I was out walking Biscuit this evening and everything was freshly rain-washed and subdued. The sky was a solid grey and I felt a sense of gentle calm in the air, as if the world were half asleep and dreaming. I saw a flock of birds taking flight, all dark wings etched against the pale sky, and they all flew in such perfect synchronicity and yet were each so individual that I felt amazed by this simple sight.
I’m at a such a strange point in my life, where most moments are still incredibly painful but somehow, I can still be astounded by the little miracles around me. Nature in particular is a source of comfort and healing that can restore my soul like nothing else. I can set out for a walk feeling crushed by despair but some time in the woods surrounded by the song of birds and hum of insects, I feel a renewed sense of peace and purpose. The outdoors is my church, it’s music is my hymnal and the wild world is my religion.
I love riding my bike as well. I fly past rustling cornstalks and golden fields and breathe deeply of honeysuckle and rich, spicy earth and sun warmed soil. I see white clover spilling along roadsides like popcorn and pass sweet cows grazing in pastures. I struggle up hills and feel sweat run down my face. I feel hot and tired and breathless and I love the effort of it. Sometimes I’m sad or angry or afraid but as the miles spin by, all of that gets burned away like fog in the sun and I’m left with the good things – dreams, goals, hopes and new purpose and a vision of a new life. I often feel like I rewound my life and I’m once again a freshly graduated student trying to figure out what on earth I’m going to do with my future, only this time I have an 11 year old child I’m solely responsible for and my life is half over. It’s sobering and scary and exciting all at once. In my hopeful moments I see the opportunity to try new things and learn and travel. I really want to live, not just survive.
Lately I feel like I’m walking through a tunnel trying to find the end, only it’s so dark I don’t even know if I’m going in the right direction. It’s been 15 months since Brian died and I’ve been told I need to stop grieving for him but that is easier said then done. It’s a process and not one that is neatly completed in one year. It’s hard for most people, people who haven’t been in this situation, to comprehend the magnitude of moving on. I lost this bright, shining person, the one who supported, encouraged, believed in me, and it feels like I’ve been swallowed up by this black hole his absence created. I’m struggling to rebuild my life but it’s a two steps forward, one step back process. The reality of widowhood is feeling exhausted constantly. It’s not sleeping night after night. It’s having nightmares so intense, you wake yourself up screaming. It’s feeling so much anxiety you have a hard time breathing sometimes. It’s about feeling everything deeply- particularly loneliness. It’s about most people moving on with their lives while you struggle to do the same.
Some days I feel hope for the future. I try focus on loving and caring for Nat and doing small gestures of kindness for others. I find great solace in nature. I try dream big and believe anything is possible. Some days I just concentrate on making it to the end of it in the hopes the next one will be better. Eventually, I know, it will be. Hearts can heal and loving and missing Brian will always be a part of me, but I trust that one day the gratitude of having had him will outweigh the sadness of losing him.
Recently, I got a second tattoo. I now have two little swallows etched on my wrist and every day they serve as a reminder to myself that Nat and I are still here. We are still alive and we are bound together in this life.
I’ve always found the idea of flight fascinating and in particular, the careless, free-falling swoops of the swallow entices me. They look so free, so beautiful, so full of the joy of life. Every time I walk Biscuit in the evening and I see the silhouette of a swallow against the sky, I feel inspired. The little birds never fail to make me smile. And they always seem to fly in groups. To me, they symbolize grace and beauty and most of all – freedom. The freedom to create a new life, the freedom to choose happiness in spite of loss and betrayal and cruel people. The freedom to forgive and move on. The freedom to love and live. On the dark days, I look at my little swallows and I am inspired to keep trying, to not give up.
I stopped today when I saw you, a simple metal cross, slightly rusted with a faded photo attached and bright plastic flowers perpetually blooming at your base. I stopped when I saw you because I wanted to acknowledge you, this makeshift memorial on the side of the road, and pay homage to you, a stranger. I feel your family and I are bound together by the inner knowledge of profound loss. Loss that is unnatural and unexpected. A deviation from what should have been. I paused today and read those brief dates – 1995 to 2015 -inscribed I know, not only on metal but on your loved ones hearts. Two simple dates that contain birthdays and Christmas’s and a million memories in between. You were – no, you are – someone’s son, perhaps brother, uncle, nephew. Someone loved, whose loss has forever left an empty hole in many hearts. I know how terrible it would be for you to be forgotten so even though I do not know you, I stop and I remember you.
