Tonight I sent my parents off to Indy; their plane leaves in the morning and the transition from Bloomington would have been too early and too difficult for my mom. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Of course, there are plans for us to visit them and plans for us to Skype, but we all know that there’s a chance that this is it.
My mother and I spent time alone today before they left, and we said our goodbyes. I don’t know how to describe that moment. Nothing has ever felt so unreal and so present. We had nothing left to say. We had everything left to say. I felt the magnitude of the moment—filled up with my mother’s love, filling her up with mine, sending her off with words that I hoped would stay with her and comfort her, as she did the same for me. I ached for myself, for my son who will grow up without her, for my family. Mostly, I ached for my mother. As a parent, I can’t imagine what it must be like to hold your child, with all the heaviness of that moment’s finality.
As they drove away, I was viscerally reminded of a moment in my childhood when I felt such loss and fear at my mother’s departure that I ran crying down the street after her car until I couldn’t see it any longer. Today I held myself back as that same panic rose up in me. This time, I felt love and longing stretched between us like a tether. I let her go, as she has let me go so many times before, because it’s what’s best for her…even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. What else can I say? Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to cover it today. I’m not sure we have words for moments like this. It’s something beyond language—something primal in the torrent of tears that I don’t have time to cry. Not now.
Tomorrow morning at precisely 7:25 am, I’ll begin my new job at Bloomington High School North teaching English. I know, crazy, right? Well, it is. The whole process took a total of two days. They called on Wednesday of last week. I interviewed on Thursday, and they offered me the job an hour later.
When I considered whether or not to take the job I had a lot of really sound, really strategic reasons why it would be a good idea. Those things still hold true. But, well, have you ever seen an episode of Thomas the Train? Unless you have kids, and maybe even then, you probably haven’t. (Let me tell you, you’re not missing anything. I have A LOT of issues with the show, but my son is obsessed with trains right now so I’m making some concessions.) The trains are always concerned with being “really useful engines.” They derive their sense of self-worth (okay this is getting ridiculous…bear with me) from how useful they’ve been on any given day. Well, yeah, you see where this is going. I’ve always liked being useful, liked feeling purposeful about my life in the grand scheme of things but also on a day-to-day basis. I have a hard time being idle. So when we made the decision to send my mom back to Korea, and knowing that we’d already transitioned my son to full-time care to give him space from the sickness in the house—I freaked. What would I do? So I said yes.
Here we go. Six classes. 160 students. Perhaps thankfully, it’s a temporary contract for now, though there’s potential for something more long-term. On one hand, I’m excited to share my love for literature with these students (don’t worry, I’m not harboring any Dead Poet’s Society illusions). I often hear a lot of “ughs” and “yikes” about high-schoolers, but I’m pretty fond of them; I like them whether they’re earnest or belligerent. But on the other, I’m anxious about a lot, too. For the first time in two years, I won’t be with my son for substantial portions of the day, and I’m going to miss him enormously. I don’t know if the trade-off will be right or worth it for us. Luckily, I get to try it on, see how it feels. Either way, it’s happening—ready or not, here I come.
In Between Things
Can you feel it? The emotional whiplash? I feel wrecked. There’s no time to breathe, let alone process what I feel about semi-closing a chapter and, simultaneously, semi-opening another. Here I am, in between. I’m flailing. I’m frantic. I’m uncertain how I’ll do any of what’s to come. But I know that it all still has to be done. And somehow, I always manage.
One day at a time, right? That’s what people say. Except one day at a time is impossible. There’s always what-came-before and what-comes-after. Those things are inextricably bound up in the present. When I think about it that way, this in-between feels a little less terrifying. We’re always in transition. We are always moving away from and moving toward something. At some point, of course, there’s finality; there’s no more in between. Death, that is to say, is inevitable and we are powerless to stop its approach. But until then, this flux is what ensures us, I suppose, that we are still caught up in that process of living, in the “do not go gentle…” and in the “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Good or bad, that’s something to hold on to.