This morning, I woke up in an average apartment. Alone. I walked the dogs outside without a coat along a busy street lined with swaying palm and eucalyptus trees. Then I got in my car and battled traffic, stopping for Starbucks (but bypassing the line that was almost out the door because I have the mobile app thank you and goodbye). I had a big board meeting the night before so I needed espresso. The sunshine is relentless.
Last year on this day, was Giving Tuesday–a 14-hour marathon of fundraising and interviews and thanking donors, all while wearing an 80s workout costume and all while trying to not let anyone know my world had fallen apart. I was successful that day in all the ways.
Two years ago on this day, I woke up next to the love of that life on my beloved farm. We cut down our Christmas tree on the last day I was 26 and I have this adorable video of him I come back to frequently. He is working hard, sawing down that pine and I am asking him questions. He looks up at me, initially annoyed that I am chattering (as I do) and then breaks into the smile that melts me when he sees I’m taking a video. I think he loves me here, but I don’t know. I don’t remember much about this day because I thought it was ordinary. I thought it was going to be just like all the rest to come.
“The first year was a blur. Your brain just sort of protects you from it as long as it can … The second year is realization and recognition: this happened. It all happened. And the magnitude of that loss is felt more deeply … You realize, one day, looking through your photos, that these are all the memories you’ll ever have together. All of the memories you have are the only ones you’ll ever get.”
–Nora McInerny Purmort
Whenever I meet someone new who is younger than me, I immediately zoom back to who I was at their age.
Oh? When I was 22, I was a newlywed.
You don’t say! When I was 25, I bought I house.
Wow. When I was 27, I tried to become a mother.
Today I am 28. For part of 28, I was still a wife. I was still a Midwesterner. I was still a homeowner, a middle-manager, an aspiring mother.
Those labels were so central to an identity I could comprehend. I did what I was supposed to do–went to college, landed a career, got married, bought a house, tried to start a family.
That future I built served as a monument to achieved expectations, a fortress to protect me from the unpredictable harshness of life’s reality. I meticulously constructed the correct future for myself, brick by brick. If the stories are true, those are supposed to be able to withstand anything.
Tomorrow I will be 29. I don’t know what waits for me as a 29-year-old. None of the labels I was so proud of still apply. I am standing both on the edge and in the rubble.
To my surprise, that fortress crumbled long ago. I replaced it with something that appears more flimsy today. Unsteady. Portable. Adaptable. Sheer and tenuous.
Less a fortress, more a tent.
Maybe bricks were never for me.