How many minutes in my life have I spent staring through golden mist on a morning highway? I remember it being the most romantic, intoxicating feeling. At six years old, chocolate milk in one hand and crayon in the other. At ten, Coca Cola and a pencil. Sixteen, coffee and a Bic. Scratching out the story with every mile: where I was going. Or where I wished I was.
When I was a kid, I thought every highway would go exactly where I wanted it to. I thought the mist would always be golden.
This time last year I had a foot on each end of the highway. Sold the house, moved three hours away, two weeks before school let out, and commuted to finish out my contract. Every morning I was in the car by four, driving down and down on roads that crumbled and steepened the further south I went.
This morning, children woke up there, in houses next to the crumbling highway, where the mountains are so tall the sun doesn't rise till eight. The highways run in circles. The mist is gray. I spent a year trying to get those kids to tell me their stories, to dream big, to tell me where they wanted their highway to lead.
They didn't understand the question.
Ten months I taught them and they never understood the question.
It has taken me a year to even be able to look back on those months in the coalfields. My anxiety level ratchets up several notches and my mind tries to change the subject, tries to find something else to dwell on before I have to remember each specific face, so adult, so tired and old, so tragic on a seven-year-old. How I hated that look in their eyes. How I hated that year, trying to teach my kids something that can't be taught. Hope and dreaming and a little bit of peace. How to be a damn kid for a minute.
Some days – every day – I wish I could have another shot. Do better by those children. But this time last year, I couldn't force myself to stay. I put in my resignation and the nightmares stopped. I put a For Sale sign in the swampy yard of the house with messed-up plumbing and locked windows. I jumped on the highway at the first opportunity, drove up and up until the mist turned gold.
Left those kids behind.