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Joy again? Life is sneaky like that.

Will and I started seeing each other 18 months after I placed my husband, Robert, in a memory care facility. I was lonely after years of declining companionship and abandoned joys. Deciding to start dating again was difficult. I combed the Internet for signs that my path had been traveled before. I don’t mind breaking new ground on some things, but when all’s said and done, I’m pretty socially conservative. Ultimately, the decision came down to what was right for me and what I needed to go on living this life. 

The imprints of short-lived landings

When I was young, my family moved a lot. I attended eight different schools by the time I left at 17. Defined by this circumstance, my friendships were short, supernova bursts that flamed out almost as soon as they’d begun. Robert was the stalwart counterbalance to the ache of transience. He settled me and made me whole. He could no longer be that for me. I was broken and needed to find my joy again.

The choice to date turned out to be the easy part. I had lived without the care and attention of a partner for so long that interacting with an interested adult required a bit of retooling.

How about if I meet you there?

Will and I met in late summer, and our first few outings were to free outdoor music concerts. Free was ideal. It meant there was no awkward negotiation over who was footing the bill. We could arrive when it worked for us and leave whenever we felt like it. And we could talk or not. There was enough going on around us to stave off the uncomfortable silence that can typify early dating.

But we did talk…a lot. Will and I told each other stories of our work and our formative years. We were of the same generation and though our backgrounds were different, we shared many cultural touchstones. 

Teenage synchronicity

The first concert Will snuck into at the Hollywood Bowl was Supertramp in 1975. (He’d go on to scale the wall at the upper end of the Bowl for YES And Electric Light Orchestra concerts in the coming months.) My first concert was James Brown playing at the Oscar Meyer Theater in Madison, Wisconsin in 1981. (During the concert, a good friend’s sister would crash the stage and leap onto Brown with a squeal of delight. In an impressive display of core strength, he didn’t even budge with the momentum of her 100+ pounds flying at him.)

Will was Italian in Southern California. He was given an anglicized first name that better matched the time and place of his upbringing than an Italian name might have. His aunt and grandparents bought homes on the same quiet street as his parents. They were close; an extended Italian family had been dropped into suburban America. 

Summertime when the living is easy

Will spent summers roaming his neighborhood. The early cannonballs into neighborhood pools were eventually replaced with cars full of roving teenage boys looking for trouble. They got into the trouble of 1970s suburbia (sneaking into the Hollywood Bowl, etc), but not much more.

I was born in Louisiana, and lived briefly in North Carolina and Sweden, before landing in the sedate beauty of Wisconsin. I remain lightly imprinted with the culture of the Deep South but carry the restraint of a Midwestern upbringing in my soul. 

Will grew into adulthood in Portland, Oregon during a gap year before that was a thing. I set the pattern of my life as a young adult in San Francisco, some five years later. Our disparate paths wended their way through the decades and eventually landed us both in Sonoma County within five years of each other. We have made this place our home.

Relearning the basics

Being with Will was easy. During our first few adventures dining out, we’d peruse the menu, discuss what looked good, and decide on a couple of dishes so we could share a taste of the pair between us. After a few meals with me ordering for both of us, Will gently suggested that I let him order his own food. (OMG! Of course, Will should order his own food!)

Let me put this in some context. Over the years, I found myself managing all of Robert’s public interactions. I was the one to speak with service personnel on his behalf. I was the one to clarify Robert was making a joke about the cheese, or that he wasn’t going the steal the candy bar, or that I would pay for the salt shaker he’d slipped into his pocket. With embarrassment, I realized that I had just continued the practice with Will! My overreach puzzled him initially, but he kindly put himself in my shoes before he spoke. Will was gentle.

Realization dawns

One early evening, Will and I ended up at my place. Ruby was still too much of a puppy to be left alone for hours at a time. We settled on the stairs off my deck to throw the ball for her. We sat thigh to thigh enjoying quiet conversation and unencumbered moments of silence. The dappled light of the fading day melted away around us.

I realized with a start that I was missing the easy camaraderie of an equal, the ability to have a conversation about ideas. I wanted this again. With Will, I didn’t have to translate what I was saying into its most rudimentary, childish form. I could express myself without constraint and be understood. And life didn’t have to be all about illness, exorbitant monthly expenses, and death.

With the easy toss of a tennis ball, joy was waiting for me around the corner. Relief washed over me.

2 thoughts on “Joy again? Life is sneaky like that.”

  1. Wow! It’s amazing how our paths have crossed, more than once. I too lived in North Carolina for a short while – but that was only after we graduated. I was raised in Minnesota and my brother moved to Menominee when he was just a young adult. I also lived in 5 different homes throughout my elementary, jr. and sr. h.s. years and had the same experience with making friends: short-term and quick to bond, quick to sever the bonds. I view people who had a stable life with life-long friends as seriously lucky. They’ve learned how to navigate the imperfections of people without turning away, and how to nurture relationships. I feel like I’m only just learning this — if I would just stop moving so much! But Colorado for its weather, pricing, and geography feels like the last stop on this fast moving train!

    1. I hear you, Mary! As children we can’t just hop in our cars and visit old friends. Glad we have both learned (are learning) how to stay the course with the people who are important to us.

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