All in the Details

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They met through the Appalachian Mountain Club.

By some beautiful irony, I wouldn’t know some of the details as to how they met until the day of his memorial.  That he had offered to drive some of the Boston members up to that day’s hike.  That she would be one of his passengers.  I never knew that part.  I knew they were fellow members, but that other detail was brand new, given out like a souvenir to all the current pain and suffering.

But I knew the part about hiking.  Like how I knew the detail about how they both went to the exact same university — and both part-time, at night, but 11 years apart.  Her degree was in English.  His was business.  Little, precious, synchronicitous details.

And I like how I knew that she wanted to get married, and he wanted nothing to do with marriage anymore.  He had already done that twice, and with six kids to show for it.  He was in his 40s.  He was done with that avenue in life.  Can’t he just have his pretty live-in girlfriend, the one with the unsure eyes and the disarmingly genuine smile?

And how I knew that she gave him an ultimatum.  That she was going to leave him and move out if marriage was off the table.  And that he called her bluff and even helped her look for apartments.  But that, eventually, the fear of losing her trumped the fear of getting married again.  So, after years of dating, they got married at the church that they belonged to, just a mile down the road from where they lived.  He gambled once more, hoping third time’s a charm.  And they would be married right up until the day he died.

It’s a beautiful story, and sometimes I like to just let it stop there.  Anything can be pretty enough, given the correct angle.

You can make any marriage look like the most profound love story if you leave out the right details.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.  The key is in what you let the reader onto, and what you keep them in the dark on.  Gloss over some details, and everything feels right & in its place.  Add in other details, and you can make the reader’s toes curl in distress.  And, somewhere in between the two ends, lies the complicated, nuanced reality of it all.

She still wears her wedding ring.  She is open and frank about missing him, about feeling sad (her words. “feeling sad”. so simplistic it could make your heart break).

She talks about him, and she talks about the past.  But the once well-trodden past is unearthed and tilled in light of recent events.  Now, when she speaks of the past, key details are left out.  Other details are fabricated on the spot.

No one has the heart to correct her.

With the right details, any story can be a happy one.

Key details.  Key scenes.  Key sets of behaviors and interactions.  Like what really happened when she lost hearing in one ear.  Or why neighbors once lodged a formal complaint.  Or the way that he treated her during those last years, his behavior while he was dying.

Their marriage was filled with demons that never learned to play well with each other.  It was a shipwreck before it had ever left the dock.  It proved you could fulfill the “’til death do us part” and still be a complete failure.  They were proof that that sentimental story — the one about the couple married 65 years, saying, “Back in our day, if something was broken, you didn’t throw it away.  You fixed it,” — isn’t a coverall piece of advice.

That, sometimes, you have to admit when something is beyond repair.  That sometimes things are just broken and you are throwing good money after bad and it’s simply time to part ways with it.

That “being together” and “making it work” are two separate concepts, and sometimes they are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

That, looking at the right details, the couple celebrating their 65-year anniversary could be seen as a hallmark of healthy devotion or a cautionary tale against not knowing when to break it off.

But in the mess of every single detail, therein lies two well-meaning and deeply flawed souls, and the deeply tragic understanding that we only get one shot at this particular life, and we’re all just making it up as we go along.  And in between every detail is a false sense of time — particularly that we’re always learning what the details mean far too late, when it’s too far gone to do anything about it.

And so we do nothing and dance with the details until it does, actually, become too late.

And we cope with it all by organizing those details.  Selecting which ones fit the narrative and which ones don’t.  By telling ourselves certain details don’t need so much attention while rewriting others.

But — every once in a while — we are brave enough to stand akimbo and take in the complex noise of it all, welcoming the contradictions and confusions, understanding that the story of the human condition would never actually make for a good book.  There is no neat arc and plenty of loose ends.  And no one would know who to root for.  No one would know what to take away from it.

