I woke up on July 11th at 2:30 am. Joy filled my heart as I opened my eyes and saw Anthony’s sleepy face with a huge smile siting upon it. His love for me radiates through his expressions and feeling like the most beloved girl in the world is an awfully good way to start the day. He is mine. We tightened our embrace, giggled and whispered sweet things (mostly words of gratitude, unbelief and desire) before we performed our favorite cardio workout of the day and then headed to the airport.
Like love-sick teenagers we shared earbuds and played games together up in the sky. Warm rays shone through the fluffy white clouds as the sun rose, lighting up the world below us. I wondered if Heaven really is full of clouds as depicted in the movies. It felt good not to be on Earth without Dan. Constant touch was my only request and Anthony met my needs perfectly; like water for a fish, his touch ensured my survival.
We landed in Raleigh, North Carolina. The state I was living in when my first husband tragically and unexpectedly passed away. While Anthony stood up and grabbed our bag from the overhead bin, I looked out the window and teared up seeing the green thick trees. The memories. The heartbreak. Everything. What was I thinking coming here?
My good friend Heather picked us up and took us to her home, she let us borrow her spare car and was totally fine with us ditching her to get lunch. TIJUANA FLATS!!!! I’d been craving it for months and I knew without a doubt that I must eat Tijuana Flats for my first welcome-back-to-North-Carolina meal. I wanted Anthony to try it too and eating my emotions was the only thing that sounded like fun.
Can we just pause for a moment to pay reverence to the fattening yellow gods that are queso and chips. yummmmmmmm……..
An hour later and I was at a different restaurant indulging on raspberry cheesecake with a few of my favorite females. It was SO GOOD to see them. I miss their faces and their stories. They make me want to move back. They make me want to be better. I doubt I’ll even find friends as amazing as them again. (Sigh.)
After that was the concert. Heather invited me to go to a NKOTB concert and although I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to go I decided to because, “It will be fun and good for you!” It was actually a blast putting on bright yellow and blue eye shadow and a big ol’ side ponytail to compliment my crazy colored capris and bunched up long yellow socks but the concert itself was horrible and I walked out early because I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I was angry with myself but I learned something: if I’m on the fence and can’t decide if I want to do something – guess what – I DON’T. Letting others talk me into things never ends well. Imagine that.
I would have had more fun staring at a tree for five hours.
When we finally got back to Heather’s I booked it without even saying goodbye to the other ladies. They were Heather’s friends and since I don’t live there anymore I had no desire to get to know them. #imahorriblehuman. I ran straight up to my husband and fell on top of him in tears. So few hours we would be in this beautiful state and I wasted so many of them not being with my stud. (Insert another sigh here.)
I was too mad to sleep and the guest bed was too small for shenanigans so I insisted we go out and get something to munch on. JUST HIM AND ME AND THE NIGHT. Harris Teeter was the only place open so penguins, pringles, spray cheese, chocolate oreos, bourbon ice-cream and Dr. pepper it was. An empty picnic table beckoned us over and we sat down. Magic ensued. Yep, we are totally meant to be, he and I.
Magic. Every. Time.
We slept for five hours after staying up for a solid 24 and it was morning again. I was looking at his face. He’s gorgeous. Mornings are my favorite. It’s impossible not to feel blessed. We got out of bed ready to concur. Ready to pay tribute to the best man I’ve ever known.
Back at a grocery store I carefully picked out the prettiest orange flowers they had, roses, and white hydrangeas. (I’m starting to cry as I write this). I was wearing my Orioles shirt cause it reminds me most of him, as I clutched those flowers against my heart as if my life depended on it.
I typed “Holly Springs Cemetery” into my phone and then we were there.
It was July 12th, exactly one year since Dan’s soul left this earth, and I was looking at the dirt on top of his body. I rejoiced over the children’s drawings that someone had left on the headstone. (Probably a kid he taught at church – he was a fantastic teacher. Everyone loved him.) I rearranged the flowers that were already there and added my own. I sat down in the dirt and Anthony knelt beside me, hovering over me with his strong body like an umbrella protecting me from the rain. He held me for a very long time as I sobbed. At one point he was crying too. We just sat there in silence, both of us, and felt the feels.
This was the reason I came.
