That title isn’t a proofreading error; it’s a reference to a song by a dear friend I lost a few years ago to suicide. As usual, I had a different topic I wanted to write about today, but we’ll see how well that goes. Griff’s song has been stuck in my head for a few days. Each year, around the first of March, his songs seem to float back to me in the breeze and stick in my soul for the entire month that marks the anniversary of his passing. This particular song is the one that stood out to my ears this spring as I’ve undergone so very many changes this year. In some ways I find myself clinging to the people who I was once, and in other ways, trying to be strong and move forward.
How do I connect the two stories I want to tell today?
Yesterday would have been the 33rd birthday of my ex-husband, and today would have marked our 8th wedding anniversary. But the world lost him, too, to suicide last fall. In the months since I’ve often wondered how my life could have been different. Did I contribute to this somehow, because I left to strike out on my own? Did I ever know somewhere deep inside that he was struggling with something I couldn’t reach? Is there a reason I’m not the widow here? Am I making the best choices for my life now and living life to the fullest?
I suppose part of the answer lies in the story I planned to write today. Last week was my birthday and I made my third annual birthday trip, this year to Washington, D.C., with Travis. The previous two years I’ve traveled alone to more adventurous destinations. Traveling with a partner changes more than the itinerary. In the years since I chose to go my own way I’ve been the one in charge: I choose my destination, how I’m going to get there, when I’m going to go, and what I’m going to do. Sometimes I’ve purchased tickets or made reservations after an extra glass of wine, but it’s always worked out and made for great stories in the end. Now, I have a partner to consider – and not the type of partner I ever expected to find. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone who wanted to have the same adventures I do – which is a large reason I chose to leave my marriage. Travis wants to explore the world with me, and that’s exactly what I wanted to find. So why is it, in some ways, more challenging to travel with a partner?
I’m reminded of this article that arrived in my inbox some months ago. You do have to give up your single self in a partnership, and to let yourself grieve that loss. (Side note: I’ve done too much grieving over the last few years. I really wasn’t expecting to grieve more when I found what I wanted most). On the other hand, it’s important to see the past – the people who you were once – the way it truly was and not through “graduation goggles.”
Did I enjoy exploring the world on my own and meeting strangers in strange places? Definitely. Was it scary – but worth the reward – sometimes to push myself way out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Was it so much more easy to follow the beat of my own drum when I was traveling solo? Yup. Was it freeing to not take anybody else into consideration when planning a location, activities, what to eat, or even when to go to bed? YES.
Would I trade Travis in to have all of that back?
Those experiences – and all the experiences I’ve had – shaped who I am. My idiosyncrasies are unique to me and I know I can plan too much and make one mistake that could throw off the entire day (e.g., locating the wrong restaurant with a similar name which only served a prix-fixe brunch, when the restaurant I really wanted to find turned out – upon hours-later Googling – to have been less than a block away). Someone gets to see those blunders now, instead of me going about my adventure lost in my own head. But on the other hand, someone is there to share my joy. We saw a little girl in a bright-pink shirt and tie-dye backpack skipping and twirling alongside the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall and I asked Travis if I could be her.
“Why not?” he countered.
“I’m not four years old and I don’t have a tie-dye backpack.”
“It’s not the backpack that’s making her happy. She’s happy. Be happy.” So I, too, skipped along the National Mall, holding his hand, the weekend I turned 32.
Without him, I would have stayed quietly on the sidelines, trying to blend in. Without him, I wouldn’t have had a bottle of champagne waiting in the hotel for me…because I wouldn’t have told anybody it was my birthday. Without him, I wouldn’t have taken the Amtrak train down and enjoyed the freedom of not driving a car. He’s added so much to my adventures – much more than I’ve had to give up. Sure, I can’t just spin the wheel and choose a destination and dates now. We need to consult our work schedules and our household budget and our adventure priorities. But that’s not a bad thing.
The people who I was once are in the past. They no longer exist on their own, but weaved their way into the fabric of the person I am now. The people who I loved once who no longer exist on their own have also woven their way in. Their impacts on my life shaped me in many ways and continue to surprise me. It’s possible to grieve my losses and still feel joy. And it’s okay to let down my guard, make compromises, and become part of a true partnership. I don’t have to navigate this wild world alone anymore, and that is, perhaps, the greatest way my experiences shaped me. Every moment in my life has lead up to this.