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You Might be Surprised How Far She’ll Get With Her Feet on the Ground

It’s been five days since I arrived at the Cape, and I am just now getting to the beach. It has been nearly 60 every day, with plenty of sun and some Oscar blue skies; now, it is storming. Gale force winds are tearing whitecaps from the waves as they break. The storm rolling in, shaking the trees in the yard inland, told me it was time. Now I stare at the sea and remember the mountains.

The days are passing; time marches on. I am in limbo. The house is packed and ready, waiting for my final arrival at the steps of the Estrogen Triangle. According to the landlady, men have not had luck in that corner of our winding country road; some tragedy or serious legal matter always befalls them. I’ve wondered, more than once, if that was part of Hawthorne’s bad luck there. They had said the house felt cursed before, when we lost our son before he was even born. I didn’t believe them – I might be starting to. 

There is a wrenching deep in my chest, as if a giant, mechanized hand is trying to gently grip my heart and massage it back to life, but cannot determine the pressure of its own welded fingers and joints. It is a deep and bruising twisting that never unwinds. 

It is not only anger anymore. Rage is the stalk that anguish winds around, sinuously reaching and spiraling around to join in a longtime lover’s embrace with grief. She holds me as a morning glory clings to a climbing fence, delicate tendrils coiled with surprising strength and no desire to release. The trumpeting blooms distract the eye, hiding secrets and stories themselves.

Several weeks after Oscar died, Hawthorne and I were down here on the Cape. My cousins were out of town and we were house sitting, taking space for our broken hearts in the salty air between the seagulls and the tourists. We joined them one evening and took a sunset whale watch. I insisted on having our Jack and Rose moment; after that, Hawthorne kept back from the rail, more than a little scared of heights and being tossed into the ocean by the waves and wake; that is, until distant plumes pulled them forward by their excitement. 

I don’t remember the exact moment, but I remember the colors of the evening slowly spreading, and the spray of the sea as the vessel sliced through the waves. It was sometime in that changing sky that my heart, defying its own weeping wounds, decided that it was not finished. Oscar had died before having a chance to do anything other than know love and joy and freeze pops; well, we would just live for him. Not exist, not go on, not let time pass by; I was going to live. I sent that promise to the sea and the stars as they began to sparkle in the deepening sky, and I’ve kept it. Mostly. 

I had forgotten about that moment these last months. A good friend, adept at zeroing in with blunt words and a compassionate heart, reminded me. She asked if I was at that turning point yet, if I had decided that I was going to live. She wasn’t asking about suicidality or the extent of depression, or how close I felt to giving up. What she was asking was if I was ready to determine my path forward, both for myself, and for how to remember Hawthorne. 

At that point, all I could do was shake my head; very effective method of communication over text message, I know. This loss was different; this one made a horrible kind of sense, like there was almost a shrug under the blanket of shock. Hawthorne had been in such pain, and all who knew them knew that. There was the relief that they were no longer suffering; no longer so anxious, no longer so hurt. With Oscar, there was none of that sense of ‘grelief,’ as it was coined by another friend’s therapist. Though it is baffling to say, Oscar’s death was a simpler affair, maybe from the sheer difference between the length of their two lives, though both were cut short far too soon. 

With Hawthorne’s death, there is so much more to process, so many more memories to sift through. Photographs of them throughout their life; from professional family photos from the church and candids from Easter and Christmas to angsty black-and-white prints from disposable cameras that smelled like cigarette smoke. There are fights and unfinished arguments to work through, and I’m left standing the winner by default, rounds denied by a too-early TKO. There are moments they are missing now; Lucy’s screeching and hilarious antics, Ella getting stuck in the yard, so many memes. I mourn for each and every one. 

With Oscar, it is as if I am allowed to simply miss him and love him, grieve for him and, in one all-encompassing package, the dreams that died with him. With Hawthorne… it’s a damn sight more work. 

I’ve never shied away from work. I tend to overfill my plate and empty my cup before I realize that even I am mortal, and cannot harness every minute of every day. I am the person who, were I to ask for broader shoulders, I would expect an even heavier load to carry; so either I do not ask or I prepare myself. I’m not afraid of working hard. 

I am reading Rachel Hollis’ new book, Didn’t See That Coming. The title was similar enough to Hawthorne’s catchphrase, “I didn’t think that was gonna happen,” that I grabbed it off the shelf without pausing and tossed it in my cart. I’m not always ready for the truth in the pages; her reminders that the past cannot be remembered correctly through rose-colored glasses are sometimes more gut-punch than love-tap. There is a story she tells about talking with gold star families of Navy SEALS, and a lesson she took from them: “If you’ve had something ripped away, if you’ve been knocked down, get back up. Every time. Wear the identity you earned with pride.”

The turning point has come. 

It’s not exactly an exciting or joyous moment. 

It is the deep breath you take as the roller coaster engages and starts to drag you upward, and you’ve never done this before.

It is getting up from a hard missed tackle, dusting the pitch off your face, and running for the next before you can tell which direction the ball is going.

It is the arch of the diver’s body as they hang suspended between the rise of the board and the precise position of the fall.

It is Karen’s laugh of recognition that grabs you by the throat:

You’re not the first one to start again, come on now friend

There’s something to be said for tenacity

The rain is lashing against the car now, and night has fallen here at the beach. There is no relief in the blackness beyond the headlights, no star or lamp to distinguish between angry sea and raging sky. There is power in that, in the wind that whips through the sawgrass, the rain that falls in sheets across the sands. I feel it within me; the mecha-hand that gripped so hard has retreated for now, at least for long enough to allow the cool rain in to soothe. The storm brings clarity.

I am deciding to live. I need to find a new dream, one for me and Lucy and Ella. I don’t know what that looks like yet. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be comfortable, but I am nothing if not resilient. It is no honor to Hawthorne, a preemptive theft from Lucy, a broken promise to Oscar, and a utter disservice to myself if I continue to exist. Will I have those days still? Sure, and that’s OK. I’ll get back up.

I know what I can say about tenacity, and it will be my roar.