I’m sitting in a laundromat in Brunswick, Maine, watching the clothes that I have been toting around for ten days take a much-needed bath. Will is out scouting shampoo and batteries; in the trunk of our rental car is my suitcase, bearing amongst other things my MFA degree, barely twelve hours old. I’m one iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts and a few hours away from taking the Downeaster to Boston.
Last night I said goodbye to the friends I’ve had for two years, the ones who freaked out over the printing of our theses with me, the ones who understood when other people just didn’t get my writing. Wearing my gray-and-silver heels and a beautiful borrowed necklace, I sweated out a few beers and half of an all-meat pizza on the dance floor. I laughed, for maybe the last time, at what MFA students look like while they’re dancing.
And now it’s time to move on.
For me, literally, this means a return to California, to my house and dog and the cats I sometimes forget I have. It doesn’t mean – not yet, anyway – a return to full-time teaching; I’m hoping instead to polish up the novel I finished in May and send it out to the world. I want to take everything I’ve learned, about writing and about life, and apply it to whatever comes next.
It hasn’t fully sunk in yet that I might not be returning, ever – but I can already sense the nostalgia that’s coming.
When I resigned as a full-time teacher at the end of the 2008-2009 academic year, it took another year for that fact to hit me. In the meantime, I stayed in touch with some of my colleagues. I bumped into my former students on Facebook. It wasn’t until I went to graduation this May that I realized I had really left. I didn’t recognize most of the faces around me. No longer a staff member, I stood outside the gate, catching only a few snatches of commencement speeches that the microphone (and the wind) floated my way. Until that moment, I hadn’t really looked back. I had only considered what I was headed toward; I hadn’t really considered what I was leaving behind.
It might take me some time, then, to really miss my MFA program and the strange cast of characters (myself included, I suppose) that populated it. Give me a week, a month, a season, a year. Give me until January, when I’m not taking a propeller plane to a snow-covered northern landing strip, my winter boots taking up half the real estate of my suitcase. Give me until next July, when I’m not thinking about how my hair will react to humidity, or once again waging the dorm vs. hotel room debate.
All good things, I know, must come to an end. Even bad things do – even this moment right now, where I am waiting for the rinse cycle under the intense scrutiny of a strange woman with copious amounts of facial hair who is trying to ascertain if I am, indeed, writing about her. Yes, even this will end – with the sound of a buzzer or a natural disaster that wipes out the Northeast or the arrival of Will. Some experiences, of course, are more miss-able than others.
But right now I’m bracing myself, just a bit, for what I know is coming sooner or later. When it finally hits me that Stonecoast is in my past, I want to be prepared for the impact, like a fighter clenching his stomach muscles, unwilling to take the full brunt of the blow.
Paula Treick DeBoard