Most people who I told responded with, “But you LOVE Austin!” And I do. I love it more than I think I’ve ever loved any boy [slash] man, and I am grateful for everything that it taught me about myself and for all of the incredible experiences that it gave me.
and none of them have to do with what I’m leaving behind.
Instead, it is all about what waits ahead.
I woke up one morning and had a feeling–the same sort of gut instinct that told me to move to Texas in the first place–that I needed to return to ‘my kids.’ I saw myself driving back to Virginia, and I saw myself happy.
*Well, in North Carolina. With my family. It’s “home.”
The best way I know to explain all of this is through an essay I wrote in August. I submitted it to the Curry School of Education Alumni Writing Contest, and I won an honorable mention.*
*Shocking, considering I completely forgot about the deadline and wrote this in an hour or so, with no chance to edit.
I’m republishing the essay here, and feel free to read as much or as little as you like. At the end, I’ve edited–in bold or italics^–for the new chapter (the new path?) my life is taking, but you can read the original in its entirety here.
^Just so you know, I wrote “in bold or italics” because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and figured I’d cover myself if I was too lazy or forgetful to go back and change it after I was finished. Then I ended up using both anyway.
The Path That Chose Me
by Sarah E. Pember
(M.T. ’07 Elementary Education)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had—and needed—a plan. The plans changed, of course, as plans are inclined to do, when, for example, I discovered that I don’t actually have the talent to perform professionally as a Broadway actress (not to mention the fact that big cities overwhelm me), or that despite the period of my life spent religiously cutting out fashion spreads and pasting them into notebooks, my general inability to coordinate outfits should have indicated early on that I probably wouldn’t make it in the world of high fashion.
But still, I always had an idea of where I was headed, and what I would do when I got there.
You’d think my parents divorce at the tender age of eight would have broken me of the Disney-inspired notion that life is good and happy, and that a dream really is a wish your heart makes, and that they always come true. [I did not, however, truly believe Peter Pan when he told me I could fly. I know my parents---and the health insurance companies—were happy about that.]
But no, not at all. I was too busy running around thinking I was a princess, and even years later, after I was never asked to prom, didn’t wear a Homecoming crown, and fate did not cause a spontaneous meeting with Justin Timberlake (in a rainstorm…in case you were wondering), I still maintained the optimistic notion that my life would, one day, return to moving along “according to plan.”
As you can probably guess, that never happened.
Sure, I had a blissful five years in college, studying English and working towards a Masters in Teaching, a course of study I mapped out myself, refusing (as usual) to ask for guidance from a mentor or an advisor. I could make a plan; I didn’t need someone to do it for me! And after I graduated from the University a second time (the whole two-for-one deal was pretty sweet, I must say), I headed up to D.C. along with thousands of other recent graduates, to take up a standard teaching job in one of the largest public school systems in the world, sure that after a year of teaching fifth grade I’d be well on my way to the future I’d dreamed of: the edges were still a bit blurry, but the one clear take-away was stability, husband, and happiness.
Five years and as many jobs later, well, let’s just say the slight blurriness of that plan have given way to generous holes and tears in the seams. Frayed edges mark the constant upheaval that has defined my life since graduation. Some of it was self-induced, of course; it was my own decision to leave public school teaching after my first year and take an incredibly high-paying position as what amounted to functioning as a personal assistant to a 9-year-old. I loved that boy for who he was, but hated the circumstances in which we had to know each other. In efforts to regain control of my life, I quit.
The plan was to return to teaching. I missed it.
It did not, however, miss me.
Jobs were few and far between, and despite the strange twist of fate that granted me a long-term sub opportunity in my dream school, with my dream kids, and my dream staff, I was still antsy and unsettled. Teaching had been the plan. I was teaching. But why did it feel like this wasn’t what I had always thought it would be?
And then came Austin. I visited this little city in Texas and immediately felt alive. Home. I’d found it! Halfway across the country and away from everything I knew. This little, stubborn girl, for whom switching houses week after week as a child caused so much consternation that change-induced sleeplessness was common bucked up, packed up and moved out West. In some ways I was living out a fantasy inspired by the Dixie Chicks and any other country artist who sang about freeing yourself from chains and heading off into the sunset. [Not that I had any chains. Or that I ever wanted to drive at night.]
Again, there I was. The plan this time was to have no plan. Yet somehow– through a miracle of knowing the right people and having the right people believe in me–I fell right into a teaching job, back to my original intention, but in a new city, and without my family being a quick weekend visit away. But I was happy. I was joyful, even, resplendent in the possibility and newness, and filled with hope that now, well, now this was it.
But budget cuts and “last hired, first fired” policies shut me out and knocked me down. I found myself in the yearly battle of “what am I going to do with my life” involving tearful phone calls to my mother and agonizing insomnia that plagued me while I put on a happy face and tried to keep everyone else calm, as the mother in me is wont to do.
And now, I work in a grocery store. Granted, it’s a grocery store beyond all grocery stores, where people who love food can discover a wonderland of happiness, and the produce department is the stuff that a vegetarian builds their visions of utopia upon, but still, when it comes down to it, I do work in a grocery store. [I like to think my father is still proud of me, though.] And you know what? For awhile it made me insanely happy.
When I was asked to come back to the classroom, I said no. I just couldn’t do it. I was happier spending my days writing and cooking and just being, without pressure of state and country bearing down on me when all I wanted to do was love kids and help them to love themselves. Instead, I found another way to teach. I help people in their quest for understanding of food and diet and health and how to cook an artichoke. Just because I wasn’t in a classroom didn’t mean I wasn’t still a teacher. It might not sound like much, but it was something.
Then, one morning, I woke up, and I knew that all signs pointed back to the classroom. There was a reason I was sad when I didn’t have a school group coming through the store that I could tour around and entertain by counting apples and talking about the science behind the food we eat. There was a reason I started to feel like I needed something more. I have a calling. And my calling is with kids.
I’m going home.
The only thing I can say that I’ve truly learned is that sometimes the path you choose doesn’t choose you. Doors open and doors close and you climb through windows and wish on stars, and in the end, you have to throw everything you believed would happen to you in a trash can full of unrequited love and old bosses and the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should bes.’ More often than not, the plan you make is not the plan you’ll follow.
For me, for the moment, this crazy, mixed-up life I’m leading— well, this is the new plan.
This essay (in its original form) received Honorable Mention in the Fall 2011 Curry School Alumni Writing Contest, Recent Graduate Category. It was published in the fall issue of Curry Magazine Online in November 2011.