Yesterday afternoon with the sun shining and a very still, windless, warm air temperature, I took a walk along the beautiful bike path in my town. The trail was created while we were living in Connecticut and renting out our house, and we have the wonderful fortune of having the path run essentially across the street from our front yard. After leaving our front door, I can be up on the bike path in less than one minute.
I’m usually busy with work and tired by the afternoon, so I don’t tend to go out as much as I do during the morning hours, but after completing a big work assignment yesterday, I needed a little air and wanted to soak up some of the sun and mild weather. My ankle was really bothering me, so I decided that just a short little walk on the bike path would hit my objective of being outside for a brief break without compromising my ankle function too much. The last thing I want to do is increase the pain before bed; it’s already so difficult to quiet the throbbing enough to fall asleep.
As I plodded along at a sightseer’s walking pace, I had ample time to appreciate my surroundings. Although I’m on the bike path nearly every day that it’s free of snow or ice, I’m usually moving too quickly or my mind is otherwise wrapped up in occupying thoughts or worries. As I result, I miss the little charms along the urban path. It’s not like the section by our house meanders through beautiful woodlands because we live in the center of town (though further down the trail there are more picturesque vistas of farmlands, streams, and wooded areas), yet there is still beauty, if in a less obvious way, of this more urban stretch of trail. I noted how some fresh green grass is now sprouting through the layers of browned, lifeless winter grass. There were pretty red and orange bittersweet berries wrapping around the bare tree limbs, sweet songs of cheerful birds conversing with one another in melodic dialogues, and the pleasant smell of damp earth. All this was possible to absorb by crawling along at a laughably lazy pace.
What particularly rallied my spirits was looking down at our house from the trail, which sits well above the level of our home by maybe three stories. Though, of course, I see my house every day (both at street level and from the path above), I don’t truly look at it. Frankly, I’m usually in a rush to get in, in the dark pre-dawn hours, carrying things and just trying to get in, or lost in my own head. Therefore, while I “see” the house, it’s on somewhat of a subconscious level or in an unfocused way. I don’t really pay attention or appreciate what I’m looking at. Our house is old, built in 1850, and quite honestly, somewhat shows its age since we lack the resources to fix it. It’s not what I think anyone would call a “pretty house,” a “nice looking house,” an “impressive house” or earn any other positive superlative or characterization. Qualities like “shabby,” “odd looking,” or “decrepit” are more apt and likely muttered under the breaths of passersby who zoom down our street and turn around at the end, not realizing the road is a dead end. Even Ben and I, as proud homeowners, can still objectively evaluate our old house at face value and recognize its sub-par appearance. If anything, we err on the side of being jokingly overcritical of its long-overdue need for a spruce, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I often blame myself for forcing us to buy it (a house in near shambles) rather hastily in my immediate post-attack aftermath.
However, from yesterday’s vantage point above our house, I saw it lovingly as a home. Yes, it’s true that a siding panel is literally hanging on by one nail (we don’t know how to reattach it safely since it’s 1970s asbestos siding) and winter is never a house’s best backdrop, but to me, it looked—dare I say it—beautiful.
My heart swelled a bit when I stood there taking in the view of it, filled with pride and also gratitude for this structure that protects us every night and has brought us closer together in a loving partnership. I stopped and took pictures from various landing areas on the path and almost felt my eyes well up in happiness. I felt so fortunate that this house is our home, that we live so close to this nice bike path, and that the house that initially felt like it would tear us apart has now been the site of our deep reconnection. I was so broken in the months after the attack when we abruptly uprooted our Manhattan life to an unknown and isolated one (for me at least) here. We weren’t communicating well, I wasn’t getting any professional help nor had I shared the trauma survival story with anyone in my family to receive their support, and Ben and I were burying our heads in our increasingly apparent problems. I had no job, so when he’d endure a long commute and be away all day at a job he didn’t like in Worcester, I wallowed in treacherous loneliness, fear, paranoia, and despair all day by myself without finding the confidence or strength to ever leave the quiet, freezing (it was winter) solitude of our unfamiliar new house. I hated every minute of it and resented being here. The house felt like a gravely scary place since I was plagued by constant flashbacks and PTSD symptoms. I blamed my immediate surroundings (the house) for the intense feelings of torture and hopelessness that filled every waking hour. As such, I saw the house as ugly, foreign, and basically inhospitable. I was thrilled to move out of it for two years when I was in grad school. It was during the program that my true healing began and was able to rationally understand that what had been broken and shattered was me, not my house, not my life, not my relationships. When we moved back a little over a year ago, I was excited but also nervous that the house would set me back in my healing progress to that place of raw and unbearable pain and misery. But it didn’t. My healing progress held and my mind was open to judge the house in an unbiased fresh light. Over the past year, we’ve slowly built day by day, night by night the ineffable feeling of home. It still isn’t a beautiful structure, but its walls inside are filled with love, laughter, and mutual support and admiration.
As I loomed over our home the February’s last day of sun on my back, I smiled. I snapped the photos on my phone in their branch-obstructed, filter-free honesty. To any passersby, my beaming grin and frantic shutter speed must have been mystifying. Even as I look at the pictures this morning, I can unemotionally assess them as nothing special, yet I love them. I love them despite their artistic and subject imperfections. I love them because they capture that feeling of gratitude and happiness yesterday. They are authentic snapshots of a seemingly rundown house from an unflattering angle, but to me, they are a beautiful reminder of the healing I’ve achieved, the reparations we’ve worked so hard to reach in our marriage, and the sincere appreciation I feel for what we have in a tangible sense and especially that which we have in terms of intangible riches in our lives.