On January 14, 2004, the eve of my 30th birthday, James and I had just moved to Arizona. I was freaking out because I didn't know anyone other than him and I was convinced once I turned 30, I would no longer be as marketable as an accountant-especially with graduation and a whole new crop of accountants right around the corner. Yeah, I have an overactive imagination like that at times.
I turned 30 the next day and it wasn't the end of the world. James surprised me by taking the afternoon off and though I was born in Nevada, I found it very strange we were able to take a walk around our new neighborhood without wearing coats in the middle of January. It was on this day that we discovered the pirate store by our apartment was part of a chain. And not actually of pirate stuff. Yep. I spent a good part of the afternoon of my 30th birthday browsing the merchandise in a porn store. (Though this was not nearly as amusing of the blowup sheep incident of 2007, which really deserves it's own post...).
It turned out in addition to not living near a pirate store, I was also wrong about my career prospects. Not long after my birthday, I made the decision to not accept a job for a vision company, instead taking one with a property management company. Though not an easy decision, I do feel I made the right one, though it did mean I had a pretty crappy commute from Gilbert to Scottsdale at a time when gas prices were starting to hover around the $4/gallon mark.
My commute was not the only thing that was crappy about 2004. In November, my dad died due to complications from adult onset diabetes. This was the start of everything going downhill. Following that, James' aunt almost died but she pulled through. However, in March of 2005, his dad did die, which was unexpected. I was still reeling from the (expected) loss of my own father and wasn't really in any shape to help James with the loss of his. But we managed.
On April 1, 2005, James was rear-ended on his way home from work. It was a minor accident and he was okay but it was not the way to start the month! He also received a call just prior to the accident there was the possibility of a job opening back up here in Vancouver that would allow us to come home.
I can't quite remember what all happened over the next several months, but I do remember it got to the point of me being afraid to change the calendar because each month brought with it more bad news. The job James had heard about had been given from one contracting firm to another which meant he had to properly apply for it-and he'd lost his cheerleader for the position. However, in the end, he was deemed the best man for the job and at the end of September, I called my good friend and asked when October's bunco was (she's always hosted October) because I was coming home. Arizona wasn't bad-it just wasn't home and for all the shit constantly going down, we needed our support systems which are here.
Once we moved back, I was asked to not look for work right away. James saw how stressful it was for me to try to set up our house while working full time in Arizona so he asked me to take a month to unpack and deal with all the people you have to deal with when you first move in. That was fine by me, but in January 2006, I accepted a job for a publishing company. This was the only job I'd never been excited about taking and that should have been a clue. However, I was getting a little too comfortable not working.
Not long after I started working, it became clear there wasn't a lot for me to do. In the eight months I held the job, I was more in touch with my friends than I had been in a very long time. So there was that. About four months in, the company filed for bankruptcy, which is the best thing for me as it meant I actually had work to do. (The company would later emerge from bankruptcy only to close it's doors for good a few years later). So I started looking for another job. I was offered a part-time accounting job for a new bowling and fun center that opened in the area, with the hope that it would go full time "some day" as the company continued to grow. We discussed it and as tempting as it was, ultimately decided I would have to give up too many of my social pleasures on a part time salary...it would turn out to be a very lucky thing I instead took a full time job with a small computer speaker manufacturer, where I still am over seven years later.
July of 2006 brought the untimely death of my youngest cousin due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. At the time of his death, he was 22 years old. This was the first of three trips to Florida I would take in a short period of time; two of which were to attend funerals of my relatives.
I'd had enough prior to my cousin dying and I was tired of feeling like I was living vicariously through my friends. So James and I booked a vacation for January 2007: a Caribbean cruise. This was the reason for the 2nd trip to Florida, as we set sail from Miami for a week in Jamaica, Labadee (Haiti), what was supposed to be the Grand Caymans (but the port was closed that day due to bad swells-talk about a ship full of cranky people!) and Cozumel. It was on the second night of the cruise, Captain's Dinner night, when James and I got engaged after 7 years of dating. When he proposed, I thought he was breaking up with me which in hindsight would have made for a very lousy vacation.
I found myself in Florida again in March of 2007, this time for the funeral of my grandmother. I was starting to wonder if the family was jinxed at this point, especially since James' aunt passed away in September of 2007.
