On Monday, I woke with a pit in my stomach. “Six months,” I thought. “Six entire months since Shawn left this world. How could that be?” I didn’t quite know what to do with the anxiety I was feeling, but my cousin Amy offered to take my kids for the morning and I gratefully left them with her.
“I’m going out on a run,” I told her.
“Great,” she said, “there’s a loop you can run around here, or you can cross the main road and go further.”
I took off. It was raining, which is weird for Texas in July, but it meant that the heat didn’t hold me back. I ran easily, fueled at least partially from the anxiety in my gut. It’s a quiet suburb, and there were few distractions. It was just me and miles of happy homes.
I passed row upon row of adorable houses with manicured lawns. Signs in the front noted that inside lived a “dance team star!” from the local high school or a kindergarten kid from the “future class of 2031!” Almost every house had an American flag and some also sported Texan ones. I know it’s unreasonable to think this, but I just kept imagining the neighborhood as a place where nothing goes wrong.
Running made me feel lighter. I started to think about all of the heaviness I feel every day back home. How it seems, sometimes, like I can’t ever get away from my grief, and how the sadness permeates so much of my life. I started to imagine leaving all that pain behind and moving to a place where I would somehow recover and start again.
The thought was a new one. In the immediate aftermath of Shawn’s death, all I wanted was safety and security for me and my kids. That meant I needed to make sure I could stay in our house in DC, increase my hours at work and secure a spot for Tommy at the elementary school for the fall. And so I did all those things. I also made sure I was planning for the future, even if it was really hard to actually think about the future.
But the grief remained. Six months out and it follows me and the kids around, making me flinch when I’m running in my own neighborhood and see another runner who looks like Shawn, or hear someone talk about defense policy, which makes me think of what Shawn would say. In Washington, DC, Shawn is everywhere.
And so running away to another place is alluring. Especially a place like Austin, where I’d be running toward my family who loves me and supports me no matter what. As I jogged past all those houses in Amy’s neighborhood, I imagined moving into one. I imagined a fresh start in a place that was familiar, but not burdened with grief. “Maybe I could even get a pool,” I thought.
I kept running, knowing that such a move would never happen, but still thinking of it nonetheless.
It’s an alluring idea – running away from the memories of the life we shared in DC. Setting up a new home, one that wouldn’t constantly remind me of how Shawn designed the fireplace and picked out the light fixtures. Shopping at new grocery stores, where I wouldn’t remember the many times we tagged-teamed with 3 kids through them. Going out to new restaurants, where I’d see happy couples but not necessarily remember visiting them on date nights in years prior.
But…it wouldn’t work.
I might get a new house that looked different, but I’d still remember how much Shawn loved zucchini bread whenever I eventually made it in that new kitchen. I might go to new stores, but I’d eventually see a man picking out Shawn’s favorite kind of beer and think of him. And I might have new people surrounding me, but my three darling kids will always look at me with the eyes they share with their father.
Of course, there are other reasons I won’t move. Practical ones, like the fact that it’s a huge pain to move, and I’d have to find a new job. And other, more important reasons, like the fact that I love my community, my friends and my kids’ school. I’m sure I could find all of those things in Austin, but it wouldn’t be the same because those people wouldn’t know all the parts of my family’s story.
And so I’ll stay. I’ll stay in DC, an imperfect town with imperfect people who imperfectly – but fully – love my family. It may mean more daily pain right now, but I hope it will mean that the healing we eventually find will be more complete.