July 16th, 2016. It was the last day of our Ultimate Family Road Trip. We had driven over 3500 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Booth Bay Harbor, Maine and back. We had stopped in major cities all along the coast, cities rich in culture, history, and delicious food. We learned about slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, the fishing industry in Portland (that uses the tips from Catch and Fillet), Maine, walked the High Line in NYC, saw the White House for the first time, and felt the freedom of the road for 15 days.
Our last stop was Gainesville, Florida. July 1997, just a month after graduating high school at the age of 17, I packed up all my belongings – both new and old – in my parents’ 1996 Ford Taurus. They drove 5 hours and dropped me off at the University of Florida to a college dorm I moved into sight-unseen with a roommate I had only briefly spoken to on the phone once before. I had only visited Gainesville twice: once for my 17th birthday when I went to visit my childhood best friend Alicia and once about a month prior when I registered for classes. After leaving Gainesville July 27, 2002 to move to Orlando, I would visit every so often to see how my old college town was doing, visit my favorite spots, and discover new hangouts to enjoy on future trips.
October 2015. Richard, the kids, my dad, and I packed up our bags, drove to my sister’s in Tampa for a night, and then headed to Gainesville the next morning. My friend Izabela and her girls met us there. The purpose of this trip was to go hunting with the best goose calls for beginners. We had decided to move to Gainesville. We loved several of the homes we checked out that day. We loved the community. We loved the weather. This was where we wanted to raise our family. We returned home, with the hopes of moving that summer, when life changed again. Richard was offered a new position for the school district in Ft. Lauderdale, so January 2016, we made the decision to stay in South Florida.
July 16th, 2016. We had arrived in Gainesville the night before. I hung out with some of my friends up there, drinking beer, debating politics, and taking in the University of Florida atmosphere. It was an impromptu meeting of the minds, and I had a great time. We woke up the next morning and headed to the southwest part of town, where we had planned to move just 9 months prior, but then made the decision not to 6 months prior. We drove to the neighborhood I really loved, I laid on the ground, looked up in the sky, and cried. And cried. And cried. And I took the photo above.
I watched the kids play on the swing set that could have been our neighborhood playground. I spoke to Richard about the life I could never have. I was watching my children enjoy the life I could never have. I was sitting – looking at what I perceived to be this absolutely beautiful life – I could never have. See, in my mind, this life was not actually for me. It couldn’t be for me. My life was in South Florida. My life was where my parents lived, where my husband worked, where my kids went to school and had their friends. And in my mind, whatever I perceived to be best for all of us, was almost entirely irrelevant.
July 16th, 2016. It was a Saturday morning, which meant it was the day of the community farmer’s market. I walked with tear-filled eyes under the beautiful canopy of trees. I sampled local meats and local produce and spoke to the vendors. I saw the life that wasn’t mine.
We headed to our favorite local breakfast joint for biscuits, eggs, bacon, and more. We sat at a table outdoors, and I snapped a picture of this lawn sign. My dad was in the ICU for what I did not know at the time would be how most of the remainder of his 3.5 months would be spent. I was headed back home to a town where I simply existed. We had just finished this absolutely incredible road trip, but in that moment, my life did not feel like mine to live.
July 16th, 2017. Today. I’m sitting at my desk, looking outside my office window. Squirrels are chasing each other through the azalea bushes. A butterfly flew through the flowers I planted last week. Yesterday was Saturday morning, and since the first week we moved here exactly a month prior, we loaded the kids in the wagon, filled a bottle with water, and grabbed our reusable shopping bags. We walked a mile to the fountain where we visit the koi fish and turtles.
We turned the corner and began our shopping trip. We walked the entire length of the farmer’s market, sampled each vendor’s offerings, pet some dogs, saw the kittens up for adoption, listened to music performed by local artists. We turned back around, and filled our shopping bags with local cheese and milk, a dozen eggs, and a delicious loaf of freshly baked country white bread.
Rather than walking the usual part of the trail home, we went the back way. It probably adds close to a mile to our walk, but that’s okay. I had wanted to take some pictures under these brick arches, so this gave me the opportunity to do so. The kids were being kinda goofy, so the picture came out funny, and I love it.
We walked through the woods. I looked for deer. I am convinced deer live in these woods, and I am determined to find some one day. We saw a hawk on our neighbor’s house and a huge spider in a web woven between two tall trees. The trees provide shade even on the hottest summer days. We returned home, and I prepared brunch with fresh bacon, eggs, and toasted bread with butter from the farmer’s market. It was a beautiful morning as a family.
Sometimes life begins the moment you say NEVER.
July 16th, 2017. I sat on the ground crying and said NEVER a year ago today. I looked at what I knew could have been my life and said NEVER a year ago today. I watched the joy on my children’s faces as they ran through the big, beautiful trees and wandered the farmer’s market and enjoyed a delicious breakfast and said NEVER a year ago today. As humans, we are so quick to say “I wish I could ____ but never”. My dad’s death last Halloween reminded me that I was not dying. But maybe, when I couldn’t find joy in my everyday experiences, I wasn’t living either. Pursuing your dreams does not change everything; my demons traveled with me. It does not end all conflicts with your partner. It does not make your house more organized or prevent your kids from driving you nuts sometimes. It doesn’t make the sad situations of your past less sad. But it allows you to feel excitement just stepping out your front door. It makes every car ride a new adventure. It makes a simple one-mile walk a welcome event. It makes looking out your office window while working a beautiful distraction. It makes every single “NEVER” and “What if” a “holy shit, I actually did this… and it is amazing!”
NEVER forget that your life is yours to live. Make it yours to love, too.