Four days ago, I didn’t get married. I’m not on my honeymoon in Europe en route to set up life in Germany. The familiar cacophony of crickets and nocturnal creatures soothes and settles my soul on my writing perch. I can count on this worn love seat cushion to boost me even when I don’t want to write. Compared to our epic, broken plans, four days of everyday life seem too simple, too ordinary.
Try though I might, I can’t recall a sincere acquaintance with another woman who has walked where I am walking. Cancelling vendors in the OBX was the easy part. Strangers aren’t entangled with any heart strings. This week makes two months since I broke Charming’s heart, crushed my family’s hopes for that perfect happily ever after, and discovered I was simply a day late signing my continuing contract and would need to find a new home to continue my teaching career… fate’s attempt at comic relief, perhaps. Everything changed that week, and I’m honestly still adjusting.
This relationship, almost three years deep, was my personal last attempt at the traditional happily ever after. Two months of thinking time has helped me understand myself in reflective summer solitude, and it’s a bit of grace to have the space to consider who I am and how I got here. Somehow, regardless of how intentional I have been about making plans, there’s a part of my brain that is still waiting for life to begin – that life with the house and kids and sporting events and play practices to shuffle kids between each night. My ovaries are no longer in their prime; maybe I am destined to be an old maid like my aunt Esther, as I can already see the way all these years of independence have only served to make me less practiced at compromise and flexibility.
Last week was emotionally charged , and that’s too be expected. A date only wields as much power as we let it, but knowing the former love of my life was still sailing down to the OBX with his friends as we’d planned and not an ocean away took a natural toll on my conscious meanderings. When I received an invitation to a friend’s birthday party the same night as my wedding reception would have been, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go… but I need to start living the life I’ve got and stop waiting for an imaginary one with kids and white picket fence… so I volunteered instead to run a photo booth for a Harry Potter themed party. It was a welcomed distraction that began four days of intentionally living, of trying to figure out how to make an impact with my life without leaving a legacy with children.
Saturday was Day 1. I am just a little too old to have fully engrossed myself in the later novels of the Harry Potter series, so I brushed up watching a few of the recent movies and chose to attend the party as Luna Lovegood, a solid blonde fit for the night. A quick visit to Good Will yielded me all the necessary costumes and props for under fifteen bucks, and several hours of crafty creativeness completed the look. I’d broken out the jewelry kit to make Luna’s iconic blue-beaded cork necklace and radish earrings. While I labored, I thought about all the bracelets I’d made Grams before she passed this year, and I remembered how Charming’s friends’ children loved playing with the colorful beads last fall. I wonder if I’ll ever see any of them again.
The pictures came out incredible. It didn’t take long to realize why I had thrown myself into pulling off a photo booth even though my heart wasn’t in it, and why I’d enjoyed the bonus diversion of creating an authentic costume. After the excitement wore off, I found myself escaping to the front porch for a cry that I felt was warranted. The death of a good relationship with a great man should be mourned, even if the picture that was developed looks different from the one we had taken so long ago.
On Sunday, I recovered from the late night snapping photos with an early breakfast date with my friend Kimmy. Day 2 of living intentionally revealed itself in the setting of a hole in the wall diner near the Norfolk airport. I’d hoped to visit her down in the Outer Banks since she kept her vacation plans after the wedding was cancelled, but I’d overestimated my ability to change my wheel bearings. Apparently, an oil change is my current expertise level cut-off with my budding mechanical skills, and I gave it a solid effort. It wasn’t wise to travel, and perhaps it was best I didn’t visit our former wedding location on that date that still holds so much power.
For two hours, we chatted more than we ate and ignored the growing post-church crowds to enjoy a heart to heart. Kimmy’s life looks like the one I’d planned when I was young, like the one I would have had if I had always made the right choices for the right reasons. Her firefighter husband was her first love in high school, and they have two incredible children, one almost school-aged and the newest an adopted, adorable addition to their suburban home. We were just kids ourselves when we bonded on that study abroad trip to Spain in college. Now, we can go months without talking, and I still feel like I did when we said goodbye at the airport in Nashville after living together in a foreign country… this woman is one of my favorite people in the world.
The last time I’d seen Kimmy, Charming and I had visited her during our summer road trip two years ago. I’d told her then that he was the one, that I was sure. In any event, we had a lot to catch up on. I don’t remember seeing or hearing anyone else in the diner Sunday morning. It was just two old friends being honest about where our lives have taken us, if the journey is passive. The day before had come and gone with little attention to the significance of associated broken relationship, broken plans, and broken hearts. There was no fear with Kimmy. I told her all the good and bad choices I’d made recently, and it didn’t cheapen the quality of the hug before her flight back to Ohio. The night before, I’d put myself out there to serve others, and it felt good to give a gift like that. It felt equally good to be broken and honest with another human about the worries about the worst parts of who I am and still part ways confident that her love for me doesn’t waver.
Monday, yesterday, was my third day of intentional living. My aunt’s Jamaican curry chicken and rice and peas is a favorite dish of mine, so much so that preparing it myself made it on my bucket list. The recipe requires significant preparation, so I began the night before, soaking the kidney beans in water overnight like my aunt suggested five years ago when she taught me how to make it in her kitchen after I’d left my ex-husband. They have four boys, and though grown, Josh was around that visit to give me the best bit of advice he had for getting through a tough spot: wake up every day starting by recognizing at least one thing that you’re thankful for, that this attitude of gratitude was more than rhetorically pleasing.
While I cubed the chicken and rubbed in the seasoning, I thought about Josh, about the past five years, about my aunt’s years of raising kids and all the memories visiting them down in Florida. I thought about how I’d been living, the past thirty-five years, how I’d already been living while I was waiting for life to begin, and that even though Charming wasn’t there to see me cross this item off my list of Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties, and even though the top two items on my list are no longer realistic or evident, I am living life. I followed the recipe expertly, and the tender morsels of curry chicken paired with the texture of the rice and bell peppers pleased my tongue. I wanted to call my mom to tell her about my success in the kitchen, but I reminded myself that intrinsic reward comes from me.
Today was day four of living life intentionally, as my little twin nieces celebrated their fourth birthday. They are the reason that I moved here in the first place, and since things with Charming got serious, I feared the moment when my presence at Tuesday night family dinners would no longer be the norm. Tonight’s was double the fun, and watching Kat and Tessa unsuccessfully resisting the urge to lick the frosting from my cake before dinner just made me laugh. I’m the aunt, after all, not the mother. For four years, these two tiny humans have given me more joy than I can put into words, and I’m grateful today and every day that I get to watch them grow up, bake them more cakes, and buy them more shoes to wear out in six months.
Two birthdays, a reunion, and a bucket list meal. Those were my last four days. Four days ago, I didn’t get married. Instead, I hosted a photo booth for a friend’s party, reconnected with an old bestie on a breakfast date that soothed the soul, made Auntie Cherry’s legendary curry and rice and actually got it right, and giggled with my brother’s goofy, growing kids over dinner, cake, and presents for a few hours.
Life doesn’t look like what I thought it would right now, but the ordinary, everyday, mundane life is truly good if you stop to take the time to be grateful for the people and experiences that mean you’re living now, today… not waiting for a happily ever after storybook style that might not ever come. It’s just four days, so far, but my white wicker love seat will tell what comes next.