Often By Water
When I was a girl, I tacked posters of foreign places to my bedroom walls and would often times fall asleep dreaming of these exotic places –the South of France, London’s infamous Piccadilly Circus, Bali, Vietnam, the Amazon Rain Forest. Each was a different from next as night was from day, but they all held a certain appeal.
In the moments before sleep would engulf me, id often plan trips to these places, clinging to the last bits of lingering consciousness, I’d tell myself I’d start in London, work my way south to Paris, hitting Bali and Vietnam before ending my journey lost in a different kind of wilderness also known as the rain forest.
My mother would scoff at my plans and say condescendingly, “You’ll never see those places, you're living a fool’s errand if you believe differently.”
For a while, I ignored her. I could see places she’d only dreamed about if I wanted to, what was to stop me.
Then I grew up. I grew up and I realized that only special people were able to go to these special places.
Disenchanted, I removed the posters from my walls and stored them in the back of the closet for safekeeping.
Later, after high school, I went to college, I met the requisite man, got the required degree, and then ultimately married said man. Things were fun at first, being a newlywed is all glittery and bright – sex in the shower before work and sex on the counter as that nights dinner bubbles over the edge of the pot and burns on the stove, but who cares, right? You can live on love.
Well, maybe for a little while. Eventually, the flame flickers out and leaves a solitary plume of smoke permeating the air, leaving an acrid and bitter smell. That’s what happened with said man. The flame fizzled and suddenly we weren’t newlyweds anymore. We were two people with a mortgage and a car payment; two people who said they wanted a family, wanted kids and pets, but never made time to make the family.
Eventually, those two people realize that sometime during the course of the years, they have become two very different people. They are now strangers to one another. You look at him as he shaves in the mirror and notice the first streaks of grey infuse his brown temples and instead of finding him attractive you find yourself something along the lines of repulsed so you go out of your way to avoid him.
The mundane, everyday pace of life drove me nuts. I needed to get out, to get away. But there was never any escape, nowhere to go and nothing new to do. Then one rainy day in May, my whole life changed.
I’d gone into work that morning like every morning before. In my mail box in the main office of the high school where I taught freshman English was a notice, there was to be a staff meeting that day after school, the topic: a trip to Ecuador to teach students there the English language.
I felt my heart rise in my chest as the opportunity presented itself. A year overseas, in some probably remote Ecuadorian village where three teachers would be given the opportunity to share the wealth of knowing the English language.
I went through the day in a haze as I pondered the possibility of fulfilling my dream of travelling. Ecuador wasn’t on my list of places I wanted to see before I died, but hell, it was a start. Eventually the last bell of the day rang and I passed through the throngs of students clogging the hallways, some heading toward hulking yellow buses waiting to ferry them home for the afternoon, some collecting books, and heading to after school study groups. A few of my students called out hello as I passed by and I waved distracted.
In the faculty room, half the teachers waited looking bored or distracted. As I took in their faces I couldn’t help but wonder, was I the only one excited by this opportunity?
As it turned out, I was, in fact, the only one. Principal Reynolds stared at the other teachers disappointedly.
“Don’t you people know what an opportunity this is?” he emphasized the word opportunity. “Chances like this don’t come around very often.”
“Come on now Hank,” the crotchety old history teacher, Mrs. Goff said from beside me. “a lot of these people have families, husbands, and children to think about. They’re not going to go running off to the Amazon jungle with a bunch of spear wielding pygmies creating havoc. Why did you even think this was a good idea?”
Reynolds flushed a deep crimson, his lips sputtered a rebuttal that never quite formed on his plump, earthy wormy lips.
“I’d like to go,” I said tentatively, my voice soft and weak.
The other teachers crowded around the table gaped at me. Reynolds shut his lips forming a tight, thin line. “That’s the spirit I was looking for,” he said, quickly regaining his composure. “Anyone else?”
Reynolds looked around the room for other volunteers. The other faculty members avoided his gaze, looking down at the table, and their laps. “fine,” he said trying to hide the note of disappointment in his voice. “Mrs. Uley please see me after the meeting.”
I nodded and felt the heat rise in my cheeks after being singled out like that. The remainder of the meeting was about budget cuts and the steady decline in half the student body’s grade point average. Then it was over. The other staff members filed silently out of the room until Principal Reynolds and I were the only two left.
“So,” he said as the door closed behind the last teacher. “why do you want to spend a year in Ecuador?”
I took a deep breath and clasped my hands together. “Honestly?” I said looking him right in the eye. “I’m bored to tears. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job here, but the challenge went out of it years ago. I need a change of pace, a change of scenery. I need to go somewhere and do something that is going to make a difference in someone’s life. Not only that, but I think that going to Ecuador and teaching English to the kids there would be a greatly rewarding experience.”
“What about your husband?”
I shrugged. “What about him?”
“Well, he wouldn’t be able to go with you, is that going to be a problem?”
“I shouldn’t be,” I said. “the truth is, my marriage probably needs something like this just as much as my personal state of mind needs it.”
Reynolds nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, well it’s going to cost you a little bit of money, you know, airfare, and things like that. The school district has taken care of accommodations and three meals a day, but anything else will be your responsibility. Is that going to be a problem?”
I shook my head no. with no kids and Sam never having time to take vacation, we’d saved up quite a bit of money over the years.
“Alright. You’re going to need a few vaccines before you can go. Oh, and a passport as well. You’ll leave for Ecuador the last week of August and start the new school year there. That should give you enough time to get your affairs in order.”
I nodded. “thank you. you really have no idea how much this means to me.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Enjoy it.”
That night, as we sat at the dinner table silently eating roast beef, I wondered how to best break the news to Sam. I knew he wouldn’t give me permission to go – not that I was asking for it, I was going whether he approved or not – I just didn’t want to rock our already shaky boat, which was exactly what news of this magnitude was going to do. So instead of saying anything, I sat there silently chewing my green beans and planned.
As school ended and the summer began, I taught summer school classes during the morning and took care of all the things that needed to be done before I left the country. I got the necessary vaccinations, got my passport, packed, and began slowly taking money from the savings account, stashing it away in an empty tampon box – the one place I knew Sam would never go near, let alone touch.
The night before I was set to leave for Ecuador, I sat down with Sam and told him that I received a call earlier that morning while he was at work. My mother had a stroke and needed to be cared for. I would be going to take care of her until I could get her settled into a nursing home.
Turning back to ESPN, he picked up the remote and just shrugged nonchalantly. I don’t care, the shrug said, do what you have to.
I rose off the couch and headed down the hall to our small bedroom. Pulling a suitcase from the closet, I began to stuff clothes inside that would be more suitable for the Amazon than the Oregon coast. Retrieving the tampon box of cash from the medicine cabinet, I stuffed it into a small duffel bag and zip is shut and set it on top of the suitcase just inside the door, anxious butterflies beating in my stomach.
I found it hard to sleep that night as my husband snored fitfully beside me. my mind kept wandering to the small South American country and what I would find there. Would it be as beautiful as all the pictures on the internet promised it to be? Or would I find it to be a disgustingly inhabitable wasteland; a place I would be sentenced to spend a year mucking through filthy streets and unlivable conditions.
No way, my mind whispered. It’s going to be gorgeous, the experience of a lifetime. Just wait and see.