I’ve been making friends. This is something new for me, something I haven’t really done in years. The majority of my long standing friendship are still intact but they all live about 20 minutes away (or a lot further). Not insurmountable by any means, but not always easy to make work either. In the past I had Christine to keep me company, now I sometimes feel like I’m alone on a island.
So I’ve been going out and talking to people. It’s not very comfortable, and I’m not very good at it, but it’s getting easier and I finally know a few locals.
Last Saturday I went out with one of these people to hunt down a Christmas tree and it turned into a full day. We met around 10:30 for breakfast and left to find a U-Cut farm that is still open in the Great Christmas Tree Shortage of 2018. After a couple misses we found one. The old guy running the place informed us it was the only U-cut open for dozens of miles so we got to work.
It was pretty bleak, having been harvested heavily in previous weeks, but after hunting around a bit we found a nice one and murdered it.
The person I was hanging out with decided she wanted to check on another farm her friend worked at just down the road. When we got there it was open and she was incensed, but upon further inspection we found there were only pre-cut trees available. We got some cider and left.
I thought that was it for the day and we’d go our separate ways but she grew up in the area and offered to take me on a tour. We visited an old mining town now owned by a single person who resides in what used to be the local school. We explored a couple abandoned houses, one of them housing a rat as big as a raccoon. Then it was off to a bar I never knew existed and a drive to the top of a mountain.
We drove through country roads, under the canopy of huge trees. In between each unscheduled stop our conversation drifted. She talked about growing up in the area, how different it used to be before the Microsofts and Amazons grew Seattle to the breaking point, forcing up real estate, causing people to move to what had once been rural areas. I learned about her upbringing and her family life.
She told me about the people that have come and gone from her life. I named them strays and included myself in that number.
Her: Yeah, but you’re the normal one.
I was taken aback. Me? The guy who has spent the last several months falling apart? How could I be the normal one?
Me: That’s because you haven’t been around for my breakdowns.
Her: That’s what normal people do. They have breakdowns away from everyone else.
Me: I used to feel normal. I don’t anymore.
Her: All the stuff you’re going through is normal. You’re feeling the same things anyone would who went through the things you’re going through. You’re normal.
I dropped it.
We had a few more stops including hiking a trail in the dark along a ravine before we finally reached a waterfall we couldn’t see because it was pitch black by the time we arrived. She took me to a scarf party and then we found a cover band that wasn’t terrible. Finally it was back to the place we started our day for a nightcap before parting ways. In the most platonic way possible. Settle down, I’m still on the no dating train.
It was a fun day.
When I got home I thought about what she said, about me being normal.
Wait, that’s a lie. When I got home I had a double Jameson and passed out.
The next morning was when I did my thinking. Normal.
I’ll admit to being a little bit upset by the tag at first, especially because I feel so incredibly abnormal right now. And I am. I’m not the person I was. I never will be again. So in that sense I’m not ‘normal’.
But that’s my normal, or it used to be (and for the love of God don’t you dare think or say ‘you’re finding your new normal’. I hate that one).
Now I’m learning to live in a post-love era. It’s different. It’s awful. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I think back a few years ago when we were broke and times were hard. How awful I thought life was, how difficult. But I always had her. I wish I could find 2011 Ben and shake him, scream at him ‘enjoy every second, you idiot’.
But that reaction and all the feeling and pain and heartache and tears, it’s normal to feel that way when faced with traumatic loss. I think I lost that somewhere. Or just never thought about it. While this is terrible, absolutely horrible, there are countless people who came before me that felt exactly the same way.
There’s something comforting in that. I’m not sure how else to say it. It’s comforting that as lonely as I feel, I’m not alone in my response to grief.