Today I visited a place I haven’t seen in eleven years. It’s called Betasso Preserve, west of Boulder. My friend Ginger took me there in November of 2002, when Colorado and its harsh beauty were brand new to me. She was a friend from college, smart and wise and kind. She felt an intuitive tug to take me to this park, and it changed me.
At the time, I was still very close to the grief from my mom’s death, only a year and a half before. I had spent most of my summer terrified into paralysis with the fear that my father would die soon, too. I obsessed over it, fretted, lost sleep. I didn’t want to lose anyone else. I still lived alone and worked as a technical writer at a big government contractor. I had recently changed offices, making my daily commute twenty minutes longer than it already was. That fall, a sniper was driving around the DC area in a white van shooting people in parking lots. Life just felt too unstable and terrifying.
Meanwhile, I worked with computer programmers, a lot of them young single men. Some were interesting, most weren’t. And the ones who were interesting were often not interested, but a couple of them had potential. Then a few days before I left to visit my friend Ginger, this tall blond guy walked into the office. I knew him. I thought his last name was funny. He was shy but had a nice smile. He would be working on my project, and no one had met him at the door. He didn’t even know where to sit, let alone where to set up his computer, etc. So I ended up being his welcoming committee. I brought the IT guy over, helped him get set up, introduced him to our team.
During my visit with Ginger, she said two things that stuck with me. First, she said it seemed like I was thinking of a romantic relationship as a reward I would get — like an ice cream sundae — for getting all fixed and being perfect. “It doesn’t work like that,” she said. “Relationships just offer us new and different opportunities to keep growing and learning.” When I told her about the few potentials at work, she said, “It looks to me like you have several doors available to you. Why not just walk through one and see what happens?”
It was good to see my friend. But really, the biggest moment of the trip arrived that afternoon at Betasso Preserve. I looked out over sloping fields and the overlapping layers of evergreen in the canyon, down into the town of Boulder, and I knew deeper than I could say that I belonged there. Those are the words that came out, as I laughed and cried at the same time. “I belong here, I belong here.” I laughed and cried like that — loud, embarrassing, gasping sobs and laughter — for a few minutes. At the time, I thought it meant that I belong here on the planet, despite my mother’s death, despite the sniper and my dad and the fears of this life.
And I think that is still all very, very true. But it turns out that my innermost self also knew a second truth. Because here I am in Colorado, an hour’s drive from that very spot where I cried and laughed and found myself. I followed my friend Ginger’s advice and walked through one of those doors. That shy, tall guy with the nice smile made me laugh and won my heart without even meaning to. And he’s the one who has brought me here to Colorado, full circle.
Today I drove to Betasso alone. I stood out on that same meadow, looking down at the rolling fields and canyon trees and the flat plains beyond. I acknowledged all I’ve done since my last visit there. I have married and created a new person, a son who lights up my life and challenges me daily. I have a master’s degree and three unfinished books. And the thing I feared so intensely in 2002 has come to pass: my dad is gone, too. I looked out over that beauty and told him and my mom that I miss them so much. I wish so deeply that they could be here in the world with me and with Jack and with their dear son-in-law, Brian. It will never be OK that they’re gone.
But I am OK. I will be OK. I still belong here. And here I am.