Today makes exactly two years since I scrolled through twitter, saw a headline about a journalist being beheaded, and then scoured my gmail inbox to make sure the names matched. Two years since I rushed to a friend’s flat because I couldn’t breathe, and nearly walked in front of a bus on the way home because my mind was someplace else entirely. Two years since the late nights when I tried to remember everything I possibly could about an ill-fated first date in a piano bar, because the person I had shared this experience with could no longer remember it for themselves. Two years since I fell asleep in the glow of a candle clutching a barely-read bible in my hands because that was the only thing that seemed solid, somehow.
Yesterday, I drove, as I often do, in the country. The open roads clear my head, I find. And, somewhere along the way, I thought I would head to the field of sunflowers planted every year just outside Yellow Springs by the Tecumseh Land Trust. I drove through several cloudbursts on the way, and when I pulled into the parking area, an elderly man informed me, “Better hurry, rain’s coming.” “I know,” I said, “I’ll take my chances.”
So there I was, surrounded by sunflowers, allowing myself to get absolutely drenched by the rain. It was exhilarating, and wonderful, and peaceful. I had decided that, this week, I would feel however I wanted about Steven’s death. I would not chide myself for not healing, nor would I second-guess myself if I wanted to make 800 facebook posts about it. For the first time since it happened, really, I had given myself permission to grieve openly and honestly, and without thought of making anyone around me uncomfortable. This permission is not something I could consciously have granted myself back when I was 21 and interning at Tecumseh Land Trust. But even then, I recognized a kinship with this bent, old tree on the edge of the drive my not-so-trusty Chevy Malibu had to turn down each time I went to work. Our hearts, I believe, feel things before we are ever able to process their significance on an intellectual level. Yesterday, I sat on the back bumper of my car after the rain had passed and wrote a few things down. There is peace to be found in running toward the things others flee from. The clouds may hide the sun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel its warmth. You can be bent, mangled, and imperfect and still inspire someone with your beauty.
Trite phrases, perhaps. Ten years ago, I would have laughed at them. But, in large part because of my proximity to tragedy, I feel their truth. I was only 23 when I went out with Steven, just beginning to find myself, to write again, to craft the person I wanted to be. Here was this guy, talking about dodging bullets in the middle east, and the things we would do when we explored his hometown together, and looking into my eyes like he needed me. It terrified me. It didn’t fit into the persona I imagined myself becoming. I protected myself and I cut and run. But even after this, I would find myself thinking about him, wondering what might have been had I been a little more brave. I think, in his death and my processing of it, I have learned to let go of what might have been, and to embrace whatever will be. I have learned that the images of our future selves we craft are always different from those we become. I have learned that sometimes, bravery is little more than allowing oneself to run toward something beautiful even if being rained on is almost certain. I have learned that simply by giving ourselves permission to live in darkness for a little while, we begin, in spite of ourselves, to produce light.
For the first year, probably, after Steven’s death, I felt often as though I had missed out on a chance at some great love. I know now, that, try as I might to separate myself from feeling, and to escape the endless and centrifugal nature of human emotion, I shall forever find love everywhere I look. In license plates and brick walls, I will laugh at memories I have yet to create. In deserted buildings, and dinner checks, and cold cider, I will feel joy rising incorrigibly from within me. In piano music, and rainstorms, and carrots, I will hold hands with ghosts. In the face of death, I will become life. In the face of heartache, I will become love. In the face of madness, I will become sane. Steven may not have been the love of my life, but he recognized my gypsy soul perhaps even before I did, and through my wandering and searching and feeling, I honor his memory, and I celebrate my future.