A good-bye, but more importantly, a THANK YOU to WA!

I’ve read a hundred or more books about lives taking abrupt turns, about dramatic endings, about sudden loss. 

I’ve even written a few books on those topics, too, and had readers email me with comments such as, “I hated that. Why did you do that to my favorite characters?”

Right now I feel like I’m living all of those stories simultaneously, and I keep waiting for the books to close and life to go back, pretending that I’m in charge of this plot.

I’m not.

And I know all of you can relate to what I’m feeling.

Today I’m cleaning out my classroom, a task I didn’t plan on doing until June 12. But on that Friday in a few weeks I anticipate moving into my new rental house in Utah–2,700 miles away from where I now sit in Maine.

(For those of you who have read my books, I went through and “patted” everything first just as Mahrree did in Edge at the beginning of Book 5.)

I always expected to be here only three years anyway. I had told my adult children living in Utah we’d return after Dad’s jaunt to the east coast. Only three years. But then we thought we could stretch it out for longer, another year or two. And then everything started going strange, and I wanted nothing more than to be back with my kids. So it turned out to be only three years after all.

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Three very fast, unforgettable years.

I expected sad good-byes this month and next, when school graduation took place June 1, and the rest of the students left by June 10th.

Today, I would have expected still four more weeks of students crowding into my slightly-too-small classroom, leaving the musky, sweaty scent of teenagers in spring that my window fan would struggle to swirl out of there each afternoon.

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I expected to give them all a little farewell speech in June where I thanked them for accepting me, entertaining me, and teaching me for the past three years. Where I told them that I had quickly grown to love them, and that they had become “my kids,” and always would be.

I never expected that Friday, March 13, would be the hurried last day, when I called out to my students who suddenly found out they wouldn’t be coming back on Monday, “Take everything home with you! We might not be back for two full weeks!”

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Unimaginable. Two whole weeks?!

But it was two whole months. And now three.

They never came back.

I had intimations of that when I did lunch duty that day in March, Friday the 13th. I had lunch duty once a week to monitor the doors, and I hated it. I usually write notes about something I needed to do, trying to ignore the noise of Lunch C.

But not on Friday, March 13. I felt God nudge my head up from my notebook and I heard a whisper, “What if today is the very last day? Your last look at the students of this school?”

Being someone who loves to entertain any plot, I played along and watched the kids that day. I tried to name each one in my head, remember their behavior in my class (I’ve had about 75% of the student body in my classes by now), I watched who they interacted with, and I smiled or cringed.

At that point of the day, none of them knew that my husband had messaged me earlier: The admins will be temporarily closing school because of the virus. They’ll announce it in the last period. Keep it quiet for now. 

I took notes, and just now I found them, still on my shelf behind my desk where I dropped them, exactly two months ago today.

My handwriting is difficult to decipher, but some of the lines read,

“What if this is my last lunchtime? I can’t swallow it. I imagined it so different, but also so grateful I got to pull this shift. I usually hate this. Today–I’m grateful for one last look, if it is the last look.”

It was the last look.  None of us would have imagined that.

Ridiculous.

I had a prom dress boutique to put together with the National Honor Society in April. We had junior prom in May, and I was asked to again announce the juniors as they entered. I was planning to have my AP students come to my house to watch “The Great Gatsby” and have a barbecue before the end of school, we had the AP Exam coming . . . (which is starting in just one hour. I’m writing this in my classroom as my kids sit at home trying to write only one essay to pass the test. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket, then running through a forest and not dropping any . . . )

Ridiculous now to think of any of those past plans while we try to make some new, tentative ones.

I’m sitting in my classroom, one last time right now. I took down the chairs, turned on the lights, and made it seem like a regular Wednesday afternoon. My husband will call me maudlin. I call it therapeutic.

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And just now, as I’m taking pictures and saying good-bye, I’m realizing it more important to say THANK YOU!
This isn’t a time for brooding, but celebrating! 