I got up eventually but only to get back down, this time on my back, right next to the space where the casket was placed. My hand automatically stretched out as if he would grab it and squeeze. I didn’t care that I looked like a freak. Even now it’s so hard to believe that he’s gone. (As I write this and wait for my new husband to get home from taking my new son to the movies, it still seems like Dan will walk through that door even though it’s a different door any minute and say, “got ya!” practically rolling on the floor in laughter. I want to slap him.)
We left the cemetery and went to the last place I saw him alive. I sat down in the exact same way, in the exact same spot. Indian on the floor staring at the black indoor/outdoor rug in front of the door. I ignored all the patients walking in and out. All the strange looks, all the concern. The only thing I was concerned about was myself and surprisingly I was totally okay with that. Of all the places we visited that day I felt the most entitled to that one. It’s mine. I felt like I owned it. Like my name should have be engraved above the doorway, like I should have been given a key. What happened there was only witnessed by me and no one else will ever fully know. No one else will be able to feel what I felt or see what I saw. As soft sobs of gratefulness ran down my rosy cheeks I declared it my favorite place in NC. The feeling can not be matched.
I would have been perfectly content to stay right there for the rest of the day but we had things to do. Celebrating needed done! We had mourned and it was time to rejoice. I showed Anthony the places we used to live and smiled to see an American flag flying from the poll that once held Miami Hurricane propaganda. That large three story house held so many memories and I couldn’t hold them in. I opened my mouth and couldn’t shut up. Story after story after story spilled out of my heart and into Anthony’s ears. Afterwards Anthony told me he felt like he knew Daniel and could feel him there with each story. We laughed and cried and had a happy/sad emotional time.
Of course with all the emotions, more eating was necessary. We went to all of Dan’s favorite places. Ice-cream and Hibachi. I introduced Anthony to the straight-from-heaven goodness that is Duck Donuts and then we went to Bass Lake.
Oh Bass Lake. We were the only ones on the deck overlooking the water so it was quiet. The water was clear and bright and sparkly. There was a slight breeze in the air and the moment we stopped walking I was overwhelmed by one of the strongest feeling I’ve ever experienced.
The slight cool breeze held a whisper that said, “This is the peace Daniel feels all the time now.”
It was so nice. Perfect. And then I started walking around and memories bombarded my senses. The last time Dan and I were at Bass Lake I was nine months pregnant with Jonah. I remember sitting in a crisp white rocking chair with Madie on my lap talking to her brother. When she crawled down, Dan ran around the wooden deck with our sweetheart, laughing and never getting more than one step away from her. He was extremely protective of his little girl and it was extremely endearing. Dan and I talked about how fun it would be when “Johah is old enough to run around with his sister”. He never got to see that. (Not even at home.) We loved it so much there that we decided if retirement on the beach didn’t work out we wanted it to be on a lake.
Maybe he’s living on a lake right now. Enjoying the sounds of the waves hitting the sandy shores as he rests from his labors. I miss him. I wish I could visit from time to time and witness the amazing things he’s doing and seeing and creating.
After we left the lake things things went south fast. When packing up I realized I had lost my id somewhere and it couldn’t be found. Our ride wasn’t showing up and we couldn’t get a hold of her. I was quickly spiraling down a dark hole and making everything a million times worse than it really was. Thank God Anthony was there. He calmed me down enough to stop me from hyperventilating and took charge. The airport was called. An uber was called. We made it onto our plane. As I sat in the seat next to him I couldn’t help but stare and shake my head.
How did I get so lucky to score two such amazing men?
My strength was drained. My mind was spent. My body was exhausted. My arms and legs tingled. It was dark except for the two glaringly bright reading lights coming from the seats behind us. I wanted NEEDED to sleep but I couldn’t even keep my eyes closed except when crying. The lady with the lights kept coughing while waving off kindly offered cough drops and water. I got up and into my bag from the overhead.
Three advil and I sat back down. It was too much. I was shaking. I was about to explode and become one of the crazy screaming people in need of being physically forced down. A sedative sounded great. Then he reached for me. Anthony put his hand on my thigh and it inspired me to pray. I prayed and pleaded and begged like so many times before.
Three hours later I woke up and we were back in AZ.
July 12th was over.
Daniel was still dead.
Anthony was mine and gorgeous and still there.