Five years ago we left San Diego for Nashville. Jim and I packed up both our cars and drove across the country making time to see the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe. He in his ruby red Hyundai Sonata, and me in my white Chrysler 200. It was an enjoyable trip. We could talk to each other by phone (hands free via Bluetooth capabilities) and we could choose our own soundtracks. I don’t believe Jim would have liked listening to my Joni Mitchell catalog again and again. He usually drove behind me and would call when he thought I was driving too fast. For the most part the road conditions were good and the weather not bad, but we did hit a spot of trouble in New Mexico.
We were heading to Santa Fe for the night and stopped in Albuquerque for dinner. It was late – about 8:00. We had miscalculated our drive time and forgot we would lose an hour because of the time change. Now the goal simply was to get to Albuquerque before dark. It had been raining heavy off and on. As evening and eventually night was coming, the drive became stressful.
The sun was down and the city was turning on its lights as we approached. We navigated our way to some restaurant and were thankful for the time to sit together and catch our breath. It started to storm with thunder and lightning. The stretch of highway leading to Santa Fe was under construction. Lanes were blocked and lined with orange cones. The speed of traffic wasn’t deterred by this or by the volume of vehicles. The rain came hard and fast. I could barely see a few feet in front of my car. I drove hunched over the steering wheel getting as close to the windshield as possible. I was thinking, Surely this is not how I’m going to die. Jim called to encourage me and asked how I was. He probably was thinking the same things and that this might be the last time we’d speak to each other. His concern distracted me and intensified my emotions. I told him I had to get off the phone. Cars were zipping past and switching lanes constantly. Trucks were making tidal wave splashes. I was trying to stay as close as I could to the vehicle in front of me because I couldn’t see the lanes. Yet, I didn’t want to get too close in case they suddenly put on their breaks. It was insane. I got mad. If I were going to go down in this mess then I’d go down fighting. It was me against them. I aggressively took charge. About and hour and half later we pulled into the hotel parking lot. The rain had not let up one bit.
The minute I shut off the engine all my adrenaline turned to tears. Jim was standing in the rain knocking on my window. I opened it and he was talking but not a word he said registered. Then he left. When he returned we grabbed suitcases and went to a door at the back of the hotel. Standing in the rain looking at the door he asked for the key. What key? I didn’t know. Oh? This is what he had been talking about at the car while apparently handing me the room key. A few minutes later and after becoming thoroughly soaked we found it. It was the worse night of our travels. Oh, but the morning how glorious it was, blue skies and small – distant – white clouds. Santa Fe was beautiful and worth the storm getting to it.
Part of the reason for our late arrival to Santa Fe was because we stopped at the Grand Canyon. Jim was not up for walking so he stayed at the Visitor Center while I walked the rim. I had to time myself because we were on a tight schedule. Fifteen minutes down the path and then turn around. A half hour at the Grand Canyon was all I got. I could’ve stayed a month. At least now I can say I’ve been there. I can also say I’ve been to Winslow Arizona while listening to the Eagle’s Take it Easy and to Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, New Mexico where I had a piece of lemon merengue pie.
Two days later we were in Little Rock, Arkansas. When we stopped for the night I heard loud buzzing all around me. I thought we were near a factory or something. Later I learned it was the sound of cicadas. I’ve come to love the sound of cicadas. From Little Rock we were only 5 ½ hours from our destination. We crossed the Mississippi river and went through Memphis without stopping. It was dark and dismal and I couldn’t see much of the city. I noted to myself that we needed to return so I could go to Graceland. That evening we pulled into Nolensville, Tennessee, and arrived at the home of our dear friends.
The ancient philosopher who taught that the only constant is change may have been on to something. Seems to be true of my life. Change is what I know best, good or bad. It’s what I’ve adapted to and tried to make the most of. Jim taught me a lot about finding the adventure in it. Adventure became change. Change became adventure.
Change forces choice and decision. People either admired us for or were perplexed by our choices. Some thought it was an adventuresome spirit. Others didn’t know what to think. I confess some of our choices were not good. They in fact were selfish. That realization gave way to caution and carefulness. Therefore the decision to leave San Diego was not an easy one.
