I was driving to an overnight visit with my two youngest grandsons. It was a beautiful summer evening and I had just had a perfect Friday – half a day of work, meeting a friend for lunch, followed by a quick swim in my pool. As I drove along, I thought about how good my life is now. How far I’ve come since those dark days after Rick died.
I was also thinking about a man. A man I’ve started dating recently, and how fun it is to flirt and text with him every day. Life is good and holds so much promise.
Up ahead, I saw two people on their front lawn, standing close to the curb. As I drew nearer, I saw that it was an older couple, maybe late seventies? They were facing the house, just standing, looking at the house…holding hands…
Aw, I thought, still in love…I wonder why they are out there, looking at their house together.
Then my mind was jolted by a long-forgotten memory. I was transported back to the early 2000s. To a house in Maryland. The money pit. Rick and I had purchased our first home together three years after we were married. We had lived a “commuter marriage” until I could become vested in my pension from a school system in Michigan, take an early retirement, and join him. Rick’s job with an airline afforded him flight privileges, so we took turns flying back and forth each weekend to see each other.
Then, finally, we lived together in our more than humble abode. We worked for six years rehabbing that house…one hour a day after work and most weekends. I fondly remember those times: Saturday mornings getting supplies at Home Depot, half-finished rooms with missing drywall, ladders propped against walls, the electrical wire and paint and other tools that dominated nearly every free hour of our lives. We were true DIYers and enjoyed the planning, the challenges, the ups and downs, the spats, and the final rewarding afterglow of looking at what we had accomplished.
And during that time, we started our little ritual. Put in a new front door? Go to the curb, put our arms around each other, stand back, and admire our work. Install all new windows ourselves? Back to the curb. Build a new porch? Plant hundreds of dollars-worth of shrubs? It became our little joke, our tradition…no matter what we accomplished, at the end of the evening, we walked out near the street, turned, stood back and admired it, arm in arm.
When we sold the house in 2006, we performed our ritual one final time. It was bittersweet, both of us looking at our finished home, proud of all we’d accomplished, sentimental about all that time spent working, tearing down walls, installing wood laminate floors, tiling, and painting. Sweat equity. A home where we literally built our life together. So, one last time, we stood at that curb, admiring and remembering and crying together. That life we had built was about to end, but we would start over again in another home when we returned to Michigan. A home we also rehabbed, and where we made more memories working together on project after project – then stood at the curb admiring our handiwork. We knew this one would be our final home, a place where we would retire and spend our golden years together…
A home I am now contemplating leaving after living here alone in the four years since his death.
Life changes and evolves, whether I want it to or not. That era is over and I’ve rebuilt my life. I have lots going on and much to be thankful for: family and friends, work, writing, the vaccine that allowed me to go back out into the world after a year of near seclusion – and even the possibility of a new relationship. Yes, life is good.
But as I drove down that street, the sight of a 70-something couple standing near a curb triggered a rush of emotion. We’ll never stand together arm in arm admiring our handiwork again. We won’t share those golden years in the home we practically rebuilt. We have no future. Those plans and dreams died with him.
I sobbed for a mile or two on my journey, picturing that old couple we will never be. Then I dried my eyes and looked forward to seeing my grandsons when they awoke in the morning, and spent the rest of the evening sharing flirty text messages with another man.