|My office desk for 20 years|
As I drove through the streets, it seemed like time stood still. A few stores were shuttered or demolished and new restaurants built. Some very wealthy local families who owned prime commercial real estate have controlled the building on the main thoroughfare, hwy. 45, for such a long time, I did not think many national chains would ever be able to come to an area where prime commercial land is not sold but leased, and those leasing must build on land that is not theirs.
The roads appeared more decrepit, pot holes rattled my rental car; the bad economy of the last seven years had caught up with the tax base from the federal and state government that maintained the city. My old street was empty, with a couple of “For sale” signs, cheered by a balmy sunny day and chirping birds. Our old house, although inhabited, was overwhelmed by weeds and kudzu. Long gone were my beautiful flowers, my rose bushes, azaleas, and well-manicured lawn. Renters never take good care of someone else’s property. I can still hear the laughter of my girls running up and down the stairs, playing outside, building their first and only snowman, and riding bikes up and down the steep incline.
Located not far from our house, the university campus was deserted, save for the gate guard who waved me on through with a smile. The trees that escaped the frequent tornadoes were in full bloom, shading the ground with luscious and vibrant green leaves. For twenty years I made the five minute drive from home to this bastion of academic liberalism. It was a job that kept my family fed and sheltered. After a while, the feelings of alienation and loneliness subsided, replaced by my life-long curiosity and love of discovery which I imparted to my eager-to-learn students.
As a conservative who loathed liberalism, my students made life at work a lot more bearable. I never adjusted to the asinine weekly and very wasteful meetings during which times, the favorite liberals of the administration heard themselves talk nonsense for an average of one hour every week. I tried to make mental notes of the meetings that could have been dispatched with a one-paragraph email. Then I made lesson plans or graded papers.
It was hard to take these people seriously who forced the faculty and students to listen to an imam extol the virtues of Islam and of their respect for women. It was hard to ignore some of the faculty who had serious drinking problems, serious psychological episodes, or disturbing psychotic outbursts. The darling of academia was the teacher who pretended to be sick, walking around with a cancer chemo pump for weeks at a time in order to gain sympathy from the rest of her liberal cohorts.
I walked around the campus and stopped at the water fountain where my husband proposed on a romantic evening. The soothing water waves sparkled like a huge aquamarine. A few cool droplets sprayed my face. I sat on the fountain’s edge for a while, taking in the greenery and the gazebo where I sat reading often between classes. Although dignified, it looked like it needed a fresh coat of paint.
Perhaps it was the intense sun but tears filled my eyes retracing memories of years past. This university that stood for little that I believed in was my home away from home, taking me away from my children, while I mentored someone else’s liberal children. The resentment still aches in a corner of my heart.
Chef Fidel’s fragrant garden is gone, replaced by carefully arranged, color-coded flowers. I left with a feeling of relief, giving the huge magnolia on the corner one last look. It’s the oldest tree on campus that survived the test of time and hurricanes. My footsteps still echo in its generous shade where I often graded papers and day dreamed after my walks with Maribel.
Driving down the street, I spied my daughter’s old college days apartment building. Bogart walked a few times on the window ledges, escaping her apartment and meowing to get attention and gain access into someone else’s apartment through the closed windows.
On the corner of Main Street, a restaurant was filled to capacity and laughter was spilling out the door. Church goers in their colorful Sunday Easter best were lunching on Southern fare while a local Jazz musician was entertaining them with his saxophone.
I remembered this building from the early 1980s when it was the most elegant dress shop in town called Ruth’s Department Store. The three stories catered to the most sophisticated ladies in town and the basement dressed their babies. From furs, to shoes, to hats, fine jewelry, purses, wedding dresses, and ballroom gowns, southern ladies were well catered to and elegantly attired. A preacher’s wife, a Ruth’s frequent customer, bought a new and flamboyant hat each week of the year. While shopping, ladies sipped on sodas or champagne.
Mimi still remembers the horror of riding up alone in the elevator to the third floor, frightened by the army of mannequins when the doors opened. She never forgot the moment when the doors closed too fast and I had to let go of her hand or else our arms would have gotten crushed in the old style lift. It was so long ago but it seems like yesterday.
The streets are so empty that you can hear the buzzing of bees. The welcoming silence is broken occasionally by a passing car. I am far, far away from northern Virginia, an area suffocated by overcrowded humanity. But I no longer belong here, I want to go home.