I remember the last time I camped alone in this tent. At least, I think it was the last time.
I camped at Colorado Bend State Park in Texas, in May, with the intent of doing a bike ride the next day. Before heading out, I stopped in Austin and I had lunch with my Ph.D. advisor.
We talked about many things; my unhappiness with my job, desire to try teaching. He said something insensitive; he’s infamous for being oblivious.
I asked about a professor who was my terror when I was working on my doctorate; a man who was known for pawing his female students, with the stereotypical black leather sofa in his office, who always wanted to shut the door and sit next to you on the sofa. Hella no, I opened his door wide, and I pulled over the hard wooden chair, but when it was time for my defense, I was worried that one would make trouble for me.
My advisor said he had no idea what I could be talking about when I said I thought that professor was creepy. All he could recall was that Prof. Creepy wanted to hire some unsatisfactory job candidates. I remember a lull or change in our conversation, broken perhaps 10 minutes later, when my advisor told me about Professor Creepy’s nuclear divorce when he, indeed, ran off with one of his female students, leaving his wife and kids high and dry. Professor Creepy went on to become the department chair at another august institution; I can’t imagine they found his performance satisfactory. I also don’t think my advisor connected his story to my comments, though I am certain that my comment connected some subconscious dots, bringing forth the story.
What I remember most about the camping is the explosive tears, the incredible feeling of being lost, of being stuck, of not being good enough and having no way to ever be good enough. Deep, deep, deep shame for being who I was, with only my abilities.
With little sleep, I didn’t go to the bike ride the next day.
There was mountain biking in the park, but after getting up and getting together, I ended up on a hiking rather than a biking trail. My frustration peaked.
It was unseasonably hot, and the campground had no showers. I swam a bit to clean up, but in the end, I just packed up and went home early, running away from that moment, that vision of myself, that truth.
I didn’t interact with my advisor again for 7-9 more years.
It was quite a few years before I came back to that park, newly in love with my then-companion. I remember a magical hike we had as we got lost trying to find a geocache. I have the pictures, and that happy memory.
Today, I find myself again alone in this tent. I am not thinking about trying teaching any more; I will start a tenure track position in the fall. If I had known what success I would have as a teacher, I might have started on this path sooner.
In the ensuing years, I have had deep disappointments, and I have had moments of great joy. Part of me is very very sad for the painful moments, and also angry for this part of my past. Part of me is deeply deeply grateful to be here, now, in this moment.