  • Thank you, WA and students, for reminding me that I love teenagers.
  • Thank you for accepting me so readily.
  • Thank you for asking me to chaperone dances, to advise groups, to take pictures, to come to your activities, to write you letters of recommendation. It was fun. Truly, deeply, amazingly FUN!
  • Thanks for letting me dance at those dances and pep rallies, and for even playing my music and not laughing at me.
  • Thank you for such growth! For such trials! (Don’t make me name names–you know who you are, and there are several of you.)
  • Thank you for pushing me to my very limits–mentally, emotionally, and even intellectually. I didn’t know I could go that far and still survive. And then come back the next day and do it all over again. (But you have to come back, just to see if you can do it again.)
  • Thank you for your patience, for your willingness to try new things, for laughing at my lame jokes, for letting me roast you in front of the whole class. But you asked for it, because you tried to roast me first. But I never, never lose a roasting. You know that now.
  • Thank you for such life, such activity, for teaching me about “Bubs” and trucks and hunting and lobster fishing and cheering and even the darker elements of your lives. You have enriched me and sobered me.
  • Thank you for your inspiration, for showing me true resilience, patience, endurance, and determination. Many of you live difficult lives, and I wept for you and prayed for you. I will continue to do so until the end of time.
  • And thank you for letting me come back some day, because I know I will. I’ll come looking for you. And that’s when I’ll get to hug you again. And we’ll laugh and remember together.
  • Until then . . .

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I love you.

Thank you for these past three unforgettable years.

Sneak peek book 8: Anyone else clean a home to say “good-bye” or am I the only weird one who negotiates with houses?

Nothing is quite as melancholy as cleaning out an empty house. Again. Alone.

Last night as I scrubbed another kitchen sink for the last time I thought of how many times I’ve cleaned out a house as I moved from it.
Apartments: 3
Houses I’ve owned: 5
Houses I’ve rented: 6

Last night was the 15th kitchen sink in 30 years. (Three times in the past year alone!)

This farmhouse in Whitneyville, ME is now added to the list of “Places where we once lived.”

It was for a good reason: we were in our cute rental house for only nine months instead of three or more years as we planned because my husband has a new job at his school, and we get to live on campus now. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

Still, it’s a melancholy thing to remove, room-by-room, floor-by-floor all evidence that we once called a place “home.” Slowly, the new place becomes “home,” but it takes a few weeks for me to feel comfortable enough to sleep deeply (why I dislike vacations—I can never sleep in strange places).

The new house and I have to come to some understanding, establish some terms, tell each other our secrets before we fully accept each other.

(Does anyone else feel this way, or am I the only one who feels the house is a slightly sentient being with whom one must negotiate living with?)

This is why leaving is also difficult, even if the move is welcomed. Piece by piece I pull myself from that house, extricate our existence, leave it alone and lonely again. Another family will move in, put their mark upon it, but not entirely: each house I leave, I seem to pull a strand from it and layer it in my psyche. The new family never gets that part. Every home is still in my head, never fully left. The house will forget me, in time, but I haven’t let any of them go entirely.

That’s also why I clean each place as fully and deeply as time allows. (And not just to get back my deposit.) In the past, I’ve needed help: sometimes I had a new baby and/or lots of little children and was overwhelmed, or I was on a deadline and had to get out before the new owners arrived, or our plane/truck needed to leave for the next place.

Once, there was no deadline because the house had been condemned, but we lived in the leaky, infested place anyway until our situation stabilized and we had a new house.

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The old, condemned house we lived in Virginia in 2001. There’s a parking lot there now.

Even though that house was to be demolished, I still swept the floors as we left. Not out of pride, but out of gratitude. It let us live there, even though it was dying, and it allowed our family of eight to be together again since we’d been apart from my husband for six months.

I didn’t bother vacuuming the molding carpet in the kitchen, though, or wipe down the perpetually slimy bathroom sink, but I swept the floors as a thank you, so it could be clean one last time before the bulldozer came.

Late last night as I wiped down the new white country sink in the 1870s Mainer farmhouse, my phone started to play Dr. Who’s “A Dazzling End.” I nearly laughed, then nearly cried.

This morning I’m fully in another house. Built in the 1970s, it looks like a typical New England house on the outside with cedar shingles, but on the inside it reminds me of an alpine chalet, and a part of me feels like I’m living in a lodge in Yellowstone—my favorite place on earth. (I’m not posting a lot of pictures because we’re still in boxes everywhere. Suffice it to say our cat approves of the open balcony and natural cat walks.)

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For now, this house and I are still making friends with each other, trying to figure out where everything goes. Some year I’ll clean its sink for the last time, too. But for now I can’t bother to think about how long this gets to be “home” and where the next one some year will be. My back’s too achy and my hands are too dry from scrubbing, and I’m done!

“Where’s Mahrree?” Shem asked.

“She’s hiding in the house, cleaning things,” Jaytsy gestured. “She doesn’t want to face the horses, and she also doesn’t want to leave a dirty house this afternoon.”

