One night in early February, as the wind whipped the trees so hard that they seemed to bend sideways, I laid in bed and tried to warm up my freezing toes. Life finally had a rhythm to it, and I was getting used to year three of widowhood. I thought about Valentine’s Day, and how it was around the corner, and I was still without a partner. This year, however, I was feeling a sense of peace about my singledom. I was still dating, but the urgency of finding someone new had abated.
As I sat there writing and thinking, Tommy came to my door and then climbed into my bed. I read him a story and then we snuggled and I asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m going to be the last one to die in our family, because I’m the youngest!” he said, totally out-of-the-blue.
I looked at him. He was not sad. He was merely stating what he believed to be a true fact. “Well that could happen, but I don’t think anyone is going to die anytime soon.”
He wasn’t dissuaded. “First, Grandpa Tom will die. Then you will die. Then Claire and Austin will die. I will be last because I am the youngest, and that means that when you are all dead, I will be the owner of our house!”
I tried not to laugh, and reminded him again that no one would die anytime soon. “Well,” he said, “someday when everyone dies and I’m all alone in this house, I will have to find a new family to live with me. Because being alone is scary!”
I pulled him in my arms and reminded him that he didn’t need to worry about that. But I kept thinking about it all night.
He is in kindergarten, and so his understanding of the world is very basic, in a way. But Tommy still hit on something I’ve thought often over the past two and a half years:
Being alone is scary.
Tommy doesn’t ever want to be alone. He would prefer to sleep in the same bed as his brother, he refuses to go upstairs by himself, and thinking about a future without his siblings and his mom and his grandpa is terrible. He doesn’t want that.
But you know who else has been scared to be alone? Me.
And yet, back in February, I’d sort of gotten used to the way things were. I had come to accept that life was going to be different than I had imagined it at 25 or 35, and that I might be facing the next few decades on my own. I was used to the new pace of life I had cultivated, and though I didn’t want to be alone, I wasn’t scared of it anymore.
It was a liberating feeling. Much like the child who gets a thrill over walking home from school alone for the first time, I realized that I wasn’t scared of facing the world on my own. I wanted a partner because it’s so great to give and receive love from another human being. But I didn’t need someone.
I was okay – really okay – on my own.
And so, of course, because my life can be one big walking cliche, it was a little over a month later that I had someone new step into my life.
Our relationship is so fresh that I’m not quite sure what it all means. I want to protect it, and so I’m still figuring out how to tell our story to all of you. But I will say this: it could not have happened for me a year ago. I could have had a relationship (and in fact I did try out one for a bit) but I could not have had this relationship.
Because this relationship is something real. And to be in something real, I had to stop being so scared.
I’m not saying that I’m never scared. Like Tommy, I worry about the unknown. I know that things can change in an instant. I know that nothing is guaranteed and that the world can come crashing down on you without any warning.
And yet, for me, when I had finally settled into a spot that felt good and free and much less scary, that was when I found something real.
That is when I found him.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.