Spring Break 2017, Part Three: “You’re Doing Well”

It rained today. No hiking. Instead I walked into my old campus. It’s funny; when I moved in as a freshman in 2012, it rained; when I graduated last May, it rained; today when I walked my old path from the performing arts building to the English building, it rained. My mom once told me that rain was the universe’s tears. It cried when I arrived: “We’re so happy you’re here.” It cried when I left: “What if we never see you again?” It cried when I returned: “You’re here, and we missed you.”

I wandered through the English department for a while. As it is also JMU’s spring break this week, the building was almost empty. Only one door was open: my former Shakespeare and Tolkien professor. I wanted to go in and say hi, but I didn’t know if he’d remember me. I shifted my weight from foot to foot, debating, wavering in the hallway. I approached the door and knocked. He looked up from his computer, smiled, and said, “Sarah, right?”

He cleared off a chair for me to sit in and we spent the next twenty minutes catching up. He asked about my graduate program–if the faculty is supportive, what my coursework is like, if he knows any of my professors. I told him about some of my recent creative projects as well as my current research for my classes, and he sat back in his chair and said, “I’m really glad to hear you’re doing well.” Half a minute passed, in which I wasn’t sure what to say, and then he said something I didn’t know I needed to hear. “The important thing is that you don’t give up. Not everyone in your cohort is cut out for this, but I think you are. And adversity never goes away,  you know. I still face it; I just had a book rejected.” He smiled. “I’m doing exactly what you’re doing. The only difference is, I’ve been doing it longer.”

It’s funny; my professors out west have told me I’m doing well, but to hear it from someone removed from my current situation, my present environment, someone who is perhaps a little more objective, it carries a little more weight. To go home; to talk to someone I respect about my life and my work, and for them to be proud…

I picked up new copies of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier and Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier from the campus bookstore. My old ones from my junior year Modern English and Irish Lit class got lost in the move out west. This was something I enjoyed doing in my undergrad, checking the textbook racks halfway through the semester and picking up any stragglers that looked interesting.

I checked out the main campus library and was livid to find the circulation desk had been replaced with a single self-checkout kiosk. Despicable.

I walked back downtown to the Massanutten Regional Library; they’re having a book sale in their basement this week. I had a couple of dollars in my pocket, so I went to check it out. There were stacks upon stacks and boxes upon boxes of books. Paperbacks, hardbacks, leather-bound, handmade, and so on. I bought a book of D. H. Lawrence short stories (Modern Lover) and a collection of essays by R. P. Blackmur called Form and Value in Modern Poetry. Some of the essays are on Eliot, Lawrence, and Stevens, so I’ll be happy to read it when I get a chance.

I promised a friend of mine that I’d pick her something up from Virginia, so I went across the street to a shop called Ten Thousand Villages and bought a blue heart stone from Kenya. It has a lizard etched on it. I hope she’ll like it. While in the store, I chatted with the shopkeeper about how I had graduated last year and was back on spring break. She said, “Well, I’m glad you could come home for a bit.” I paused with my hand on the doorknob and said, “Me too.”

It was at this point in the day I had originally planned to hike up a nearby mountain and finish Women in Love, but it was raining intermittently all day, so hiking was out of the question, and reading a book I borrowed from my professor in the rain was also out of the question. I met up with my friend Eryn to get dinner and a beer. When she came up to hug me at the bar, she said, “Holy shit, your hair is long!”

Eryn told me about getting into grad school for elementary education next fall, and working at a day care in her gap semester. Her boyfriend joined us at the bar; I don’t know him that well but he seems nice. It’s obvious how much he loves her. I could see it in the way he looks at her when she’s looking somewhere else. They’re really something special. Something rare and admirable.

The bar was loud and crowded and although I enjoyed their company, I wanted to go back to the loft and curl up with Guin, my friend’s cat, and sleep. And so I did.


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