I left New Jersey in a U-Haul truck and moved home to my family’s house in Maryland.
I celebrated my 34th bedroom while drinking prosecco in my “studio apartment”–the guest bedroom that now has my apartment furniture crammed in there.
This is not where I expected to be in my mid-30s.
I had been teaching in a charter school for four and a half years, and I knew that my job was taking a toll on my mental health. Every spring, we would receive offer letters for the following year with our new salary. And every year, I found myself signing it on the very last day after agonizing over the decision.
The money was pretty good. But it would mean sacrificing my personal life and all hobbies for the next 10 months. It would mean 55-hour work weeks and 15 hours a week commuting.
I would always end up trying to bargain with myself: it won’t be so bad if I just stick to ONE job. I’ll sign up for dance classes and force myself to go. I’ll schedule time for writing. I’ll keep up with my Portuguese lessons. I’ll read books. I’ll keep dating.
Without fail, I would always break my promises and my life would be consumed by teaching. Money would get tight with just one job, and I’d end up working a second job and other gigs.
That’s why in 2020, I made the decision to take a gap year and travel–until the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to all of my plans.
I made the best out of signing on for another year. I got a beautiful apartment–the first place that I ever had all to myself. I had my best year of teaching: we were remote, I was a solo teacher, and I had a small class size.
Then the 21-22 school year started, and I felt like I was drowning.
Between my job and my side gigs, I was working 65 hours a week. School became unbearable. My personal life suffered one setback after another. I went to a dark place.
My mental health took a sharp dive and kept tumbling down.
My life was consumed by work. My personal life was consumed by stress, anxiety, grief. Then I started to suspect my boyfriend was cheating on me, but I didn’t have any proof–yet. I just had a horrible, sick feeling.
I cried every day on my way to work.
All I kept thinking was I can’t do this anymore.
So I wrote my resignation letter. Handing it in and leaving my kindergartners was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even on my last day of teaching, I kept wondering to myself–can I stick it out? What do I need to do in order to stay?
But I was not well, and I needed to make a change. I kept feeling like I wanted to hit the EJECT button. I found out about my boyfriend’s infidelity after I resigned. But in that moment I knew I would now be leaving everything behind–everything that was hurting my soul–and starting over.
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Life moves slower here in Maryland. I work part-time remotely, and I enjoy it. Now when work finishes, I have time for walks, for writing, for long drives by myself. I actually have time for this blog again. We have family dinners. I spend time with the dogs. I research graduate and doctoral programs, job opportunities, travel grants. I have time to think about what’s next instead of surviving day to day.
I get flashes of contentment that I haven’t felt in a long time. But the nights are hard. Sometimes I feel unmoored, like I’ve lost my identity, my home. I have to remind myself that I’m still healing; it’s okay to move slowly for a while and pick up the pieces.
Each day, I try to process the things I have lost.
I miss my students–their silliness, their love of dancing, their wiggly selves trying to sit on a carpet. Every morning when we started phonics class, I would put on my clear mask and say, “Now I can give you a big smile!” 30 children would smile back at me, ear to ear.
I miss the beautiful apartment that I painstakingly made my own. I miss dancing in the living room, filling the rooms with books, listening to the rustle of the leaves outside, sitting on my fire escape and looking at the sunset. I miss the feeling of coming home.
I don’t miss my former relationship. He had been unfaithful and dishonest the whole time. It isn’t like previous relationships where I would miss “the good times.” I can’t miss our first date because all I can remember are the lies he told me at dinner; I can’t miss sleeping next to him because that’s where she slept, too. Every memory is tainted by the secrets he was hiding. I only see the flashbacks through the lens of what would come next.
I don’t miss him in the same way I miss the beautiful things I’ve given up. I’m trying to accept what he did–the sham of our relationship–and not be angry anymore.
Just like I’m trying to accept that I needed to leave my job, even if it meant leaving my students, my apartment, and the city I loved. Even if it meant moving home and giving up some of my independence.
“Your life is going to change,” my friend said when I left New Jersey. Everything comes at a cost, but I finally escaped the same cycle I had been stuck in year after year. Now I have the chance to lay the groundwork for something better.