Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kick to the Surface

These past two weeks I have been struggling to catch my breath as yet another huge wave of grief hits me. Just when I think I am successfully learning to tread water as the waves ebb and flow, out of nowhere I am smacked in the face and knocked over. Weak at the knees, submerging below the surface, this is when I feel my indomitable spirit. I kick off the bottom once again and rise to the surface. It’s exhausting. I just awoke from an extra four hours of sleep on this blessed snow day off from school.

But truth be told, my work as a teacher is a much appreciated distraction. It is when I am preparing for class, immersed in research, correcting, composition of materials, or working with teens that I feel invincible. Well, until yesterday. 

In my first period prep I took time to write what I believed would be a short piece to share with my Advanced Creative Writing class. However my writing took me to an unexpected place and I felt the tears stinging my eyes once again. I would have been fine, would have willed the tears back inside, if not for the interruption of one of my teenage students. Popping inside my door, Abby asked if I could help her with an assignment and then she noticed my red eyes. “Are you okay, Mrs. Walker?” she asked sweetly. That was all it took. That little display of kindness, of sympathy, touched me. Despite my attempt to brush off the question to give her the help she was looking for, I instead shook my head and dissolved into tears for a short moment. I knew I owed her an explanation. I’d only sputtered out, “I’m sorry” and the beautiful girl had shaken her head and had quickly pulled up a chair near my desk to ask, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m missing my Dad”, I said simply. “My birthday is on Saturday and it’s going to be the first birthday I’ve had without him”. 

“The first one?” she asked. I saw her eyes flicker as she made the connection. “Oh. Wow”, Abby said. 

“He always made a big deal out of my birthday. My Mom did too”, I said. 

“Even when you got older?” Abby asked. 

“Yes, even as I grew older”, I confirmed.

I told Abby I had taken a few minutes to write and had been hit by this thought, that I realized now why the past week or two had me out of sorts, that I’d been pushing the thought away thinking I was fine with it, that it wasn’t going to suck me under the surface. But my subconscious had been working overtime. Dad will have been gone exactly nine months on Saturday, March 15th, my 46th birthday. 

I thanked Abby, apologized once again, made a joke, and then we got back to what she had needed when she’d walked in on this teacher crying at her desk in the empty classroom. She wished me a happy birthday and we both laughed. I pushed my writing away after she left, shook my head and pulled out some correcting work. 

But this morning, after sleeping for an extra period of time, I woke up and found the letter Dad had sent me last year on my birthday. He and Mom had once again enclosed $100 for me to spend on myself. This year there will be no birthday letter from my Dad. And yes, that reality, as childish as it may appear--for surely at the age of 46 I should not need anything for my birthday--has me feeling sorry for myself. 

But sinking below the water is okay, as long as I do not submerge for too long. I’m already planning that kick to the surface, to the bright sky above. I’ll have two of my three children home for the day. We’ll go watch some basketball, go out for dinner, and I’d like to drop in to visit my Mom, bringing her a little birthday cake we can all share after I blow out a candle. I then want to stop to walk along the ocean and then go bowling or go play laser tag or do something else that’s fun. I can let those waves hit me when they must because I know that my parents instilled in me a great confidence in all that I am and all that I will be as the years pass. I may not be unshakable, but I am unconquerable. I just need to take a little time to let the tears fall, to feel all that there is to feel, before I rise above and swim on. 

This year, instead of receiving my annual birthday card or letter from Mom and Dad, I’m going to write my own. Or maybe, I just did.  Love Ya, Dad. 

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