I believe there are places in our lives that become a part of who we are. For some, it might be the beach, or their favorite vacation spot, like Disney World. For others, it might be their childhood home, or their grandmother’s house, where they spent most summers. I bet a lot of us can think of a few places we consider special — ones that encompass a piece of our soul. BeforeThere’s a walking park in my hometown of Panama City, FL that I’ve been going to for decades. It’s a simple one-mile track, with a playground that is encircled by trees. The natural shade from the 40-foot pines made it the perfect spot for an afternoon run (I’m not much of a morning person). I’ve run here since I was a teenager. Over the years, I’ve realized that the park offered me more than just a safe shaded place to run. I channeled my emotions there, both good and bad. If I was feeling excited, my runs were energized, and a sense of euphoria took over my body — gliding my feet along the trail. If I was sad, my runs were emotional, teary-eyed, think sessions that felt like therapy for my soul. After Justin died in 2014, it took me a while to go back — 10 months to be exact. Jax rested in his stroller as I turned on my iPod and trotted around. The beautiful trees, the glistening pond, and the pitch black asphalt beneath my feet were exactly the same — I was astonished. I had been put through the wringer, and my park knew nothing of it. I cried a lot that day while remembering the happy times I shared with Justin. He would have loved to push Jax in the stroller while I jogged on my own — I bet that would have become their “thing.” After my first return, I was back to my old habits — only this time, Jax was along for the ride. He loved his stroller rides, and I loved to push shuffle on my Nano. I started falling for Don a year after my first trip back to my park. Our relationship was still fresh, and I wasn’t quite ready for love — I kept Don at bay. We spent most of our time together after Jax had gone to bed but, on this particular day, I couldn’t bear to face my park without a companion. Don was a natural with Jax, and I was mesmerized. While watching 6-foot-2 Don chase around 3-foot-tall Jax, I realized something huge. It was the first time I’d seen a man I had feelings for bond with my son — Justin never got that liberty. Over the next 2 years, our relationship had its share of trials and tribulations but, as Psalm 23:5 says, “my cup runneth over.” On September 27th, after a ten-day honeymoon in Costa Rica following a beautiful wedding, Don and I returned home to be a family. For the first time in four years, I could actually say, “life is good.” And then……thirteen days later…….. Hurricane Michael hit, and disintegrated our town. I wasn’t even married a month, and life was already back to being upside down. Two days after the storm, Don, Jax, and I slept in a room at my parent’s house; our shower-less bodies drenched by sweat. The storm had knocked out all power, water, most cell towers, and basically everything we use in our current society. I looked at Don, tears in my eyes and said, “happy one month anniversary.” I couldn’t believe we were here, fighting to survive when 16 days prior, we were sipping cocktails on a volcanic beach in Papagayo. Then a thought came to mind, “at least we have each other.” Even though we were struggling to survive, we had survived — not everyone could say that after the storm. AfterFive months after Hurricane Michael I, once again, got up the nerve to go back to my beloved park. I knew it would look different, but I NEVER anticipated the destruction that had been unleashed. I was well aware of our town’s slaughtered timber, but at the sight of it, I unfailingly found myself feeling hurting — yet again. The running park had been reduced to a tree graveyard. Where hundreds of trees once stood, (still piled high along the sides of the track) a few dozen remained. I almost turned around and went home, but I stopped myself. I owed it to my park to be brave, and run around its broken track. I hit the shuffle button on my iPhone and a familiar song started to play: “The Night We Met,” by Lord Huron. I’d first heard it while watching the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. It had struck a chord with me then, vastly because of its melodic nature, but mostly because of its offbeat lyrics. It spoke to me again. The lyrics are as follows: I am not the only traveler, Who has not repaid his debtI’ve been searching for a trail to follow again, Take me back to the night we metI had all and then most of you, Some and now none of youTake me back to the night we metI don’t know what I’m supposed to do, Haunted by the ghost of youOh, take me back to the night we metWhile gaining speed, I passed larger mounds of debris filled with tree trunks and branches. Three years prior, I had run around the same track, wondering how it had remained solid when I was broken in half. Suddenly, the broken trees were like the pieces of my broken heart, scattered across the pavement — reduced to a shell of their former selves. How did this happen to our town? How did this happen to me? I was angry with the storm. I was angry with Justin’s killer — life’s not fair! While wallowing in my pity, I got a text from Don that brought me back to earth: “I love you sweet Darling.” it said. “How does he know?,” I thought, “How did I get here again?” PTSD is funny like that — the triggers can catch you off guard.I get a lot of credit for my resilience, and my undying will to move forward. But the truth is, I owe most of it to my family and friends. If it wasn’t for their continual love and support, I might still look like the park does today — scattered pieces of something that used to be whole. The good news is, we don’t have to stay broken. As a Bay County resident, I truly believe we can rebuild; not only our homes, but also our hearts. It’s not going to happen overnight. My transformation is still underway — it always will be. I’ll never move on from Justin, or the life I once had, but I will always continue to move forward.
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