. Our classes were more like performances, the students getting involved doing all kinds of wild things. We got to know each other so well because our classes were nine weeks instead of seventeen, and we saw each other every day, the immersion method of teaching, which I prefer. We became like a family without the dysfunction; the semester didn't last long enough! I always missed the students at the end of the semester. I remember one spring, a beautiful day in May, one of our last days together for the year. My colleague was sitting in a chair out in the courtyard, staring at a blossoming cherry tree. His eyes were watery, and I realized he was crying. I'd never seen him cry before. I went over to him and he looked up and said, "This will never be again." I was thirty-nine then, old enough to know what that statement means, but I didn't really get it. I do now.
At the college, I used to be close to a few other colleagues, too. It faded, it changed, they retired, they moved away. It will never be again. Not that way, anyway.
What is a life? That is a September thought, and it's still summer, the full green of August. But a wing of autumn flashes over me, the ephemeral wing casting its red and gold shadow, everything flying, free, unmoored. One day, I will never return to this parking lot. Sometimes that thought makes me so happy...to do something else! I can barely breathe, just thinking it. But I've been here so long...that day will be strange. I will miss this place and people. But I'm lonely for more life. Is that it? Always wanting more, the ever-wanting of more because we know, "This will never be again."
I'm still in the same job, but I'm not the same person. This is weird to say, but I miss myself. You can go along for years, and it stays steady inside, even if all around you things change. But not that much has changed lately, and I feel utterly different. I've been to the circus. I enjoyed the show, but it's good, too, to walk away from the tent. And yet, I miss it.
I get into my car. I drive away from the college. The streets are familiar, but they don't belong to me like they used to. I'm not attached. I feel...I don't know, is it sadness? Loneliness? It's calmer than that, there's a little joy there, too. I feel like the wind in the trees.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society