There comes a moment every spring when I catch some un-named scent – damp soil, perhaps, or new growth of leaves – or I hear the cooing of a mourning dove hidden in the boughs of the neighbor’s pear tree or I catch sight of dogwood blooms, newly unfurled and still slightly green at the edges, and I am immediately transported back in time. I’m taken back a decade and dropped at the airport at the very moment I walked into tropical-like heat to hear a mockingbird singing at midnight. I’m taken back to a time when everything was new and strange and exotic. When I was freshly introduced to North Carolina and everything here took me by surprise. I was a tourist in my adopted country, exclaiming over the deafening din of summer cicadas or marveling at the explosion of green each spring. I stared in wonder at peaches that grew on trees in backyards and dirt as bright as rust. The August humidity was stunning as were possums, turtles and the magnitude of most of the insects.
Now, most of the time, after 15 + years in the Tar Heel State, it just feels like home. I’m here carrying on with daily life in comfortable surroundings. I don’t feel like a foreigner in a strange land anymore. I can even understand people when they speak.
It’s just every so often I’m startled out of the familiarity and reminded that I’m in another world than the one I came from. A beautiful, captivating, complicated place. It might be home, but I’m lucky to still – on occasion- be able to see it with the wonder of a newcomer.
Five days until Nat and I embark on this adventure of living in a special place. Instead of the van life or tiny house life, Nat and I will be embarking on the barn life. Maybe we’ll start a new trend.
We are both full of excitement and anticipation, and yes, maybe a bit of trepidation and fear. It’s a big change and one I never foresaw coming. I mean, who imagines they’ll grow up, lose the love of their life and then end up unemployed, living in a barn? In all seriousness this feels oh-so-right. It has the right mix of unconventional, adventurous and different that I just need right now.
It feels like the fresh start we’ve been seeking. Nat and I will be living a little closer to nature and much closer to each other. Our little barn apartment is tiny. It has a cozy little kitchen and living room, a bathroom off the kitchen with stand-in shower, sink (and of course toilet). A beautiful big window in the living area lets in lots of light and stairs lead to the loft with its sloping ceiling and room for a bed and a few other pieces of furniture. A window in the loft looks out over the barn below where we can keep watch on prowling barn cats and dozing horses. It’s beautiful and full of an aura of peace and tranquility. And soon it will be home.
Before we can move, however, I am faced with the task of sifting through 34 years of life and all that I’ve accrued in that time. No small task when your future living space is about 500 sq feet. I didn’t think I had many possessions until I started packing. Now I realize I have way, way too much stuff so I see this as a challenge to minimize in a big way and to only bring what is absolutely essential or will enhance our lives. I want each item to be carefully considered and selected before I take it with us. Everything else is either being put in storage, donated, thrown away or sold. I think having less things is liberating and can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life. The hardest part will be deciding which books to take and which to give away. I’ve already donated around 100 books and probably have at least 100 left. I love them like friends.
Getting rid of anything Brian used or touched or owned is also incredibly hard. I still have his favorite coffee creamer in the fridge, long outdated but precious because he bought it not long before he died. His things still feel like a link to him and it’s difficult parting with any of his belongings. I have a storage unit in town and I’m putting most of our personal items there for safekeeping and I’ll be getting rid of almost all of my furniture and Nat’s. Fresh start. Welcome to the beginning of a big adventure!
The sun hangs low in the sky and the air has a cold bite to it that keeps me moving at a brisk pace. It’s late afternoon and I’m walking around town planning, thinking and dreaming. The forward momentum always inspires me for some reason. As I walk and think about all the places I want to visit and see, it strikes me that this town where I live is full of small wonders and eccentricities. The sheep farmer is a prime example. Off on a quiet little side road, dozens of sheep and lambs nibble on bales of hay or lay resting on the winter grass. A few donkeys in their fuzzy fur coats watch me as I pass. Mixed in with the sweet sounds of the sheep calling to each other is the delicate strains of a violin. The classical music is coming from the barn and it carries on the crisp, cool air. Usually it’s opera singing that drifts over the fields but I have never walked by without some kind of music serenading the animals. In the upper window of weather worn building by the road a statue of Buddha serenely keeps watch. The farmer is a gruff bearded man who is liable to chase you away if you stop to take pictures or talk to his animals. I always risk it anyways.
There are many other reasons I love this place. The train that rushes past on the tracks through town, plaintively whistling as it goes by is another one. Then there is the building where a man grinds coffee beans for various coffee shops. The scent of roasted beans hangs deliciously on the breeze and some days I can smell it all the way at my house.
By and large, the people are also the best and kindest you’ll ever meet. I’ve lived in this town for nearly a decade and although I plan to close this chapter of life soon the memories I’ve made here will last a lifetime.