Dateline: Santa Fe, July 2018, on one of the best summer vacations this girl has ever had. Not counting Italy. But that was fall, not summer. Anyway….
The Night at the Plaza
The music was heard two blocks away as we walked toward the Plaza, so that gives you an idea of the volume once we got closer. We found a small patch of unoccupied ground, unfolded our lawn chairs, and sat down. The flyer classified the sound as Americana/Indie, and the people dancing were enjoying it as much as those of us who were just people-watching. The relentless heat had finally abated…or was it the ice cream the cooled us down? New Mexico’s Largest Free Music Festival seemed to draw a mostly local crowd enjoying a local band on an outdoor stage in a park. I was glad we came.
It was plenty loud, so my friends Patti, Josie, and Evelyn and I were not trying to make conversation but were communicating with our own kind of language: raised eyebrows, smiles, thumbs up or down, nods, and turns of the head as one character or another caught our attention. Like the chicken on a leash who had her toenails painted to match her human’s toenails. Or the lady in the shiny pink stiletto heels that were sinking at every step, making her stumble as walked across the grass. Or the kid climbing the tree next to the sign that read “Do Not Climb The Tree.”
Or the blonde woman in the long-sleeved black sweater (oh yes, and did I mention how warm it was?) and khaki pants. She walked across the Plaza directly to where I was sitting; I had no doubt that I was her target. I had no idea who she was or if I might recognize her from when I lived there a lifetime ago. Yeah… no clue.
“Do you … (something) … ?” she asked me.
Eyebrows up in response. “Excuse me?” I half shouted.
“Do you live here?” she repeated. “I hope so.” (Wait-what?? Did I hear that right?)
“No, sorry, I don’t. But can we help you with something?” I thought if I didn’t know where whatever she wanted was, my friends who were all locals could help.
How to Get Perspective, Maybe
Her next statement took me by surprise. “I hoped you did, because my husband I are thinking of moving here, and with your purple hair – which I love, by the way – I thought you must not be a conservative and we are trying to get away from them and so if you lived here, there must be other liberals here, too, and we might like it here.”
Wow. It was a loaded statement, to be sure; I gave her points for taking a risk. My next thought was, I don’t really have purple hair. I have a few streaks of colored hairspray, which happened to be pink that day, but … whatever. I wondered if she had too much to drink. I looked around for the invisible husband and caught Patti’s questioning look. I shrugged just enough that my new friend saw it.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You probably think I’m weird, and I’m not, but really, you just gave me so much hope.” She actually looked let down.
Hope? From (not) purple hair?!? I tried to encourage her with a smile, and she responded in kind.
In the next few minutes, she told me that she is 65 and her husband is 75. She just recently had a birthday and realized that if she divided her life into 5 year blocks, she has lived 13 blocks of time, and given her education, self-care, access to medical care, and current lifestyle, she expects she will live another 3 blocks, but her husband may only have 1 block of time left. So it’s important that they make some decisions before time runs out. Whew! And there was more.
They live in Arizona, have sold their places in Mexico and on Cape Cod, and are looking for the last place they will live. She is concerned that Scottsdale has become too conservative and she is fearful she no longer belongs there. (Ooh, belonging. I can relate!) She likes Santa Fe but wants to make sure that there are people like her here because she will undoubtedly end up alone when her husband dies. So he told her to go talk to some locals and find out what it was really like behind the glossy pages of the magazines. My purple (or pink) hair caught her attention.
I can’t fault the logic of talking to someone who might have a different perspective on the quality of life to be had there, but to pick someone in a park listening to a band because she has color in her hair, which must make her a liberal, seemed somewhat random (and maybe a bit desperate?) to me. I took her at her word, though, and engaged in the conversation. She seemed harmless enough. I’m glad I did; she turned out to be a fun person to talk with, albeit a little intense.
It wasn’t just about her. She again expressed genuine fear about not belonging wherever she was. I couldn’t be sure but I had the feeling she thought she might find herself alone sooner rather than later in regards to the husband. I shared that I was solowingnow and had been for over 3 years, and that I had moved around some in my career so I could relate to the right fit of a particular community. I told her that I just recently had a conversation of a similar vein with my daughter about my choice to stay living in Virginia after Kevin died. Renae was concerned that I was isolating myself and not being connected enough to her or my other kids and their families.
To the contrary, I stayed in part because I did feel like I was accepted there and belonged. My neighbors had made sure to include me, to seek me out, to check on me. In fact, I felt/feel more connected there in the short time I had been there than I had in the last five years I had lived in South Dakota. Plus, I needed time to just be me for once; not be someone’s mother or wife or any anything. To figure out who I am now and what I want out of the rest of my life. She gave me a hug and said she just knew I was the right person for her to talk with.
An interesting side note: I had also just started reading Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I highly recommend it. (Update: check her out on Netflix also.) Brown is a social scientist who has researched and written on experiences that bring meaning to our lives and how we need to belong to ourselves even when we want to be part of something else. She says early on in this book that “you will always belong anywhere you show up as yourself and talk about yourself and your work in a real way.” I recommended the book to her. And that night, I felt like I belonged there and that talking with this woman was a very natural thing to do. Of course, I didn’t have to defend myself to her; she was looking for a like-minded person, and she found one. Thanks to my purple (pink) hair, apparently.
We carried on our conversation above the music and somehow we heard each other. Probably because we were both curious about the other and were really listening hard. I felt like I made a difference to her, and that felt really good to me. I remembered also the good times in Santa Fe, not the disillusionment that ultimately led to my leaving…23 years ago. I found myself thinking that if I moved back here and if she moved here, we could be friends. Her name is Jean Marie, and maybe someday I’ll see her on the Plaza again. I’ll have to put more purple (or pink, as it really was last night) in my hair so she’ll recognize me.
Reflecting on Who I Am .. Was … Am …
I hadn’t thought much about the fact that my hair could say so much about me. Then again, I suppose the natural silver color alone is a statement about me; the purple color is just another dimension. I’m sure I send all kinds of messages by the way I dress, the people I hang with, the tattoo on my wrist, the smiles I give, the venues I show up at; why not the color of my hair? or skin? or height, or weight, or the accent in my voice? I wonder what she told her husband about me that I didn’t tell her. I think I had a tendency to dismiss all those factoids most of the time, but since this night, I have started to pay more attention. As Neale Donald Walsch has said in Conversations With God, “The only reason to do anything is as an expression of who you are.”
The story could stop here, but no. Ever since that night, I have had a running conversation with myself about living in Santa Fe again.
I went to a few open houses, talked with a realtor and saw a few more houses, and started actively considering a move. I mentally went into room in my house in Virginia to select what I would keep and what I would let go of. I wondered who would miss me if I left. That was the upside.
There was, though, a big downside. Never mind the money aspect; there is the ex-husband, and the marriage and the divorce, the leaving. Been there, done that, including a failed attempt at a reconciliation almost a year after the divorce. Could I go back? Could I make myself believe that the 23-year journey I’ve been on since then was all necessary for growth and pruning necessary for more growth? Could I dispose of, dispense with, dump, and discard my material possessions and convince myself that things don’t matter? Would I stay in a place of forgiveness or would I have to reopen and reexamine old wounds? Would I be able to accept a new standard of living? Would I like and accept the new person I am sure to become? Do I have it in me to dream big one more time, or will past unfulfilled dreams get in the way? Is this a true do-over, a chance … for what?
Fast Forward Almost a Year
Well…….I wrote that first part of this post last year when I spent seven weeks in Santa Fe. As you may know, I chose not to make the move then, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to still answer those same questions. And some new ones. A trip around the sun doesn’t guarantee all the answers.
For example, I am going to visit family in Minnesota for a high school graduation and a wedding celebration next month. It’s “home,” kinda, but it’s also not my home anymore. It’s a place to remind me of my roots but more and more when I go back, I need my own space. So I am taking my camper, which is another expression of who I am now, and instead of hanging out with at the homes of my sibs, I will have my own campsite at a lake, and they can come visit me if they want. They have jobs, and houses to maintain, and their own families and friends. I don’t want them to feel obligated to entertain me for weeks on end, and I don’t want to feel I have to be the gracious guest for weeks on end.
I want to see my old home through different eyes this time. Not because I am considering moving back (have you heard about the winters??); moreso because I am gratefully arriving at a place in my life where I can appreciate my past more, appreciate the environment and the people and the quirks, appreciate my own history, without clinging to it. I can enjoy the process of that reflection. I will have my own home, which is a kind of security in itself, a grounding that keeps me connected to who I am now, so I don’t fall unaware into who I maybe used to be when I was there.
I don’t necessarily mind that the old labels defined me, because there is a sense of belonging can’t be replicated any other way. But I also want to be the expression of who I am now. I used to be the girl who shared a blah blue bedroom with two beds and three younger sisters. Now I drove 2000 miles to get there, have pink polka-dotted curtains with fringe on the bottom that I made myself, in a camper I named Saffianna with a beaded chandelier and an antique quilt, and an ironing board repurposed as a table. I have a tattoo, drive a pickup truck, walk three dogs (one of which is blind and deaf), and I have purple or pink or silver hair, depending on my mood that day. You could say that someone who likes antiques, drives a pickup truck, has a dog, and knows what an ironing board is could be a conservative traditionalist. I say it’s kinda hard to be accurate about who I am if you don’t really know me.
Free at Last!
It’s only been in the last year that I even experimented with purple or pink hair spray. That is one of the facets among the multitude of changes I have made since I found myself a widow. I might have gotten here eventually anyway, but widowhood has gifted me time to discover a sense of freedom and a confidence simply from having survived it.
At best, you can say I am still evolving. Gingerly. Happily. Curiously.