I’m feeling a little helpless these days. Now that my mom is feeling so good, it’s almost as if I have no job to do other than to make sure she eats a lot and to help her with bandages at the end of the night. Even during the day she’s so much like herself it’s as if I’m wandering around looking for something to do, so I constantly ask her how she’s feeling, ask her if I can get anything for her to eat or to drink, or ask her if she needs anything at the store. Thanks to her recent healthy appetite, there’s usually always a grocery run that I can make, but besides that, I wander the house while she does stuff with her Internet business or talks on the phone or pays bills or whatever. I feel trapped here by my own responsibility to make sure my mom has everything she needs. At night, when it becomes too much for me to handle—-when I become too much for myself to handle—-I go for a drive.
Tonight I went to Burlington. I didn’t intend to go there. I did intend to go to the grocery to pick up more berries and cream cheese. But suddenly I found myself in Burlington on Church Street wandering around with a cup of coffee in hand. I had no purpose being there, other than to walk around other people. All the stores were closed, the bars and restaurants filled. It was a little strange and lonely walking around, feeling the absence of Dennis, a presence that is always by my side, always someone solid to hold onto. I stared at faces and looked in store windows. I listened for a minute or two to a band playing outside of Red Square, a bar on lower Church Street. But, like it’s been for the past two years in Brazil, I was mostly quiet, mostly observant. I longed for friendship, for a rowdy crowd of friends. But this is what happens when you move away and lose touch, and while I wouldn’t for a second regret moving away, I do regret losing touch with friends. Going to Burlington used to mean meeting up with people I hadn’t seen in a while—“a while” meaning a few months. But now, it’s an exercise in people-watching, an activity among strangers. I do love Burlington, and I do love Church Street. But it’s always so much better sharing that place with other people.
I did see one person I knew, Liz, a girl I’d graduated from high school with eleven years ago. I hadn’t seen her in a long time and it was really nice to cross paths again. She’s entering her first year of teaching in September and I was reminded briefly of the summer before my first year of teaching. Nothing is quite as special as the very first class you have as a teacher and so I am excited for her to experience that magic in her first fifth grade classroom.
I also saw my own fifth grade teacher this morning in the coffee shop in my little town. We were in each other’s company for a few minutes while we each ordered our coffees and then suddenly I looked closely at him and nearly shrieked with joy. I threw down my change on the counter, nearly spilled my coffee, and hugged him. I can’t remember the last time I saw him—-well over ten years ago, maybe even fifteen!—-and we talked for a little while. On the drive home I thought about how much I adored my teachers, how they hung the stars when I was younger. And I was surprised by how joyfully I reacted when I recognized my teacher and how he, squinting at me for a split second, confirmed my recognition by asking, “Gina Coggio?” I feel really lucky to be in a position in other kids’ lives to help them feel so positive about school and about learning and about themselves. Often when I’m teaching, I find myself thinking back to some of my middle school teachers, this one in particular, and I remember assignments they gave or jokes they told in class. I feel lucky to be teaching at the middle school level again knowing that my own memories of that time are vivid.
So I guess I’m not entirely alone here. My heart is missing my friends who were the touchstones of my youth, who made my growing up as full of stories as it was. They’ve all moved elsewhere, gone exploring the world just as I have. It was nice, though, to come back and see new old faces. It feels like I am growing up.