Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Return

Things you did. Things you never did. Things you dreamed. After a long time they run together. -- Richard Ford

I confess that I have avoided visiting DC at all costs since 1999, otherwise known as The Big Collapse. That, of course, took place on Aug. 28 to be precise, the day after my newsroom colleagues threw a wonderful going-away party for me, complete with a faux yet highly credible front page announcing my move to just outside the Beltway. I recall the weather forecast in the corner: DC: Sunny and bright; Allentown: Cloudy and dark. On the morning of Aug. 28, after the party and post-party at Cannon's, you awoke crying, saying you were afraid to marry, afraid to be responsible, afraid of a house with a picket fence, afraid to pluck me from my home and move me, afraid that becoming a foreign correspondent would never materialize when I wanted to plant roots.

It was also the morning of my bridal shower, six weeks shy of our nuptials. The wedding invitations sat stamped, ready to go. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), they would never to be sent.

And so the plans to relocate my child and my career 200 miles south stopped. Immediately. Dead in their tracks.

I returned the 1.18-carat set in platinum. I told my bridesmaids that I was sorry. I ended up in counseling to cure myself of self-pity, only to be told it would take a long time to work you out of my system. I tried. But then you changed your mind. Again. And again. And again.

Finally, I quit you.

That counselor earned her money, for it took me years.

I vowed to never return to DC or Fairfax County where we once shopped for overpriced townhouses. I did break that promise briefly when I decided to run the National Marathon in early 2008. Somehow I managed to get through the race without much thought of you, perhaps because my focus remained on my race. It also remained on a man who wasn't afraid of shaky ground, someone who knew that you remained an emotional virus and accepted that you remained omnipresent.

But whenever the idea of returning to DC without a strong purpose arose, I felt anxiety biting my ankles.

Well, business recently harked, and so we headed south again as part of a multi-purpose journey. The first leg: National Harbor, just across the river. Part of me needed to prove to myself that I could return there as a different woman, not the broken one, and certainly not the one who stood by your side when you received the call, drank the champagne, raised your fist in the air and earned bragging rights to say that you won a Pulitzer Prize.

Today, I am a changed woman, an appreciative one who knows that the time we shared was, indeed, a gift. You helped me become a stronger person, a better writer, a soul who tries to live without regrets as you always extolled.

And so I drove my girls through the city, and as always, traffic was a bear. I always feared the move anyway, knowing that I grow antsy in gridlock. As I cruised around the Jefferson Memorial, I thought of the hours that I sat in my Isuzu Trooper on 495 every Friday night to make the 3-hour trek. This time, however, I maneuvered through the bottleneck jams with ease, without anxiety.

Here's proof, as one of my girls took pictures as part of my drive-by tour of the monuments:

The three of us walked through the Museum of Natural History which became so familiar to you and me; but now my girls and I negotiated the crowds and marveled at the same carcasses from a decade ago. Of course, I thought of you---and there were no regrets.

The following week, after a long trek in other states, I pushed the pedal as I drove along Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge through the Shenandoah. I reflected how you needed to find yourself, and it included this same drive on your way to self-discovery.

It took you a while, but you eventually did find yourself---elsewhere.

Without me. Without us. Without the white picket fence. Now, you share that with someone else.

And that, my friend, is fine. Truth be told, I have avoided any possible chance of bumping into you, bumping into awkward moments and memories that I always thought were best untouched, buried beneath a sea of time.

But after this trek, I realize that to avoid you is to avoid a signficant part of my life. It is a chapter that largely defines who I am today. And for that, I thank you.

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