It’s incredible what a song can do. I was driving home tonight, emotions already welling up in me. Moving in with Mike is probably one of the most bittersweet things to happen in my life since Drew died. And I hate that.
I was over at my place picking up a few things, walking around outside for a moment in the quiet of the evening, and a great melancholy came over me. A sadness for this little house I am saying goodbye to, after hardly having much time to even be there. Knowing that it will be quite a while before I’ll have the chance to live in a space so full of countryside again. A lot of things. But none of those were the real reason behind this melancholy feeling. No, it was one thing in particular… or rather, one person.
I never got this far with Drew. We never made it to merging our stuff together and stressing about how to fit it all into one space. We never got to decide on paint colors together or who’s bed or pots or dishes to use.
As I drove to what will be my new home, with Mike and Shelby, there was a whisper in my mind to play a particular song. It was an old folk song that I heard one day on my way to the cemetery several years ago. One of those songs that stops you in your tracks. I played that song every single time I went to the cemetery for years after that… sometimes on repeat a dozen times or more. It hypnotized me, and it so fully matched what I felt inside. That hollow melancholy. As soon as the first notes hit my ears tonight, I was taken right back to the cemetery, during that first horrible year… at sunset, in the quiet of the Texas countryside…
“If I had wings, on these boot heels, I wouldn’t need these earthbound wheels.
I’d rise up over these frozen fields…”
I remember every visit there, crying over his grave, imagining him with wings on his old dusty western boots. Those boots he wore every day, that were somehow lost in the shuffle as we cleaned out his apartment I never shared with him. I still wonder what happened to those boots.
There was always a strange comfort to imagine him rising up over frozen fields… especially for his love of flight. It felt light, like a sweet freedom of some kind. I suppose it’s something I have always wanted to believe he feels. Something I do believe he feels. Light. Free from troubles. Happy, even if without me.
“Well there comes a time, there comes a tear, comes a day when the way is clear.
My will is weak, but my desire is severe…”
I remember those same moments over his grave, with my arm resting across the top of his headstone and my eyes glazed out over the countryside. It was a small, old cemetery, with a field of cattle softly grazing just on the other side of the dirt road. I would gaze out, hearing those words… “a day when the way is clear” and feel a knowingness within myself that I had to carry on. No matter what, I had to live this life and trudge through this grief and find my way back to myself and a beautiful life again… somehow.
“I know things, that I don’t want to know, I’ve got places in my heart I don’t want to go.
Let all my footprints be covered in the snow. I’m a one way rider…
I’m a one way rider, and I must keep moving.
I can’t turn back now, I’m a one way rider”
I suppose, without knowing it, that’s how I’ve identified myself my whole life. Since I was very young, there have been places in my heart I don’t want to go. And especially so after his death. Tonight, driving home, feeling the acute bitterness well up inside me about a life I’ll never know with him… those words fit perfectly.
In this life of loss, that’s exactly what we are. Riders, out there trying to survive the hardship of an unknown land. Trying to find our way, when we know there’s only one way to go, and it isn’t back. Sometimes… even in the midst of settling into a new kind of paradise, you can still find yourself wanting to turn back. Maybe even if just to tell that person about how far you traveled and what you’ve finally found on your journey. And also, because you wonder. You will always wonder, what that other life was going to be. The one you were barely beginning, that got cut so short.
As I came in the back door at Mike’s place, it was like stepping through a portal. I’d been at work all day, the house has been a disaster for weeks because of trying to move me in, and everything has been chaos. As I came in, I started to fall apart a little, and he gave me a hug and guided me into the dining room.
There before me was a fully clean, fully set table, with a huge pot of homemade chili, mac and cheese, my favorite beach-scented candle lit, and two little kiddos waiting patiently for me to get home to we could all have a nice dinner. (He had invited his nephew, Shelby’s cousin, to sleep over and go to the beach with us tomorrow, it turns out.) Together, these 3 spent all day running errands, cleaning up the entire house, and making a delicious dinner, so I didn’t have to do a thing when I got home and so that tomorrow we can enjoy the beach peacefully. My heart melted, and instantly, the bitter became so sweet.
It’s incredible how, in one singular second of life others can make us go from feeling like we’re making this ride through life alone, to having a whole entourage there with us. They didn’t even know, they could never have known, that tonight was just exactly the night I needed some extra kindness. I needed to be reminded of beauty of love that is right here.
As I wiped the tears away and sat down to stories and laughter, I just marveled at how beautiful all of it was. Yes, I will always wonder about that other life. I will always wish I could have lived it and seen where he and I went together. But I wouldn’t trade this life for anything, either. Sometimes it’s so beautiful it doesn’t feel real.
And maybe, I’ve seen some new things about this song tonight, too. Just because there’s only one way to go, doesn’t mean I’m going alone. I have friends and family who are all there for the ride. And maybe I don’t always have to ride so hard either. Sometimes, maybe it’s okay to move slow. To get off the saddle and walk a while. To take in all the amazing sights and sounds and people this journey brings to me.
Yes, I’m a one way rider. I will always look back from time to time, and I must keep moving.
About the Song:
If you’d like to hear it, here’s the acoustic version of One Way Rider I first heard. It was originally written by Rodney Crowell, and performed by Kevin Welch.