It feels almost cool outside. I’m in cropped sweatpants and a grey Grateful Dead tee that I somehow inherited. I have no memory of who it was that the shirt belonged to initially anymore, but it’s soft and faded and the perfect shade of charcoal; it’s mine now. I can no longer sense the scent of the hint of smoking fireworks in the air and the trees are still green and lush and I guess all any of this means is that it doesn’t feel like July anymore but it also doesn’t feel like the September that it’s about to be.
My summer officially ends tomorrow morning and, as a result, I am in mourning. I am also in denial. I can see it all happening in my head like a colorful fantasy that’s scored by Disney songs played backwards, but I can’t seem to comprehend for real that tomorrow morning I will be walking my dog in the darkness and making coffee out of need instead of out of want. The dress I’m wearing tomorrow is hanging up on the back of my door and I’ve even picked out my bra, but the thought of slipping it over my head before six o’clock in the morning is making the dress appear terrifying to me. I guess everything is really a matter of perception and I’d take a moment to be very excited that I have finally mastered this line of thinking, but I’m just way too stressed to be excited by perception-inspiring knowledge right now.
I will say something here plainly that needs to be understood in the context of chaos with which my head is spinning and it’s this: I really love my job. What do I like about teaching? I like the part that involves the teaching. I enjoy figuring out what skills need to be presented and in what order and with what kind of varying pace so eighteen year olds will learn something. I appreciate being able to communicate my life’s passions (antihero-laden seventies-era cinema; glossy Film Noir from the forties; the act of shutting the fuck up while a movie is on; zany heroines from screwball comedies) to a group of people who are currently figuring out what it is they care about. I love being able to walk across the hall to see one of my closest friends and I will never tire of appreciating that I don’t work in a cubicle because I think a tiny piece of me is carrying the claustrophobic gene.
So in actuality, returning to work is no huge deal. I like what I do, I almost always like my students, and certainly the skill at having to write college recommendation letters in under an hour will cease being a latent skill by October. I’ll get back into the swing of all of it and it’ll happen quickly, but I cannot stop myself from feeling so wistful that I almost want to turn Sarah McLachlan on at full volume and have them play on repeat so as I might best score my downtrodden emotions – but then I remember that I don’t have any of her music and I couldn’t listen to it even if I wanted to because then I’d begin to weep for the animals and I have already joined the Humane Society and I currently apply three different eye medications to my geriatric dog’s corneas daily.
As far as this jittery nervousness, I think it’s that I cannot see myself being productive on a schedule anymore. That mindset is kind of an odd thing because I’ve had summers off before and it’s not like I sat around doing nothing during these hot months but I guess the difference is that I did things when and how I wanted to do them. It’s not exactly real life, that kind of freedom. It’s an extended dream state and it’s been glorious.
I met some people this summer who mattered to me on those hazy and humid nights and a few still matter. I watched friends embark on new roads they thought they wanted to travel down and held back their hair when some of them got sick along the way. I wrote letters and I wrote emails and I sent a shitload of texts and all of them were written on my phone. I wrote recaps on my laptop and I would unwind myself from the couch and stand up and stretch at the end of the night, the recap finally written and posted, and I would feel an ache in my back and a thudding in my head and I’d remind myself to try to sit up straighter. (I typed that sentence and then sat up straighter and it really does feel better.) I learned to make muffins that have no butter, sugar, or flour and I took some yoga and kickboxing classes and I did things like intentionally walk up hills and I gave my feet a break from wearing heels for over a week. I showed up someplace in flip flops that have a slight wedge and had someone stare at me like he just didn’t know who I am anymore.
I said a brief word of thanks to the Gods of Bravo for airing the last part of the New York City reunion last Thursday so I won’t have to be up late writing on a work night two days in a row. I will say another brief word of thanks to my mother when she calls me later to tell me that she is calling to say the same words she spoke to my father every year before a new semester started: “If you don’t like it, you never have to go back.” Obviously she’s lying – to me and back then to him too – but her words somehow come off as soothing.
I packed a bag with all the little stuff I have to bring with me tomorrow:
-2 Luna bars
-2 bottles of water
-Box of tissues because every kid shows up with his charger but not one remembers to bring a fucking tissue
-Antibacterial hand sanitizer in pink grapefruit because variety is nice
-8 lotions of all different flavors that I will keep on my desk and that I will use never, but if I have learned anything over the sprawling years, it’s that kids will always ask you if you have lotion, a Band-Aid, or a stapler.
