The Only Way Out is Through, Part 1

Like most of the world, I’ve spent the last several months of quarantine asking myself a series of scary questions – How long will this last? When will I feel safe or normal again? When will things get better? What if things get worse? How on earth are we going to make it through this?

Though nearly everyone is asking similar questions and wrestling with some major life changes (or standstills), and we keep repeatedly (albeit virtually) reminding one another that we’re in this together, we are, for the most part, still alone. No one has any concrete answers to any of the scary questions we’re all asking, and that’s probably the most frightening part of all.

lost

I’ve had moments where I’ve used the circumstances of the pandemic for good – writing and submitting like crazy, cleaning, taking walks, and having plenty of ‘me’ time. But there are also times that I’ve felt like I was going to absolutely insane if I couldn’t leave my zip code or couldn’t fathom the next time I’d get to travel. I’ve cried over not being able to hug my friend when she offered comfort over the death of my dog, and I’ve cried after leaving my parents’ house and not being able to hug my immune-compromised mom. One day at the grocery store I couldn’t reach an item on the top shelf and I couldn’t get close enough to anyone to ask for help, and on came the waterworks. I’ve stormed away from my desk at work after yelling at a customer for the four hundredth time that day to read the signs on the door regarding masks and the ‘one person in the office at a time’ rule. In those moments of overwhelming emotion, the biggest question on my mind is how on earth am I going to get through this?

During moments of clarity I’ve had to remind myself that although the world population is muddling through uncharted territory, we’ve been through worse – or at least similar — situations. As have I.

Though things are absolute and total shit right now, personally I am in a better place in my life in a lot of ways than, say, a decade ago. During the first four years of mine and J’s relationship, we experienced one devastating blow after another. It seemed like as soon as we cleared one hurdle, another one would be waiting around the corner to knock us down once again. There was a long stretch where we couldn’t see how the two of us would ever be able to get better jobs, a house of our own, go on vacation, or get married.

trapped

Today, with the world going to hell in a hand basket in more ways than one, I look back on those times and think about how strong we must have been as a couple and as individuals to keep going until we reached our goals. I’ve been wanting to write about those tumultuous years for a while now, and figured that now is as good a time as any. I’ve got extra time on my hands to write, readers have more time to read, and we could all use a little inspiration and reflection about getting through tough times.

So without further ado, let me get into part 1 . . .

2008

J and I met on a blind date coordinated by mutual friends. The four of us had dinner, then headed to a bar for drinks, where aforementioned friends finagled a plan to have J take me home that night. There, in the front seat of his Chevy Equinox, I kissed him for the first time. When I went to bed less than an hour later, I realized that I’d just met the person I was going to marry.

About a month into our budding relationship, J and I began to discuss moving in together. I was still living with my parents after plans to get an apartment with a friend fell apart, and he was back at home as well after leaving a toxic relationship. I’d always promised myself that I’d never live with anyone until we’d dated for a year, but I already knew J was the one, so I went along with it full force. We discussed budgets, desired neighborhoods, and furniture before realizing we were talking crazy. Though we were both serious about our relationship, we figured it was a good idea to wait awhile before jumping into that water head first. It was April 2008, so we decided that if we were still together come January 2009, we’d continue with plans to move in together. Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.

Our relationship blossomed quickly over the next six months. We said mutual ‘I love yous,’ went on weekend adventures, and I introduced him to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which he promptly fell in love with. I told him about my anxiety, he shared his less-than-perfect past, and we celebrated his birthday and our first Christmas together as the year drew to a close. But it was Christmas night that our lives and our relationship were changed.

broken

After the holiday festivities died down, J’s dad went to bed early so he could be up for his 4am shift the next day. Shortly after, the two of us retreated to J’s room to snuggle up and watch a movie. As the credits rolled, we heard a God-awful thump from across the hall. The next several hours were some of the scariest of my life. I remember J dialing 911, shouting that his dad was turning blue. I remember his mom racing up the stairs to see what was wrong. I remember dashing next door, hoping that J’s cop neighbor was home to help. I remember sitting in the brightly-lit ER in the middle of the night listening to a doctor say the words “his condition is very serious.”

J’s dad suffered a massive heart attack, the kind they call ‘the widow maker.’ His brain had gone so long without oxygen that he was placed on a ventilator and we had to wait several days to see if the swelling would go down so the doctors could determine if he’d ever regain consciousness again. Less than two weeks later came the devastating news that he was brain dead, and the family made the painful decision to take him off life support. Three days into 2009, J lost his father.

Looking back, I have no idea how I made it through those weeks. J and I had only been dating for a little over eight months. His parents hadn’t even met mine yet. I’d never been close to anyone who had lost a parent at our young age, and didn’t have the first clue about navigating the situation. Whenever I was with J and his mom, I felt like I was intruding on their grief, but as soon as I left I’d feel guilty. I never knew what to say or do to make either one of them feel better, and I worried about whether or not our relationship could survive this. I remember crying in my car out of fear and anxiety anytime I headed over to their house, then forcing myself to stop and act as normal as possible during my visit. As soon as I left, I’d drive down the street to park and cry some more as the family’s pain and the feeling of helplessness washed over me.

stone

It took a long time for us to adapt to our new normal. J and I celebrated our one year anniversary that spring and we spent some time at our friend’s trailer that summer. Eventually we ended up taking a vacation that October. J’s parents had planned a cruise well before his dad’s heart attack, and instead of his mom cancelling or going alone, the three of us went together. It was my first experience on a cruise ship, and touring the islands of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk gave us the break we all needed.

When we got home, J and I started talking about moving in together again, and set our new goal for January of 2010. We finally felt like we were getting back on our feet again after a long, hard 10 months.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong . . .

lock

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