This morning I’m sitting some fifteen feet up in the air surrounded by woods, near the northern border of Arkansas, and it seems no accident that the book I brought with me to read is titled "The Gifts of Imperfection".
A few days ago, Mike and I made the 14 hour drive down to Eureka Springs. Why? To stay in a treehouse cottage, which has always been a dream of mine.
This isn’t just any random dream though, this one, has a a great personal meaning to my story with life, loss, and living again. You see, the year Drew died… he and I were coming up with ideas for my birthday that fall. We talked about going to the Grand Canyon. And also about one other place, the treehouse cottages, here in Eureka Springs, AR. I can still remember so clearly researching this place with him… finding their website and looking through pictures and being so overjoyed that it was really not a very far drive from Dallas, where Drew and I lived. Our plan was, if we couldn’t swing a trip to the canyon that fall, that we would instead book a trip to the tree houses.
That plan never happened of course, because the crash happened instead, 3 months before my birthday. While I did end up making that trip to the Grand Canyon after all - with Drew’s mom - the treehouse cottage trip was lost… vanishing amidst the heaviness of grief. It has sat in the back of my heart all these years, gathering dust, until now.
So this trip not only fulfills one dream, of getting to stay in a treehouse, but of something much more. I am not here with Drew, yet not a moment of being here with Mike instead has felt wrong or sad or painful. In fact, it feels the opposite, it feels like a full-circle moment. It feels like a moment in time I have waited many years and waded through many tears to get to. And I just feel grateful to be here with Mike, and a bit like Drew brought us here.
There’s another full circle sort of thing about this trip. When I met Mike, just a bit over a year ago, at Camp Widow in Tampa… for months there was talk of planning a trip to see each other. I was scared to death of beginning a new relationship, but Mike steadily pushed, just enough for me to eventually take the leap to plan a trip to meet again. And so on Memorial Day weekend a year ago, we had the first trip to Mammoth Cave, which I wrote about here. What most people don’t know though, is that Mammoth was not the first trip we planned.
Originally, I’d wanted to come here, to the treehouses, for that first trip. When they were booked up for months out, I suggested we just book the treehouses for the NEXT Memorial Day weekend. I was determined to finally make it here, even if I had to wait a while longer.
For me, it was oddly safe to book our first trip a year in advance. I had no idea we’d still be together by then, and certainly had no idea we’d be traveling here together from Ohio instead of meeting here from across the country. But I thought, well, if it doesn’t work out we can just cancel it… why the hell not just see if we make it there? Having taken that chance early on makes it all the sweeter to be sitting here together.
Taking the step to book this Arkansas trip is what finally gave me the courage to agree to plan our actual first trip to Mammoth Cave, and the first big steps into seeing if I could truly let another into my heart again. It was a terrifying step, because I knew pursuing this relationship was going to change my life drastically. I knew it, because Drew changed everything about my life too… good love does that in the best of ways. And change is scary, even if it is exciting and good.
It’s strange to reflect on all that has happened. It’s strange how, without having planned it, one of our most significant times of the year is in fact Memorial Day weekend - a time for honoring the dead. And though it may normally be reserved for military, it seems we have come to honor the two people who brought us together on this weekend instead.
This trip has reminded me of a lot of things. It’s reminded me of all the moments I have been so scared to step forward into a new life. Of how painful leaving Texas was. Truly, I still recall the moment we crossed the border on that rainy night, and how my heart broke into a million pieces for the place I have called home for all my days. It’s reminded me how scary and hard it has been to truly let go of past lives and begin to lean into the present more fully. It has reminded me how good it feels to make future plans again, and to take the chance that they will work out, without knowing for sure… but deciding to embrace that unknown with joy and passion.
It has reminded me about the parts of me that will be forever different for losing Drew… like choosing to cross the street in town last night when someone walking behind us made me uneasy. Or the paranoid thoughts walking back to our treehouse last night from town, in the dark. I was instantly and constantly worried that something bad would happen. Images of someone attacking us in the dark, stabbing Mike, leaving us there alone and me powerless to save him. Sure it’s totally over the top, but not to a widow. Not for a widow of sudden loss. Because you know. You know how quickly this perfectly strong, healthy, incredible person walking right next to you can be obliterated. You know how fragile the human body truly is. That knowing can never be undone.
These things always cross my mind. But I try not to let them stop me from walking through the dark anyway... from facing the unknowns. The fears will always be there, fear of losing another, fear of all my best laid plans falling apart. That never goes away. This trip has reminded me though how beautiful it can feel to finally make some plans again... plans that, when they were made, were far less than certain. It has reminded me just how good it can feel, right down to the core of you, when some of those plans actually do turn out to happen, and happen well.
I have spent a lifetime making plans that never happened… more than just with Drew. It has made me very apprehensive to lay out plans any further than a few months out in my life anymore. This is something tricky in relationships though, when the other person wants to know what you want for the future. “I just don’t go there in my mind” I explain. It's almost become a true superstition of mine to make bigger plans. But this weekend, I just arrived at something I planned a year ago… which for me, is pretty big. Maybe this helps me to have the courage to try and make a few other plans for further out, and just say to myself… Maybe those plans work out, maybe they don’t. Whatever happens, I’d rather be making plans for my life and at least having the chance to get there... rather than letting my fears continue to keep me from ever arriving at the places I truly want to be... or becoming the person I want to become. Life isn't about 100% perfection after all... it's about the gifts that living fully inside an imperfect life can bring us.