We lost our home in San Diego in the financial crisis of 2008. We had to move, but where? We spent time with Jim’s family in North Carolina and Virginia thinking maybe we’d move out that way. Our time there was priceless. I still consider Henderson and Charlottesville homes away from home. But, instead of moving out of state we decided to move down the hill.
We found a quaint apartment complex that was built in the 70s in a Spanish architectural design. All the apartments surrounded a courtyard. The entry from the street had two carved doors with terra cotta flooring. We were one block away from the village area of La Mesa. Whenever the city had an event – and there were lots – we could walk to it, not worrying about parking. A few of our favorite restaurants were nearby and it was nice to take a walk in the evening to grab dinner. I could walk to the neighborhood grocery store or farmer’s market for fresh produce. Cooking was a challenge in the one-butt kitchen. I would have to place a large cutting board alternatively over the sink and stove to create a workspace. The living room had a large fireplace, lovely to look at but not safe to use. The plumbing in the shower and tub leaked into the walls causing tiles to pop off. One day I was trapped in the bathroom unable to open the pocket door because the wall had swelled. At Christmas we took over the courtyard for a party and invited our friends and all the neighbors. We put up lights and brought in a fire pit and played music and drank glogg. We were making a go of it – a new beginning, a new adventure.
Less than two years at the apartment Jim’s job ended forcing another change on us, which led to the decision to move to Nashville. We had friends there who told us, Just get here. There were jobs to be had and places to live. They were right. It was as if we came to the Promise Land. Jim found work and eventually one of his best jobs. I found work and several odd jobs. We found a lovely townhouse to rent- in another village, Lenox Village. We lived close enough to Jim’s family in North Carolina and Virginia to visit them often. We didn’t have to miss out on their birthdays, weddings or holiday gatherings. We were ready to make Nashville a more permanent stay and buy a home when Jim went into the hospital.
It’s easy to think you’ve figured things out when you look back. You know, hindsight being 20/20. I’ve been reflecting lately on my five years in Nashville. I may have figured out a few things. Jim lived here 15 ½ months. His last 15 ½ months. I’ve lived here three times longer. This was another new beginning for us and even more so for me. One of the biggest changes of my life occurred here, a change so big there were days I wasn’t sure I would survive it.
More changes happened – hardships came along. When Jim was around we’d turn the hard times into adventures. God in His infinite graciousness kept me going. As I look back on my time here I see most of it was about adapting to my new normal as a widow, and beyond that, trying to identify my new role and purpose. It was easy to know those things when I was raising kids and being a wife. I always had those roles as a foundation. But what now? Talk about an empty nester.
When we came to Nashville we left our things in storage. It was kind of sad leaving my home crammed into a 10 x 10 concrete and metal unit for who knew how long. It took awhile for our new home to come together. We started with boxes for end tables and eating our meals on the sofa. I would pick up random décor items at yard sales. Eventually we had enough furniture and real tables to have guests over. After Jim passed away, I was able to have my stored-home shipped to Nashville. Our daughter, Alise was living with me at the time. It was cold and snowing when the truck arrived. It was like Christmas. We unpacked and sorted and reminisced. My life with Jim – felt in those memories was like an all-encompassing cathartic hug. I built my nest again and for three years, objects of love and comfort surrounded me while I grieved the loss of my soul mate.
Change has come around again. I’m back with my dear friends where Jim and I arrived five years ago. My home is packed away in a storage unit a few miles up the road. I have been pondering and praying what these changes mean and what is the adventure here. For nearly a year I’ve had thoughts about moving back to San Diego. I had made the decision to do so and then changed my mind. It’s not an easy decision to make. I still struggle with where I should be, but I focus more on where I’d like to be. It doesn’t bother me to have my home packed away. I don’t feel like being in a nest. It’s probably time to fly.
After much prayer, reflection, and many conversations, I’m convinced it’s time for me to return to San Diego. I don’t know for how long or for what purpose. I don’t even know yet where I’ll be living. But I do know this, there’s an adventure waiting for me. And, on the way to it, I’m going to tour Graceland and take a helicopter ride through the Grand Canyon.