But that wasn't the end of it. On February 6, 2008, James took his last breath when he died suddenly of a heart attack while driving home from work. (And this is why it was a good thing I didn't take the part time job for
the bowling alley. Financially, I would not have survived). I had turned 34 a couple of weeks before and his final gift to me was a plane ticket to L.A. so I could meet his cousin to go to a benefit concert at the Staples Center put on by Garth Brooks to help farmers in Southern California. It's funny that that concert seems like it was it's own separate year from the rest of 2008. I never got my wedding-we were to be married on October 11th of that year. The day he died, James had on his own contacted a travel agent to start planning our honeymoon-obviously, a trip that was never taken, with Boston as our top choice for the destination. A month after James died, his other aunt lost her battle with lung cancer.
Where the first part of my 30's were filled with sadness and tragedy, the last part have been filled with recovery and even a bit of hope thrown in. Following James's death, I realized I needed more support than I was getting from bereavement group and I discovered Meetup-the platform I used to start a group for young widows and widowers in the Portland Metro area on July 4, 2008. It is still the only resource (I'm aware of) specifically for widows and widowers under the age of 50 in this area. I've also branched out to other groups over the years and currently also help run one of the area's largest social groups-a group that is being mentioned in the Oregon Food Bank's next newsletter for our continued commitment to them. I'm so glad the group is getting the recognition it deserves and I have to admit, I'm allowing myself a rare pat on the back because I'm the one who's kept us going back twice a month since 2010.
Also following the wake of James's death, a group of friends decided that life was short so we should go on vacation. So in February 2009, five of us spent a week in Mexico. Between this and the cruise James and I went on, the travel bug had bitten, though I didn't take another major vacation until 2012. I decided I wanted to turn 38 somewhere where there was no chance of snow, so my best friend and I spent a week in Jamaica to ring in 2012 (no snow, but it was the only week that month it was cloudy in Ocho Rios). And back here in the Pacific Northwest, it dumped snow in Portland on my birthday. 2013 ended up being the year of travel starting with a trip to Vegas in February, Seattle in July and November and a week long trip to Morocco in May, with an overnight stay in Madrid on the way home. I'm still trying to figure out how to top that! 2013 was also the year of the concert: Boyz II Men in Vegas, New Kids on the Block with 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men in Seattle (I also went to a Mariner's/Red Sox game to redeem myself of this one) and Train with The Script and Gavin DeGraw as well as Maroon5 and Kelly Clarkson here at home.
In addition to my travels, I've had so many wonderful adventures at home. I've (sort of) taken up photography, I've learned I love Thai food, I keep saying I'm going to learn how to dance (I did take a line dancing class). I've taken a rock climbing class and a kayaking class-in which I almost broke my nose. I've toured a nuclear reactor (not as exciting as it sounds) and I finally completed my first Bridge Pedal, with plans to do it again this year. And speaking of firsts, in 2010, I did my first Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics-something I swore I'd never do again. On February 8th, I will be doing it again for the 5th year in a row. There have been so many wonderful adventures in the past few years, I could be here all night and still not list them all.
After James died, I said I would downsize the stuff, then downsize the house. I've downsized enough to turn two of my bedrooms into rental rooms (so I can travel more), and I'm starting to think about my next house. I sold my beloved Lancer in the summer of 2012 and the day before Thanksgiving, after almost 6 years of "will she or won't she," I sold James's BMW, breaking one of my last remaining ties to him and our life together. In place of those two cars, I did extensive research (including a color coded spreadsheet, natch), and bought a 2010 Mazda3, which I love and hope to drive into the ground.
But above all, I learned I can love again. I'm not in a relationship, nor have I been in one since James died. I've just had some very special people come into my life that have shown me it's okay if I love them and it's okay if they can't love me back-at least not in the way I'd like them too. Love, after all, comes in many forms. They've shown me my heart can break and there's enough people who love me that I would be able to go on; they'll help me pick up the pieces. They've shown me I don't have to do this all alone, despite how it sometimes feels-how I sometimes make it feel due to my own fears and insecurities.
So now here I sit, wondering what the highlights of my 40's will be. I have to say spending my birthday sick in bed with the flu does not have the decade off to a good start! But my 30's, with all their heartbreak and struggles left me strong and in a lot of ways, I feel younger now than I did 10 years ago (thank you, Capricorn trait of aging backwards). Whatever comes my way, I can do this. I'm ready.