STARS AND STRIPES

I bought my first home with the love of my life a few months ago. It’s a place that only existed in my mind up until this year, where our horses would graze and where our dog would pace the fence line with his nose to the ground. It’s now home for all of us and I’m thankful for that. But I’m also thankful for the stars and stripes in my life, in more ways than one.

It’s the red, white and blue that hangs outside our front door but it’s also the good and the bad over all the years that led to this one. Some stars were babies being born like my two nieces in New Jersey. Graduating from college, seeing my mother in tears when the whole family showed up for her birthday, and telling my father that I loved him at the end of every phone call. These moments are bookmarked, cataloged. They are the roots and veins of my heart.

The stripes are like scars. It’s everything that I try not to take for granted like my freedom and the impossibility of knowing every life that died to protect this country. It’s the humbling hurt that I carry for all the families whose loved ones are gone. Some scars are communal, like being only an hour north of New York City when the World Trade Center fell. It’s the prayer I say for our heroes with every anniversary that passes. The deeper scars are more intimate. Their stories are mine alone, and their accumulation over the years has become the origin of my strength. I’m most thankful for those.

A few years ago I was afraid of everything. Therapists and psychiatrists thought I was depressed or suffering from anxiety. How can someone be depressed with so much life ahead of them? I couldn’t drive or eat or be left alone for fear of dying. My life had become a rat maze of what-ifs. I try to find evidence of that stint of time and can’t. I didn’t email or Facebook or text, embarrassed of how weak I had become. I did, however, keep a journal.

“Write something that you’re proud of every day,” my therapist told me. “It can be as little as getting out of bed.” So I wrote in it every night and weeded through the day in my mind. When I moved to Montana this spring I uncovered it and flipped through its pages and found lists I’d made, one of which read, “Today I visited my horse alone. I am proud of how we need each other.”

She’s a black appaloosa, a birthday present from my late father. She’s the neck I buried my tear-stained face in through my parents’ divorce and breakups with boyfriends. For as far back as I can remember she’s been the larger part of my life, accompanying me through college and now a staple in the life I always imagined. When I look out at her through the window of our home it feels like another lifetime. There is no telling where my train switched tracks or how I was able to make it through a mental, seemingly insurmountable, wall. There is no clear divide or mile marker but the evidence is here with the family I’ve started and it’s more than enough.