A storm rolled out of nowhere and the rain came pelting down, mere seconds after I tucked myself inside my front door. A little laugh caught in my throat at the joy of it, that escape from being drowned. And yet, the sun was dogged and quickly burst through despite the continuing pour; skies exuberant, clouds la vie en rose. Such is the life in Provence.
"A toast, " I rallied. "A toast to my good fortune." And so I skipped up the steep steps to my kitchen and opened up a split of champagne that a guest had given me at the hotel. It was, admittedly, something that I had been saving in hopes to share with someone special, for it was a good bottle. But oh, I am learning - and forgetting and learning again - that I am most certainly worth the bubblies, the gifts, the good meals, the love, all just for myself.
Boots kicked off, I stood in the open doorway and watched the rain battle the sky. But of course the light won. How could it not, while I held champagne in hand? With the coupe just under my ear, I could hear the static of popping, like a shell to the ocean. A car swivelled into a parking spot across the street and the young man stretching out of his car looked at me quickly, then away. "Yes, this is me," I wanted to reassure him, "a bit of an oddball, a bit of a beauty. Me."
You see, I am talking about that kind of moment.
When all of the relentless noise and doubt is tamed by hope and breath.
I had it, tonight.
A week ago, a dear friend called me out for the negative talk that I was casually spewing about myself. I can do that, as a kind of blanket cover (not a shield) when I am feeling self-conscious. That digging to hear, "Oh no, of course not, Heather, don't say that, you are..." But she didn't take the bait. Instead, she pulled me aside and in a tone beyond stern, she vocally shook me: "You have to stop doing this to yourself. It isn't making anything better." Just as the following day she would admonish, "What kind of message do you think that you are giving to women when you say such things?" (i.e. "I am old...I am fat...I am not pretty anymore) "What kind of message are you giving to me?"
I thought about that on the train home, holding my breath, socially-distanced. Also that these words came from the same person who had surprised me by buying my Birthday lunch, hence, a real friend. Tough love can be true love. Hot tears descend my cheeks as I type. They aren't sad.
What kind of message do I wish to give? To myself? We define ourself by our thoughts expressed. We can release wings or build cell block cages. Which is it to be?
I now see growth not as that perpendicular ascent that we (certainly we Americans of my age) were taught at school. University then hopefully marriage plus children and career. A home. Cars then better cars. Savings. I have known none of that by name but the first and the second as its own version of something real, until it wasn't. Does that lost love haunt me still? It does. Am I scared by the lack of the rest? Often. I have no net and sometimes I would just like to rest, confident.
Ten years ago to the day, I started this blog because I was truly lost. Then, it was in Arles. After what still remains to be one of the most difficult years of my life. My Dad's death, losing the first house that actually felt like a home, the gallery with it. But you see, despite my fear, I am a fighter. So I started this space as a way of climbing out of the well. Just me writing to me, trying to make sense of all of the emotions that rattled my cage on a daily basis.
But then, you arrived. You know who you are. I cannot name you all. I don't know how most of you found me. Probably through links from lovely women such as Vicki Archer and Sharon Santoni or Ann Mah. It was so fantastic how we supported each other then, as now.
I know - as they say too - that I have the best reader family. But I truly do. I win! We win. We do. I actually was recently stunned when I was shown statistics proving how loyal you are. And yet not in the least surprised. Because between us, it has always been about what is real. We can't do it any other way together.
Do you remember when I was so scared to tell you about my separation? When I was convinced that I would lose all of you and yet you ALL stayed? You, my second family, have been through everything with me...or more acutely, we together have been through so much. Such incredible happiness when I shared with you the immense history of Provence, the day to day delights of such a life, the pain, losing Rémi, losing Ben, starting over, beginning dating again and my efforts at building this new life, on my own. For me.
And with you as well. I know that I am looping in a circle around my learning and my growth. And yet, I feel so held by your love. That loop is, nonetheless, moving in an upward spiral. Can you imagine that? We have never met and yet I love you and you (I believe) love me. My ex did not think that it was possible for me to have real connections and friendships with you. Over and over again, you have proven him wrong. I have slept on your couches when I have had nowhere else to go; I have eaten at your tables.
So while in some ways I feel right back where I was ten years ago in my questioning, I know that is a good thing. It is just another twirl forward. I don't doubt you for one second. And I promise to keep trying to doubt myself less too.
With the last drop of champagne, I toast us for these ten years spent together. Cheers. I raise my glass to the now sapphire sky.
And on we go.