I avoid certain neighborhoods mere miles from my own front door because they’re the last places I saw you.
Time and experience have the strange ability to turn me into a tourist in the neighborhood I grew up in. These old familiar streets, their feel and their smells aren’t mine anymore, not really. There are small pieces and big pieces of you and us and our life sprinkled all over this town.
My days of In N Out milkshakes are over.
I don’t walk through that janky old Dollar Store you loved so much without a knot forming in my stomach or my mouth turning to cotton.
Our old, worn down field is sharp on my insides because I still see you and my eight year old self running drills an hour before any of the other kids showed up.
I know that our house on the corner, where you taught me to drive in the front lawn when Mom wasn’t home, will always smell like the big tree that hugged the treehouse we spent hours together building in the back.
I don’t ever hear Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and not wonder, with a burning throat and empty chest, whether you and I will dance to it at my wedding the way we always promised we would.
I drove past my high school inadvertently yesterday. I scanned the big, ostentatious concrete buildings, but my eyes landed where I knew they would. When I looked at that field, I could have seen the hours I spent growing up there. I could have seen my teammates, I could have even cried for the one we tragically lost. I could have seen so many of my own personal trials and tribulations and instead I saw you climbing the fence at midnight to poke cups through the holes to spell out my initials the day before my senior game. I saw you sitting in the outfield, quietly drinking in the sounds of your favorite pastime away from the frenzy of obnoxious parents. I saw you explode from your chair, fists flying above your head the first time the ball off my bat cleared the fence. I saw the day I realized how much you believed in me.
I’ve driven through that winding road behind the house for the last time because the image of you standing, waiting for me to find you and pick you up, with our dog by your side and that backpack that lived in our garage for a decade is stamped permanently on my heart. Without the backpack and our dog, your bearded face and dirty skin would have been unrecognizable.
So much joy lived in these streets with us and most days, I’m pretty good at remembering that too. But love and loss and mourning and healing are strange, inexplicable processes. They’re not linear or fair and they don’t apologize for what they’ve done. Honestly, I never intended to publish something that came out so deliberately dark and sad, but maybe sad is honest and honest is pure. I believe that the places that are dark are also full of healing, learning, hope, and love. Mostly Love.
I listened to my girl, Glenon Doyle, in a podcast recently and she was asked: “if you were lying on your death bed, unable to speak, and all of your writing had been somehow erased and you were given a sheet of paper to write down three truths to leave behind for your family, your children, what would they be?”
She obviously said something sharp and sassy about the injustice of the question and then replied plainly, “Well, I’d tell my kids what I’ve always told them, the thing we’ve had posted on the wall of our home since they were born. Our mantra is:
- We can do hard things.
- We belong to each other, and
- Love wins.”
Copy that, Glennon. A lot of things hurt. But Love Wins.