-A short note I wrote to myself encouraging me to steal someone’s stapler
-A small zipped bag filled with “just-in-case” supplies like a mini mascara and a few Q-tips and a lip-gloss and four tampons
The bag that’s now crammed with shit is on my kitchen table. That bag has not so much as visited my kitchen table since late June and I think I can sense that my table is trying to reject it in a sign of solidarity and I really appreciate such a gesture. Yesterday I bought a brand new travel mug (silver and black so it will almost always match my outfit and my accessories because these are things that matter) and it is sitting in front of my Keurig right now. I can see a version of myself making that coffee tomorrow at dawn and trying to explain to my dog that it’s September and that’s why the day is starting so early, but I know that she might not understand me and not just because the vet swears that she’s deaf, but because the message behind the words is so displeasing.
I kind of rearranged what I see as my journey during the last days of this breezy summer. I took advice from sources both expected and definitely unexpected and I eventually tried to figure things out for myself. I discovered more about my writing process than maybe I ever have and I realized that my ambition actually feels calming, like emotional and mental aloe. I didn’t get terribly sunburned once and I learned to make the very best baked salmon on the planet and I did squats while I stood at the store and sautéed some spinach and I managed not to give salmonella to anybody. I went to a baseball game with my entire family and got to recline in a luxury box. I went full days where I never got off the phone and then full days where I would all but hibernate and I would read the books by the authors who have always inspired me with their fluid prose: Eugenides, Fitzgerald, Biskind. Yup, I tossed Peter Biskind into the mix because I just feel that Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is so perfect that it might as well be a combination of soft-core film-writing porn and haunting poetry and I reread the book from cover to cover on one of those magical silent days.
I stopped always knowing what day it was and every night felt like the weekend and no morning ever felt like Monday. I read articles on movie genres and how much certain actors are paid and what the best shots in all of cinema are and I emailed them all to myself so I would remember to include aspects of each into my new curriculum. I got an email from a kid telling me to watch a movie called Frank on Netflix and I wrote him back and told him to watch Mr. Robot, because I will become that show’s Head of Publicity if it’s the very last thing I do. (I’m lying. I’m not a PR kind of girl. But seriously, watch that show.)
I’ve given great thought to wearing my hair up or down on the first days of school like this decision is something that actually matters. I’m sure I will flatiron the hell out of my hair and then toss it into a messy bun within an hour. I made sure to throw some hairbands into the just-in-case bag so I’m set. What I refuse to give any thought to is how to best deal with having sixty-seven people ask, “How was your summer?!?” within a mere fifteen minute time-span. This is the kind of thing that will happen and it will happen tomorrow and I plan on smiling briefly and saying, “It was good!” and then meandering away so I can regroup and be ready for the next time the question will be asked. I will hear people say things like the summer was way too short and why must we be here before Labor Day and I will allow my head to fill with the sound of static and wait for someone to say something I’m actually interested in hearing.
I will come face to face with some people I truly adore as I walk those hallways tomorrow and head into meetings. They are people who I don’t really talk to over the summer but seeing their faces brings a real smile to my eyes and there’s a closeness that is real between a group that has worked together for this amount of time. These are the people I’ll tell the secret stories to, the ones who will hear about the night I almost fainted on a city street in front of a cop through (I think) no fault of my own. They will be the ones I will remember to be grateful for later as the sun goes down and I reflect upon my day.
I will not talk about reality television to any of these people. I will probably not talk about my writing at all, but I will ask after their families and share what’s new with mine and the only reason I’d avoid hugs from any of them would be because one of us looks sweaty, but I also have a package of Shiseido Blotting Papers in that just-in-case bag, so it better not be me who is glistening.
I’m fully prepared not to sleep so well tonight even though tomorrow is nothing but meetings and greetings and trying to hit up a copy machine before anyone else gets to it first, but that night-before anxiety is real and maybe it doesn’t even matter that the anxiety cannot be fully quantified or explained. It’s just something that is, much like how August squeaks to a close every single year.
Nell Kalter is the author of the books Student and That Year, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.