Focus on the right details, she is a devotee, a fool, a victim, a warrior.  Her eulogy at his service is filled with the details of how they met, and the mountains they’d climb.  Names of the biggest, most majestic ones in the area.  Listed accomplishments from 30+ years ago.  The crux of what she says focuses on those first few years.  The details are as specific as a book report.

And then, she turns a page in her writing and zips to the end — to the feelings of loss and mourning.  Fast forward 35 years, to the present day.  To the reality of loss, of standing at a pulpit, delivering a eulogy at her husband’s service.  Her voice starts to crack and she suddenly sounds like a young child who has finally figured out what death actually means.

There is something so heartbreaking in that detail: the way she stands there, her papers held close to her face, her words practiced out but her soul as raw and uncovered as ever.  It makes me want to shield her from the world, from the complicated nuances of the human condition and the unfettered reality of suffering.

Out of anything else, it will be the one detail I remember for the rest of my life.

Nevada and Home

I.

For a New York minute, there was talk of moving Nevada.

It was a long shot, but also a once in a lifetime opportunity.  One of those offers that you just don’t turn down, that you see where it goes — no matter how unlikely, no matter how thrilling or frightening.

From a little before Christmas until a little while after New Year’s, there was talk about moving out west.  Casual talk.  Hypothetical talk.  “It’s too early to tell,” talk.  Keeping it casual.  Long shot casual.  Google searches of Lake Tahoe and the local realty, but, still, casual.

Nervous jokes about what it would mean — but, still, casual.

Analyzing and over-analyzing, obsessively riding hypothetical waves of what the future might bring — but, still. Casual.  Too early to tell.  Really, it’s such a long shot.  Not worth getting too amped up about.

But…still.

I had spent the last few years riding nothing but hypothetical waves, figuring out the future as if reality itself existed on multiple planes — and this wave was no different.  What would it mean, if the long shot actually proved fruitful, and we were faced with potentially leaving the Northeast.  What would it mean in terms of careers and friends and housing and everything.  What would it mean in terms of all the hard work that we had been putting in if there were yet another upheaval?

What would it mean if, in the midst of these shifting winds of change, we’d be thrown into a hurricane?

What would happen if the next step in this increasingly uncertain future be packing my bags?  What would happen if the perennial nomad got a chance to unhook her moorings and push off away from the dock?

As hypothetical and daunting and stressful as it was, this potential offer became chance to be a little more retrospective.  It was a chance to go back over the last few years and truly reevaluate.

At my absolute lowest points — when it felt like everything was unraveling around me and I was certain my heart couldn’t take any more — I had looked around and wondered if the only solution was to just leave town and start over.  At higher points — when I was alive with wanderlust and insatiable with travel — I had looked around and wondered just how long I was meant to stay in New Hampshire; if it was time to go, not because the problems got to be too much, but because my calling rested on different lands.

And now, here we were, faced with a very real possibility of putting down stakes in different soil.  And what could’ve been music to my nomadic heart had given me considerable pause instead.

I thought of the card reader, who had told me that I was not meant to stay in New Hampshire. And I thought of some of the other card reader’s predictions, and the ones that had seemed so certain but never came true.

Leaving Boston had never felt like this.  I had been hesitant about the “small town” of Nashua (oh, if I could only give 24-year-old me a visit now, and give her a lesson on what “small towns” actually look like), but it always felt like the natural evolution of events.  Good-bye, the Atlantic.  The mountains await.  I embraced the unshackling of my beloved Boston area in a haze of new jobs and wedding vows and an apartment with a view of a pond.

But there was something slightly unnatural about leaving New Hampshire.  Something kept tugging at me and making me feel uneasy, like I was attempting to trespass something.  All the pictures of Lake Tahoe in the world couldn’t assuage it.  Every time I took a deep breath and truly looked at the world around me, I got this deep feeling within my gut, one that told me, point blank:

It is not yet time.

