Today I miss Charleston. In an effort to remain anonymous, we’ve never written specific locations on this blog, but Charleston, South Carolina is where J and I met, and today, I miss it a lot. I think this is because we fell in love there. In that city, our future was entirely undetermined. Everything was available to us. Anything could happen. The city we live in now is where some things have happened. We were married here. We have a thousand brilliant memories. But here is where we lost our daughter. No matter what else happens to us, we will carry that. Those are the people we are now. We still (we hope) have lots and lots of life ahead of us, but some of the shine is gone. The innocent thought that because we climbed our way here – because we worked so hard to grow into the kind of people we could be proud to be – we deserve great things. That now that we’re together, now that we found THIS LIFE, we’re destined for mostly.happiness. That illusion has been shattered. There’s goodness still, but there’s lots of pain. In Charleston, though, we were brand new. Life had broken us as individuals, but when we came together, we healed each other; we started again. There was the possibility that life would hurt us this way, but we never entertained it. We made plans. They were naive, unsustainable, but they were lovely. So today, I miss Charleston. I miss the girl I was in that city. Not the girl I was when I got there (because boy howdy, she was a mess), but the girl I grew into.
Lots of that growth happened courtesy of the English Department at the College of Charleston (where J got her BA and I got my MA), which is indescribably wonderful. It’s full of brilliant, generous people who taught me (in addition to how incredible literature is as a vehicle to understanding life.culture.yourself, and that there’s nothing in the world like teaching) what it was to be faithful and devoted and steady. It’s full of couples who are committed to one another, and to ideas, and to their students. It was like some utopic universe to me; it took years to believe those people were for real. The building to the right of the courtyard below is where lots of this magic happened:
I have a memory of standing not too far from these steps. It was an afternoon in the spring of 2006, during my second semester of graduate school, and I was speaking with two beloved professors (JMD and TW) when another professor (SL) walked by on his way back from class and said something playful about our having solved the world’s problems. It was a bright day. And it was spring, which means it smelled delicious (because downtown Charleston in the spring is full of jasmine). My heart could not have been more full than it was in that moment. I was flooded with certainty that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and I felt more a part of God (or the universe, or however you describe that vastness) than I had ever felt before. So much connection. I met J one year later. I saw her for the third time only a few feet away from the spot above. Here’s another picture of the campus. How can you expect anything but greatness when you fall in love somewhere this beautiful?:
I used to take peninsula walks. Sometimes for two or three hours. Downtown Charleston is not particularly big, and it’s surrounded by water, and in between all that water are the most wonderful things. In addition to the oldest municipal college in the country, it’s full of gorgeous Georgian, Greek Revival, and Classic Revival homes with tiny courtyards. Spanish moss hangs everywhere. There are long, side porches with chipped paint (the famous Charleston row house porch). There are old rocking chairs (one of which I kidnapped once upon a time, and relocated to 26 Glebe Street, but that’s another story). If you can, go, and if you do, walk around. Like, for hours. It has to be one of the prettiest places on earth. Here are a couple of pictures of King Street (commercial and residential):
And one of the Battery (where I watched a fish die and became a vegetarian):
And one of EVO. If you go to Charleston, and you don’t eat at EVO, you’re totally screwing up. I had the great privilege of working for these guys in my last couple of years down there, and I can tell you that it doesn’t get much better. The food is unparalleled. And what Matt and Ricky have built is enough to make a devout socialist like me believe in capitalism, even if only for a spell. They are deserving of all good things. Even the sight of this sans.food, sans.people picture makes my mouth water and my heart ache:
In Charleston, I fell in love three times. Once with the great love of my life, my partner, my world. Once with a city gorgeous enough to inspire even the most resistant pragmatist to sing, or recite poetry, or do a little jig. (Not that anyone’s ever accused me of pragmatism, but I’ve seen pragmatic people do all three of these things in that space.) And a third time with university life: with teaching, with literature, with consciousness. A life spent in the classroom. In Charleston, I got lucky, so today I miss it big. I know that when we go back again (because we do go back, not just for all of this, but because J’s mom is still there), I’ll be this me; I won’t magically turn into the old, less broken, me again. Still, I think that city will always possess a particular kind of magic. I don’t think this new pain can kill that.
A brief (and less nostalgic) update: Today, we had our first EMDR therapy session to deal with the trauma of two months ago. I’m having physical flashbacks several times a day right now, so basically, I’m reliving losing her over and over while trying to keep up with regular life: teaching, writing, sleeping, being there for the people I love. It’s pretty bad, so we’re trying this new technique, which if you’re wondering, is excrutiating. (If you’re interested, it should be easy to look up; I don’t feel ready to talk about it yet.) I left wanting to get drunk, and I hate being drunk. Seriously, I’m an occasional glass of wine person, but I wanted whiskey. NOT a great idea. Instead, I came home and baked from.scratch, organic, chocolate chip cookies, which is a big deal for me because subsequently eating them involved breaking lent (which I practice secularly, out of a odd, but sincere, love of self sacrifice). Chocolate isn’t whiskey. It didn’t work in quite the same way to obliterate my consciousness, though it did taste better. So in addition to chocolate, I took this trip back to Charleston. I anticipate feeling much better than I would have in the morning.