How did we get here?
I wake up in a blue room at 4:30 AM. Where am I? I look around to see a few small pieces of my artwork on the walls. I am in my bed. My head is on my pillow, my scarves artfully decorating the far wall…plants on the windowsill that I recently potted here in St. Louis…a cherished photo on my nightstand. But this home is new and Joel isn’t here, snoring softly by my side, wrapped up tightly in the covers like a burrito. Where am I? How did I get here?
This experience isn’t entirely unfamiliar. On the road Joel and I experienced hospitality everywhere we went, waking up most mornings in a new home. Sometimes we were also waking in a completely new city than the day prior and other times in an entirely different state. Every few mornings, we would experience something novel as we rustled awake. It took me a few weeks to become used to the momentary disorientation upon opening my eyes in the morning to someone else’s home, to someone else’s life.
This morning I feel very far from here or there. Far from the place we started this journey and far from the place we thought we would end up.
Of all the outcomes I dreamt of at the start, it felt unthinkable to consider that Joel and I might eventually decide to embark on different paths. Perhaps it was a passing thought, a fleeting fear, this idea that we might desire futures that didn’t include each other.
What if I had known that this quest would take us through every possibility, to ultimately land in a new place that didn’t include each other? If I had known we were hurtling towards the end of “us" as a couple, would I have said yes to beginning this adventure?
I only know that in the early days of grief and loss, I find an odd comfort in feeling that the trip was worth it, important, and right.
Somehow alongside the pain of deciding to embark on separate paths, there is excitement. I believe that the trip was critical to both of us as individuals and that each of us has made progress towards the life we want to build - progress that required a total upheaval to the lives we had, including the life we shared.
This was a year of movement. On a return trip to one of the places from the road trip that we felt was the place we would ultimately end up together, Joel and I finally had a chance to slow down and share a moment of quiet together. Holding hands at the small cemetery in the old village center of Cabot, Vermont, we cried as we discovered that the small community down the hill was calling more to one of us than to both of us. It was the beginning of our end, but also the beginning.
So, YES, I would take this journey again, a thousand times yes, with Joel by my side, yes, even if I knew at the end of it all, he wasn’t going to be by my side going forward.
I’ve opened myself up this year and I’ve learned that through living this way, through sharing vulnerability and curiosity, the universe becomes more spacious, expanding in ways bigger than my imagination could originally conceive.
I have found home and human connection all over this country. Kind strangers are now important members of my extended “chosen family.” I am growing a modest yet happy life in St. Louis – and wherever I go next, I believe the same is possible. I am rediscovering and investing in optimism. I am building a career that offers me flexibility and the ability to impact humans through the skills I have that I value most: my empathy, my playfulness, my belief in change and transformation. I am reminding myself what it feels like to live my life fully on purpose.
At the beginning of Growing Home, Joel and I discussed willingness to explore any outcome, even the unexpected ones. In our brainstorming and visioning, our individual voices merged, urging each of us forward, urging each of us to take the leap, no matter what.
Now I marvel at our bravery. Through and through, we’ve shown kindness towards each other and kindness towards ourselves. We made space for the belief that our desires and dreams were valid and possible. And when we knew we were no longer called to walk side by side, we let go.
How did we get here? We got here together.