I gave the feeling little thought at first.  I knew that there was fear and excitement and trepidation and worry backing every single thought — and I had learned a while ago that I can mistake my fevered emotions for gut instincts or even divine intervention.  But still, it stayed.

I looked at my home and my neighborhood and my community — the roads I traveled on a daily basis, the views and vistas I experienced weekly, the air of all that surrounded me — and felt that statement, time and time again, as deep and as calm and as true as a patient father:

It is not yet time.  You belong in New Hampshire right now.

I had had inklings of a similar feeling in the fairly recent past: a gentle voice telling me, Hang tight.  You’re going to want to see what happens next.  One that pinged at various moments, at both the high and low points of the past few years.

Listening to that voice would end up paying off in spades.  Hanging tight, letting things be, holding space until I got some vital pieces to some very confusing puzzles.  Allowing things that were destined to fall into place do exactly that.  And the voice would continue to ping at me, as if emboldened by being proven right.

(continue to hang tight; you’re really going to want to see what else happens next)

But — at the end of the day — that mantra was about patience, about not acting until I got all of the information, about letting the laws of cause & effect come into play.

It was different than this voice.  This one surveyed my smaller town on the border of civilization and the boondocks, and stated:

It’s simply not time.  There is still work to be done.  Unfinished business to attend to.

There are promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

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II.

In the end, the long shot proved its length, and Nevada was off the table.

(“I didn’t want to jinx or sabotage anything but…I’m glad we didn’t have to make that decision.” “Me too. Me too.”)

Just days before we’d learn exactly whether or not we’d have to make said decision, my husband and I had stopped off at a local eatery, treating ourselves to gourmet mac & cheese after a day of darting around.

“I mean, we’ll definitely see what we’ll see but…it just doesn’t feel right, y’know?” I had said over my plate, repeating out loud what my inner voice had been saying all week. “Like, there’s unfinished business in New Hampshire, and it’s not yet time to leave.”

“Not time for you to leave?” my husband asked.

“Not time for us to leave,” I replied, and meaning every word.

“You’re right,” he said. “I feel it as well.  There’s still work to be done here.  At least for now, this is where we’re supposed to be.”

“At least for now, this is where we belong.”

That moment created something, in that casual restaurant, by that tiny table.  Something connecting and conspiratorial had materialized right between us.  A gentle type of energy, bridging the air between our spots.  The speakers piped in some type of bubbly pop music, a song that was completely ill-fitted to the situation, but I kept hearing one line from a song by the Script, playing over and over in my head:

-Even after all these years, I just now get the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time.-

(Hang tight.  You’ll want to see what happens next.)

III.

We had owned our home for three and a half years when Nevada showed up at our doorstep.  Three and a half years, thousands upon thousands of dollars in mortgage payments, repainted walls and a rewired sound system and a semi-finished basement.  Property we had been gently forming and shaping to our desires, a mailman who knew how terrible I was at checking the mail and arranged our fliers and junk mail accordingly.  A handful of neighbors who knew us by name; the rest by sight.  Nearly six years with a New Hampshire driver’s license, plus a car that was purchased and registered in the same state.

But none of that was truly confirmation, not until there was a chance to step away and I was forced to dig deep, to see what it was that I truly wanted.  And what I found was reassurance on a soul and cellular level.  A reminder that my roaming heart craves a home base, even if it itches to wander away from it from time to time — and my nomadic heart had found that home near the mountains of New Hampshire.

This might not be where I stay forever.  Who knows exactly what the future will bring.  I’d long ago given up such cutesy predictions and instead embraced the beautiful uncertainty of a chaotic and unfair world.  I’d long ago stopped trying to tell fate what to do and instead trusted something bigger than myself to take the wheel (at least from time to time).  And heaven knows how long it will be this way before the winds shift again.

But, for once, in the present moment, I knew where I was supposed to be.

This is where I belong right now.

This is where we belong right now.

And I had been waiting my whole life for exactly this feeling.

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