I should be on an airplane right now. I should be flying home, back to Phoenix and the heaviness of an empty house. Instead I am sitting in my sister in laws kitchen eating brownies. I have been in New England all week, chasing memories and trying not to count the days. Wednesday was the one year mark. One year since the last time I saw my wife smile, but not one year since the last time we said I love you or that we shared an evening together. This has been an impossible year, full of heartache, but also full of happiness and unexpected surprises. Her life keeps unfolding in front of me, with sadness but with more joy. The lessons never stop coming, up to an including this afternoon.
I was supposed to fly home this afternoon, from a rainy airport in Manchester, NH. We had the schedule calibrated for a sunny day without traffic. Instead, we got a drizzly Friday afternoon full of Massholes, but that's ok. Because it means another round of Battleship with my nephew, another fort with my niece, and more time to share stories with my in-laws. I could easily stress about one more night away from home. Instead, I am rolling with it.
Tuesday night was hard. The fireworks were too much for me. Whether it was PTSD or too much time thinking about last year's fourth, I don't know. I spent the evening sitting on the back porch, maybe drinking too much, and looking up at the mid-summer stars.
Wednesday night was otherworldly. And hard. And full of regret. As the hour approached one year we tried to find ways to distract ourselves. We pulled out Scrabble and tried to play a round. All I could think about was how good she was at it, how she went out undefeated. My first seven tiles were R E Y A H P O. I could have easily spelled "year". I chose "hope" instead.
I went for a hike in the woods alone that night. I put on one of of the many playlists I made for her over the past year and I walked. I walked until I found a peace. Then I walked some more. I came to a river and I stopped. I watched the slideshow we made to celebrate Melly and Matt. I cursed the stars. I cried. Then I walked some more. I found myself in an unfamiliar forest under a full moon. I cried, I said goodbye, and I figured out my way home.
This past year has taught me lessons I never wanted to learn. There isn't anything in this experience that I would have chosen for myself. But the one thing that it has taught me above all else is that you never give up. Quitting is too easy. This son of a bitch of a life doesn't deserve the victory. True joy, at its core, is about accepting love and understanding pain. Nothing less. That means you keep fighting, through hard days and easy ones. That also means accepting when you aren't going to make a flight, and enjoying that extra time together.
Home will still be there tomorrow.