Noria and Calla nodded in understanding, but Shem waved his arms in disbelief. “I’ll never understand that. Who’s going to see the house?”

Calla patted him. “It has nothing to do with pride, but everything to do with gratitude. The house is being thanked for its service to us. We just want our houses to feel . . . clean. Before the soldiers do whatever they’ll do to them.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming this summer . . . after I’ve finished moving again.

The chapter may be ending, but the book keeps going

Since last summer, I’ve felt I’ve been dying a slow death. We’re in the long process of moving cross country in June, but not until some major events in our family occur: a granddaughter born, a daughter off to college and back again, a son marrying, another son returning home.

I find myself looking at every day, every activity, and morbidly thinking, “This may be the last time that we ever . . .”

Miserable.

However, God isn’t pleased when I mope, and I’ve discovered Him slipping ideas into my head, such as, “Yes, but you’ve done that so many times, don’t you want to do something new?”

As I get book 6 ready to send out to my beta readers this week (yes, that means it’ll be revised and released in late spring!) I’m realizing that life is a number of chapters, but still all one book. I’ve had many chapters which could be called Childhood, High School, College, Husband and College, Small Children and More College, The Riverton House, The Maryland Year, The Virginia Years, The South Carolina Months, The Idaho Falls Months, The Hyrum House.

I rather expected that The Hyrum House chapter would take another 20 years. The house isn’t my favorite that we’ve owned, but the neighborhood, the views, and the rural location with access to big cities certainly is.

Everything was nearly perfect. Which, naturally, meant that God said, “Time to shake things up a bit.”

That shaking is making everything fall apart. Our family will be scattered, and we’ll be too far away from our adult kids and grandchildren to see them on a regular basis. Since we actually enjoy each other’s company, that’s a bit of a heartache.

That’s when I scowl at this chapter ending and think, “I’m starting to hate this book.”

Because surely the next chapter can’t fix anything, right? We’ve had a few chapters that I really didn’t like, and the photo albums from those years are never touched. I was grateful to slam the book on those pages when they were over.

(By the way, fair warning to my beta readers: there’s a chapter in Book 6 that you will hate. Maybe two. Ok, likely three. Three chapters you will want to slam the book on. But remember–the story’s not over yet.)

But other chapters, I let my mind revisit and enjoy them, but also find something odd happening: I don’t want to necessarily relive them. I was happy for that time, but there’s no going back, thank goodness.

I’ve never understood people who miss high school, even into their older years, wishing vainly they could go back to those glory days. Sure, there were good times, but aren’t there good ones coming, too?

It’s those little thoughts, that prodding from Above, that remind me it’s ok to bring this chapter of my life to a close. God knows that I get restless with stagnancy. That once I’ve worked on a project for a few months or years, I begin to look around for something new. When a job no longer is a challenge, I need a new one. (This book series has been the longest I’ve ever spent on a project, because it continues to challenge me every day.)

While I crave stability, I have to confess to myself, and my husband, that I don’t exactly mind that he changes jobs every few years, that my mind begins to feel claustrophobic in the same place, and while my anxiety disorder causes me to clench in fear at change, that trapped part of my head is screaming, “Lemme out!”

(Brains are messy places.)

It’s when I’ve memorized the street signs, the aisles at the grocery store, how long it takes to get to the pizza place, that I find myself simultaneously thinking, “How nice that I know that so well. That makes me feel secure. Now I’m bored. What’s new?”

So it’s with equal parts of excitement and dread that I watch the last few months of our Hyrum Chapter play out, that I remind myself that it’s still part of my book, that it’s shaped our characters in unforgettable ways, and that we take it with us wherever we go.

And I try to remind myself that the next chapter will also be interesting in unexpected ways, and that I very well may look back years from now upon our new Maine Years chapter, think, “Oh, but that was the best one yet!”

(I just barely looked at the date–which I haven’t done in days–and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death, three years ago. And yet, even her story still continues . . .)

Perrin quietly shut the door behind him and ran his hand along it. As soon as he let go of it, that would be the end—

He felt Mahrree squeeze his other hand, and she reached back and touched the door as well. “I’m sure they have oak where we’re going,” she whispered, and let her hand slide down the door.

And Perrin removed his, clasping it into a fist. He gripped her hand tightly as he whispered in her ear, “Come Mrs. Terryp. Let’s find our new world.”

And neither of them looked back.

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti