An entire year

It’s October. We made it an entire year. So much has changed.

We are back in Northern Virginia. We moved in June, just after Sean finished first grade. Actually, we moved earlier in the spring within Santa Clara from the tall and awkward townhouse to a tiny and adorable mid-century modern bungalow. We unpacked everything, sat in the lovely home, visited with the neighbors, walked to the local park, and cried and cried and cried. California had become miserable for us. I like to say that it chewed us up and spit us out, but even that tired metaphor just doesn’t encompass the complexities of how difficult life had become for us in Silicon Valley. We tried so hard to find peace in that space and in that place, but we both knew that our hearts just weren’t in it. So we moved home.

It’s odd to say “home,” especially for Patrick and I. We’re nomads, self-professed. Before we had kids, when we were living relatively unrooted lives, we used to boast about the global citizens our children would become. We became itchy footed again in Minnesota after fleeing New York. But moving to Virginia was like a perfect fit. We found a home, a community, a climate, a space that gradually grew into someplace that we didn’t want to leave. My sage brother said to me, as I called him confessing homesickness and a desire to move back east this past winter, “Your roots are stronger than you realized.” Every single person we told in CA, from our dearest friends, to our school acquaintances, said, “Go home. Be well. Be loved. Be where you are happy.”

Two years ago, Sean and I stood in that lovely little house in Vienna moments after the movers had driven away with all of our worldly belongings on the truck, cross-country bound. Patrick was already in California starting at Apple, and Wyatt was cuddled in his carseat, only a few weeks old. Sean and I clapped our hands like the little girls in Our Neighbor Totoro and thanked the house for being a beautiful home. It wasn’t nearly as cheerful or peaceful as they do it in the movie – we collapsed in each others arms and sobbed and sobbed, snot covered and grief stricken. Sean has always been a sensitive soul, and postpartum was never a time of great stoicism for me. Everything had changed – a new baby, a new job, a life across the country. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but we figured if anyone could do it, it was us. We nomadic Dwyers of great fortitude. We’d get through it and thrive no matter how hard life became, right?

Initially, California cheered us greatly. We met lovely folks and gradually built a network of old friends and new. We explored the wonders of Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Monterey, Marin and beyond to the redwoods, ocean, desert and bay. But we were wearing rather thin with a exceptionally difficult infancy with Wyatt and with problems with the public schools in the area and feeling isolated amidst it all. We nestled our children close and tried to reconnect with our loved ones who supported and cared for us, but they were so far away, across the country, back in Virginia. We dreamed of being happy and independent adults again and tried and tried to even out our lives with positivity and exploration, looking to the kids for lessons on mindfulness and presence. We almost got there.

Then Patrick was hit, and the bottom fell out.

The past year has been an exercise in rebuilding everything. Recovery encompasses every part of life for everyone involved, even our kids. Especially the kids. Patrick is still recovering, but we are dramatically closer to reaching that precipice where his definition of self becomes less dependent upon his accident and more dependent upon his rebuilt sense of who he has become. His strengths, rather than his weaknesses.

Patrick’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. He’s started a new job in Virginia, and as devastated as we were to leave Apple, he is excited and challenged and surrounded by interesting and supportive people and work. Every morning he gets up with the dawn and goes running on the bike path and in the woods, with the deer and the quiet. His happy place, where he centers himself each day to face the inevitable pain and fatigue that continue to follow him. He does his PT exercises and yoga on the porch to cool down before the household stirs. He ran his very first race a few weeks ago – a 5k, at an extraordinary pace. The first of many to come. He has yet to get back on the bike, but it will come.

We’re slowly reintegrating into our community, with love and support from grandparents, siblings, cousins and friends. Sean has started school back in Vienna at the school he would have gone to a few years ago, had we not moved. He’s making friends, singing silly songs at the top of his lungs in the cafeteria at lunch, showing off his gnarly blood blisters from the playground monkey bars, and always sneaking back to play goalie during his soccer games. Wyatt starts preschool in a month at a sweet, peaceful school. Those poor folks aren’t going to know what hit them: Wyatt the riot, who is never quiet, the life of the party, precocious and persistent, confident and curious.

I’ve started writing and reading again, slowly. I’m only just now starting to see writing as less of a cathartic therapeutic process for dealing with the intensity and emotionalism of these past few years, and more of a part of who I would like to become. Many things had to line up in my life to help me see my way back to personal investment and self-care, and they’re slowly coming into focus and alignment: moving past the high demand infant/toddler years, night weaning the toddler, getting more rest, finalizing insurance and settlement details, getting the kids into school, daydreaming, reading, resting, recovering. There was no way I could justify writing fiction for fun during this past year. The only functioning brain cells that I had were dedicated to making sure that everyone in the house was wearing pants, that everyone in the house had decent food to eat, and that everyone in the house knew they were loved, every day. I actually picked up a book this week during one of Wyatt’s brief naps. I sat in a chair that has only ever been used as structural support for little boy forts, or as a command center for little boy battles, and I claimed that chair in the name of a good book, a cup of tea, a warm splash of sunshine, a blanket on my toes. It was utterly liberating and glorious. I’m even going to try to attend a writers convention this weekend to help reinvigorate my desire to put pen to paper and continue the momentum that I had going a few years ago. What luxury. Time for ME.

As of this past week we officially concluded all legal and insurance matters relating to Patrick’s accident. I don’t have any official plans to share how the negotiations went and what the outcome was, but if you have questions, please let me know and I’ll be happy to fill you in. We reached out to the person who hit Patrick after the conclusion of the legal issues and have exchanged emails with him. I think I can say that both Patrick and I have made our personal peace with this man, but we wanted to reach out to him because he expressed a great deal of confusion through his lawyer of being unaware of what had happened to Patrick after the accident. His email back to us was so sad, so genuine and compassionate. It’s a flippant thing to say, but true: Patrick couldn’t have been hit by a nicer guy. This is not a man who tried to drive away, or pass off responsibility. He stopped, he stayed, he admitted fault and he has lived with grief and fear and anxiety over his actions for the entire year. One of his strongest memories of the accident is hearing Patrick’s voice, seconds before he hit him, yelling “What the fuck are you…?” Patrick didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence before the impact, but I’ve heard the audio on the recording. I heard that voice, what he said, how he said it – a tone that I have never heard out of Patrick before. As compassionate and accepting as I am about the accident, how a moment of inattention can happen to any of us, I think it’s a VERY GOOD THING that this man drive for the rest of his life with Patrick’s fury and disbelief and VOICE, that voice you never want to hear, in his mind. But it’s done. Over. One of the last pieces of this horrific year that can get put in a box in the basement and locked away for a very long time.

Fall has arrived slowly in Virginia. This week has given us hot apple cider, warm hats and gloves on our walks to school in the mornings, breezy and crisp evenings, creamy pumpkin ales, and the crinkle of leaves underfoot. It’s my favorite season, Patrick’s too. And we’re slowly convincing the boys that Autumn brings beautiful things, and not just cold viruses and cold toes. Cuddling on the couch together in the morning with a good book, hot chocolate after an afternoon of laughter that you can see fogging the air, Dad’s birthday, Thanksgiving with family, warm meals with friends.

We made it. We survived a whole year. We came home. Imagine what we can do this next year.

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