Danville, Pennsylvania to South Bend, Indiana. 548.6 miles. 9 hours 2 minutes on the road. 123 songs.
Whenever The Knucklehead and I traveled (and we traveled a lot), I noticed something interesting. The day we left home, no matter how far we journeyed, whether by car or plane, I still felt somehow tethered to home. I felt like it was always still possible to just turn the car around, or hop on a return flight at the airport, and still make it back, the same day, like you hadn’t gone anywhere at all. But once you went to sleep, the tether was cut. Wherever you woke up, you were anchored for the day. It was like overnight you had moved the point of the compass from where you had been to where you are now, ready to make a new mark from where you stood.
Today is the first of five days of transition, from an old life to a new one. Today I began a journey from my old life in Danville, Pennsylvania to a new life in Olympia, Washington. Over the next five nights I’ll post an essay a night about the trip, as I drive from (almost) coast to coast.
And as I write this from the Waterford Estates Lodge (which is very nice, but is actually none of those things), I am still tethered to where I woke this morning. When I wake tomorrow, South Bend will become my base of operations. So tonight, and tonight only, I’m going to look back.
And as I look back, I see My Bride.
* * *
I fell in love with My Bride almost instantly. I simply could not understand how she did not leave a trail of people, smitten, wherever she went. How she could possibly be taken with me I found inconceivable. But she was, and we married, and it was wonderful. We made each other 17 again, and for me especially, that was quite a trick indeed. She embraced The Knucklehead, he her, and we were a happy family.
It worked for quite a while, and then it started not to. You don’t need to know the details – they belong to My Bride and me, and to an extent, The Knucklehead. Love, as it sometimes does, slipped away, and not for lack of trying. But the most astonishing thing happened. As My Bride and I fell out of love, we found a deep friendship. My Bride is at heart a kind person, who looks for the best in people, and I found that I had begun to learn that from her. As the romance faded, we could not ignore that our respect for each other remained. My Bride is a bright, intensely caring, hardworking and intelligent woman, and there’s nothing that can mask that. For my part, she saw a struggling soul that is honestly trying to do the best he can, even as he stumbles. A friendship I’d never experienced before began to develop. We couldn’t hate each other, or become embittered, it just wouldn’t have made any sense. We talked about our marriage, about our life together, about what each of us needed to be happy. We saw each other at our most vulnerable. And as we did that, our trust in each other grew.
But you need love, and we didn’t have that anymore. Without it, my restlessness in a small town I’d moved to – in accommodation to The Knucklehead’s mom – grew. As I was increasingly unable to grow roots, My Bride’s roots pushed deeper for sustenance. We were both frustrated with ourselves, and with our inability to ease the stress of the other.
Last November, I finally popped the question. “Would it make things better if I wasn’t here?”
And in that instant, we both exhaled.
* * *
The stale air had blown out of our relationship. I mourned the loss of my wife. But did I regret sharing a life with this remarkable woman? Not for a second. I’m a better man because of My Bride. I’ve learned patience from her, and empathy. Maybe not at her level, but enough to be frustrated with myself when I fail. That’s no small thing – in time it’s something I’ll learn to anticipate.
And because we worked at our marriage – and then when we faced the inevitable, worked just as hard at our divorce – I have a friend and a counselor for life. No one knows me better than she. No one is prouder of me than she. No one gently challenges me like she. I’m sorry the marriage failed. But the relationship we forged from what love alone couldn’t provide is something we’ll have for the rest of our lives.
* * *
So tonight, still rooted in my old life, I look back through a few tears at My Bride. Tomorrow, I’ll wake in a new place and look forward to a future which will always include My Friend.