Last year, Mark and I split the time up, he and Andrew heading to our Kansas pasture land to work on musk thistles....Ben and I headed to Kentucky to check on my mom and extended family. It was necessary, we had responsibilities in two states, but miserable to be apart. We swore never to do that again. And we didn't, as long as he was alive.
But for this Spring Break, I took our two sons, loaded up our Jeep, and headed to Kentucky in the most torrential rain I've ever driven in last Sunday. It rained, literally, on us for 12 hours...from the time we left our driveway, until the time we pulled into my mom's. I was thankful for many things, but mostly for the 4WD available on our vehicle. I engaged it in East Texas, never missed a beat driving in rain so heavy at times that I could not see a car length ahead of me. I didn't take it off until arriving safely in Mayfield, KY.
I could write a half dozen blog entries about my trip. I may, before all is said and done. I had been doing so well here, riding out the latest wave of peace and solitude---I didn't think it would be that hard to be in Kentucky without Mark. I was wrong. Everywhere I turned, everywhere I looked, I was bombarded with reminders. Reminders of our dating days. Of how early spring in Western Kentucky is so very beautiful, remembering how wonderfully in love two young biology graduate students were in 1987 and 1988.
I had to deal with greeting friends and family who hadn't seen me since becoming a widow. It ripped the scab clean off the wound I thought was healing so well. I cried. A lot. At the most inopportune and crazy times.
Precious time was spent with my mom, brother, sister in law, and two nieces. It's tough on them all, they all loved Mark, too. The littlest one, almost 8, still can't talk about him. He spent time with her, sitting with her, being interested and involved in her endeavors. He had a way of making you feel you were the only person in the world, whether you were his wife, his sons, his nieces, or his friend.
Looking for a distraction, I took the boys to our old cinema to see "John Carter" on family night, where admission was only $5 a head; thinking the place would be packed, I was disappointed to see that we were 3 of only 4 people in the entire theater. The place looked totally different than how I remembered it. Why is it that as an adult, when you visit places you regularly went to as a kid, everything looks smaller?
As the theater lights dimmed, the three of us were stunned to see an American flag on screen, with the Star Spangled Banner playing. The native behind us stood up, placing her hand over her heart. We followed suit, and I sang the words out boldly, in the darkness of the empty theater. As it ended, A.J. commented, "Well, that was awkward." But it is a tradition at that particular cinema, before each show. Gotta love small towns, right?
The movie was spectacular. It made me sob like a baby on the way home. John Carter, the hero, is a soldier who loses his wife and child in a fire while he is away at war. He finds them, buries them, and wears two wedding rings on his hand (just as I did for months after losing Mark). I don't want to ruin the plot for those of you who may go and see it, but after several years, he finds true love again, albeit on Mars. He removes those rings and moves forward with his life. This is why I cried. It was embarrassing. In the darkness, travelling on a road that I've ridden on and driven thousands of times, I cried so hard I could not speak. The boys, in the backseat, reached forward, comforting me.
I thought I had it all together. I thought I was 'enough.' I keep putting one foot in front of the other, but deep down, I wonder if I will ever feel whole again. My boys look to me to be the glue that holds us together, their shelter in a storm. I know that without God, I am nothing.
I feel overwhelmed. I have pasture land in Kansas that I need to walk, looking for musk thistles. I have taxes to file. I have decisions that have to be made. Where is home? Where will be home for us in the future?
For the first time since leaving my parents' home in Kentucky, I realize with 100% certainty that my home is not there. It is not in Kentucky. I found myself yearning for Wichita Falls, for my home, my dog and cat, my friends, my warm comfy bed.
But what about Kansas? It's where Mark wanted us to be. It's where our sons' heritage is. They are the only representatives of the next generation of Howells, for land that's been in this family for over 100 years. It is the land he loved. And, since I loved him so much, I love it, too. His mom's moved from the homeplace into a duplex in town. What will become of the farm? It worries me. I cannot take care of two homes in two states.
All of these questions and possible scenarios play through my head, and this past week, it has ruled my life. I pray for wisdom and discernment as the situations work themselves out. I'm at a loss; God will be very busy helping me in the days, weeks, and months to come.
This I do know for sure....Wichita Falls Texas never looked as good to me as it did last evening, right around 5:30 p.m. As we rounded Henry Grace Freeway and started the westward trek on Southwest Parkway, heading toward the Howell Four Sixes Ranch, all three of us perked up just a little. This, friends, is our home for now.
And as far as the future goes? Well, I just have to borrow the old line from the gospel song:
"Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand. But I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand."
Whatever God's plan is for me, for my sons, I will be open and willing to follow through. I want nothing more than to feel whole again, and move forward with great expectations. Life is short and I am ready to live.