Progress and the stuff that hangs on

I have had many opportunities to see how I have progressed over the past few weeks, and also the glaring reminder of the “new normal challenges” that have taken up residence in my system popping up unexpectedly like an alien take-over.

We are in the process of buying a house. Yes, I know, right?! There are no words for the excitement on so many levels for this. Progress. I never thought I would get this opportunity again. Jesse broke my heart in ways a heart should never be broken. He shattered my trust, broke parts of my soul, and changed me forever from that fateful day. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would trust and love again. What I did not realize is that much like everything else about me now, it is different. When I was in the depths of hell of my grief, so far down the rabbit hole, I could not see another path. For awhile, joining a convent looked damn good. We humans are funny creatures though. We are not meant to be alone, without touch, love, and intimacy. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a balance of needing alone time and intimacy that is unique to each person. But to look at the studies of fMRI’s, which show the brains emotional response to different stimuli, you see when there is pleasant touch, the pleasure center lights up. When shown pictures of people they love, again, pleasure centers light up. The love I have is much different than others in the past. Which is a duh, because each relationship is different. But I am amazed at my own difference within it. I am amazed at its ease. I just said to him after a back breaking day of work on his house, getting it ready for sale, it is just so great how well we work together and still laugh as each of us grunts trying to get off the couch because of all the aches and pains. I am amazed at my trust. I really and for true thought I would never have that again. I suspected I would have another relationship, but would always keep the person at some emotional arms length. I don’t have that with him. This speaks testaments to the amazing person he is. Yes, I have done a shit ton of work via self reflection and therapy over the last few years, but without him being him, none of this would be.

You have seen me write about an appreciation and gratitude that I have. It is not like it is a new since they died kind of thing, but the depth and perspective is much different. Every time I see my child or boyfriend or friend or family member (are you getting the picture), they get bear squish hug (I learned the squish hug from Bella). Every time. I left the morning of May 8th to a family of four and came home to a family of two. I never take things like that for granted now.

So within all this excitement, it has shown me some things that I wish weren’t still there as a result of their death. When we were waiting on the response to our offer, I had prolonged anxiety like I have not had in a while. I took medication that night to make my mind just not care anymore. I realized I have not had to do that as much as I have in the past. Which is part me avoiding a lot of situations that provoke it, but still, after they died, I sometimes had to take it to go to Costco. I know when I need it, and am proactive so not to be in a situation where I freak out. I also realize how much I structure my life so that I have some “knowns.” I know I don’t always know the ultimate outcomes, nor am I under any impression that I am in “control.” But, waiting all day for word on a house that will start the next chapter in our lives, truly, a dream house, I had no control. I assumed they had to extend a day because they were playing games, or waiting for another offer, or…I went to the worst case scenario. I had to explain that night to my boyfriend that my brain is wired that way now. I fight it. A lot. But in a stressful situation, I was reminded I will still go there. The worst has happened to me. I assume the rest of life is going to be like that. That is where the gratitude and appreciation comes in, because I am pleasantly surprised when it does work out. I don’t know if that will change? Time has changed some things. I am always curious about that.

As I write this, the Pacific Northwest has more fires that I can even count, the latest being about 40 miles away, with no containment, growing by the minute. Looking at Facebook, people I know are gathering up possessions ready to leave their homes wondering if they will have a home to come back to. I imagine this is much like last week with hurricane Harvey. Except this fire they suspect was caused by an idiot. Some young kids set off fireworks in a forest. Keep in mind, we have not had rain in forever, we are under fire and heat advisories up the wazoo. The trees are brittle and are starting to drop their leaves saying, fuck it, it is too hot and dry to keep up this greenery. The anger at this kid is excessive. I recognize it because it is the thing inside of me that I have to watch. I have a lot of it and why I run so much to mitigate it. It makes sense when you think about it. I am mad at hell at Jesse for taking my daughter from me. I know he was sick. I am peace as I am going to be for him leaving. But taking her. Yeah, I can intellectualize that one all I want, the emotional recoil is more than a human can bear. I do a decent job at dispersing it, but as the people close to me have seen, I can fly off the handle quite quickly. I look at the Columbia Gorge on fire, our main interstate closed because of it, ash falling on my deck, air quality advisories popping up on my phone saying try to stay indoors, opening the door to breathe in campfire smoke, I take a moment. I transform that anger. I worry for the people affected by this. I do a rain dance in the living room. I then go back to that grateful place that I am safe in this moment. The people I love are accounted for. I still have the worry, and at this point the anger has been doused a bit, and I have that familiar vacillation that I have learned to live with over the past three years. I hold it all.

ash on the deck

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Stephanie Willard

Originally published at on September 5, 2017.