Because it’s nice out, I decide to go to Z’s campus midday, write in the library, and meet him after work. I have a couple of errands to run nearby, so I load up my bag with my computer, a pad of paper, five pens I won’t use, and the promise that if I don’t stop at Cupcake Royale, I’ll let myself buy something (another pen or notebook) in the campus bookstore before I get to work. I run my errands, wave at Z when I pass his office window, and make my way past the grassy expanse where a delightful array of neighborhood dogs races around, happy to be dogs outside with other dogs. This is perhaps—with the exception of Puget Sound or Lake Washington—the happiest spot in all of Seattle to me, and whenever I see well-loved and well-behaved dogs frolicking here, I pray that campus security will continue to turn a blind eye to the flagrant off-leash rule breaking because it’s good for my soul.
The campus is busier than it has been all summer, and as I zip into the bookstore and see the line, I remember why: it’s the first day of classes. Of course. I won’t be buying any unnecessary writing equipment today because the queue for textbooks snakes around the store. When I go outside, it finally registers that these are students making the campus more lively than it has been for months.
And then it hits me: this is the first fall in eighteen years that I haven’t had my own classes to teach.
Z’s campus has never been mine. My teaching was in Indiana in my hometown. Though in my youth, I’d probably had fantasies about teaching at some tree-covered east coast college, as an adult, I never really imagined teaching anywhere else. I loved working in a place where I knew and understood the community as well as I knew myself. I loved teaching the children of people I’d gone to high school with. I loved walking across campus or running to that bookstore or library and saying hello to ten different people I’d known for years. It was my home.
But I wasn’t counting on Z or how he is my real home even if his GPS coordinates and the coordinates of my hometown are two thousand, three hundred and seventeen miles apart.
After we got married, I taught courses online for the same school, returning multiple times a semester for work obligations, and lived with a foot in Indiana and a foot in Seattle. It was a weird existence. When people would ask me where I lived, I had a hard time answering. In retrospect, I realize I’ve always been the sort of person who pulls a Band-Aid off a millimeter at a time instead of in a single, painful rip, and this move to Seattle has been no different. That is, until May when I resigned and began this new stage of my life in earnest.
Hello. My name is Beth. I live in Seattle.
Z and I decided that if ever there were a year to discover if I liked the life of a full-time writer, this was the one. I’ve got multiple degrees assuring the world (and myself) that I am one, I’ve been writing since before I could string multiple words together, and this will be my first opportunity not to distract myself with the writing of students in lieu of doing and promoting my own.
So here we are.
My name is Beth. I live in Seattle. I am a writer. I don’t care where you put your commas.
Still, it is very strange to be walking across this campus, looking at these 19 year olds and knowing that there are no 19 year olds anywhere in the world that I am currently responsible for educating. I can’t quite name the feeling. It’s a mélange of excitement and contentment, with just a few drops of wistfulness. Two drops. Maybe three drops. I suspect one of those drops is really just wistfulness for feeling as if I belong somewhere.
I set up shop in the library at a table that looks out at Mt. Rainier, when it can be bothered to show itself. Today is one of those days. I write for three hours, looking up at it periodically and stretching. Though I want to wander around the stacks and find books to lose myself in, it feels like the mountain is looking at me sternly and telling me to sit where I am and do my work. So I do. That thing has lava in its darkest recesses. Who am I to argue?
At six, I meet Z outside of his classroom, and we walk to the dog lawn, where I wait for him while he runs to his office to drop off his books and papers. There is a tiny ribbon of envy I feel unfurl when a student greets him by name or I picture him in his office being greeted by colleagues or grousing with them about some overlord who is causing them grief. I’m a lone wolf now and unless I want to start randomly complaining about the publishing industry to strangers hammering out novels in coffeehouses across the city, I’ll have to save my work angst for emails to writer friends.
The sun is shining. The tails of twelve dogs are wagging wildly. Z walks towards me, and we head off toward our apartment, where I have notebooks to fill and not a single paper to grade.