I bought a car this week.
It’s funny because it brought a lot of things to mind. Years ago – back when my life was very dark, and hopeless and felt eternally bleak – I made a list. I can’t find it now, but I remember fairly clearly what was on it. I remember where I was when I wrote it. I remember what motivated me to put my dreams on paper.
I’d thought that I had direction. I thought I’d found a partner to struggle through life with, and together we would accomplish things. I’d made moves (both literally and figuratively) to advance our lives. And then — suddenly and without a lot of warning — everything crashed down around me. My life as I’d known it, as I’d planned it, ceased to be. And I was left, alone, with massive amounts of debt — no direction, no partner, no life plan. Everything gone.
I moved back in with my parents at the age of 28 — something I’d vowed I would never do. I went back to waitressing after struggling so hard to get out. I spent more time than anyone should ever spend on the phone with my credit card providers, the landlord of my abandoned apartment in Chicago — groveling and apologizing and feeling more vulnerable and less valuable than anything I could articulate. Because that’s something that we all turn a blind eye to — the unquantifiable things. The shame and the humiliation — the feelings of defeat, of loss. Of failure. The fact that when you make such a huge error — and you don’t see it at first — you lose all faith in yourself. You don’t trust anything you feel, and it’s confusing and disorienting. And indescribably sad.
Back then, as I scratched and clawed my way out of the despair, I made a list. I wanted something solid to refer back to, to reference when I again began to lose my way. It wasn’t a long list, and it didn’t have much focus. Except that it defined the life I hoped to live one day. It motivated me to put money in savings every week, and open an IRA. It made sacrificing on spending easier because there was an end goal.
I wanted to get certified as a paralegal. I looked into courses at West Chester University. I ended up taking my LSATs and applying to law school. I got in, I got wait-listed, I got denied. I was offered a partial scholarship. I didn’t go. Instead I took a risk on my boss and his restaurant company. And that’s where I’m at now — six years in, running a growing business. Three restaurants open, two in development — more on the way. But I’m not a waitress anymore. Thank God for that.
I wanted to own a townhouse. I have always had a love for townhomes — I don’t know why. I just think they are divine. And I had this strange, dream-like vision of being a successful career woman living in a neat townhouse. I lived with my parents for a little over a year. And then John and I moved into a one bedroom apartment on the first floor of our landlord’s house. We struggled to pay rent for about six months. We could barely buy groceries. And we lived there for six years. And our landlords became our friends. And then, last summer, we bought a townhouse. A brand new, we-picked-everything-in-it-townhouse. And I come home at night, after an hour commute on the train, after running a business all day — to my perfect townhouse.
I wanted a dog. A real dog, a dog who went running with me and curled up on the couch. And in the first few days of 2012, John and I brought home Lucy. And until the MS, she went running with me every day. And when she’s feeling very generous, she curls up on the couch with her dad & me. And she is utter, complete, ridiculous perfection. She is my protector, and my child. She is a diva and a love bug. She is everything rolled into one. I don’t know how John and I existed without her.
I wanted to drive a Mini Cooper. And I did. I drove a black and gold Mini Cooper named Rooney, which I bought for my 30th birthday. And I owned a red and white Mini Cooper named Junebug. And she was beautiful.
There were other things on the list — things I haven’t done yet. I haven’t learned to speak Spanish. And I haven’t published anything. And I haven’t recorded a song. I might never do those things. But dreams are just that — dreams. And they keep me motivated when the going gets tough.
I haven’t achieved all the physical things I dreamed of, either — MS is a bitch like that. But i ran Broad Street before I was diagnosed, and nothing can ever take that away. And I feel blessed that I did it — even though I’ll never run a half marathon, or compete in a triathlon. Or climb mountain peaks like my brother. Or do a myriad of other things.
But back to the car that I bought this week.
John and I bought a Range Rover. Even typing that feels absurd and makes me giggle. I mean — do normal people buy Range Rovers? Six years ago we were eating dinners made of discount pasta (yes, discount pasta – something already absurdly inexpensive) and shaking under the blankets rather than turning the heat on.
It’s sort of insane. No — it actually is insane. Life is not easy — I promise you, most people can attest to that. Life does not cut you breaks, or help you out when you’re having a bad day. Life is brutal and unforgiving and relentless. Life tosses MS into the mix right when you think you’re getting on your feet. Life is like that.
And yet, despite all that — despite all the things that seemed to forever be going wrong — somehow John and I have ended up here. And it isn’t by chance. It is because of hard work, and sacrifice, and making choices. It’s because when things got hard, we held onto each other and buckled down.
I feel really proud of us. And when we bought the Range Rover — whom I have named Hazel despite all the raised eyebrows — it felt like the ultimate validation of our hard work. Not only were we able to buy a house, and furnish it (woof! that’s a tall order when you go from a one bedroom apartment to a three-story townhouse) but we turned around and bought a very nice SUV.
I met John the day before my birthday. He walked in the front doors of the restaurant he managed — a restaurant I’d waited tables at — and I knew. I don’t know what I knew — I just knew more than anything, that there was something about him. I was still wrapped up in another thing but John filled my head. His smile and how genuine he was, the blue of his shirt and the twinkle in his eyes. I think we both knew that God had sent us to each other (with Jennie’s help, of course) and six months later, when circumstances were better, we fell into each other. I was a broken mess, and he scooped me up with his strong, gentle hands, and he helped to heal me. He helped me find my faith again.
Our journey hasn’t been easy. On so many levels. It makes me laugh, to be honest.
But even when things have been excruciating, I have never doubted for a moment that he was there, my strength and my soul and my heartbeat. And as we’ve struggled and succeeded, and struggled again, I’ve found peace within myself. I’ve laid so many demons to rest.
So when we bought that car this week — that absurd, luxurious, beautiful car — it reminded me of the journey. It reminded me of the list, and the dreams that all felt so unattainable. And maybe we crash again. Maybe things get hard again. But they aren’t hard right now. And I know that no matter what, I have John by my side, holding my hand, making me laugh, wiping away my tears. And the gratitude for all of it — for the shitty noodles and the freezing cold nights and the sacrifices — as well as the blessings of Lucy, and our home and our groceries …. Well, all of it is so crystal clear and near the surface of my conscience that I am drowning in love and thankfulness.