Adventures in Starkville

All in all, it’s a lovely town. There are quaint bookstores, eclectic gift shops, the quintessential college-town burger and brew bar, and there’s enough maroon to choke a cat. And if you’re in need of a good Baptist church? There are a few to choose from. Today at lunch, we ate fried cheese that rivaled no other.

Soon, this Mississippi town may be our home.

And if it is, it will be a fine home. Frighteningly hot and humid in the summers, but mild in the springs and falls. As my new Chamber of Commerce BFF, Tasha, told me, “God gave us the seasons, too, Love. Those are gifts He sent our way as well. You Hoosiers don’t have the market on Autumn.”

I’m vacillating between excitement and overwhelmed-ness (yes, I just made that up), and I didn’t even know it until I sat down with my four children to discuss life over gourmet burgers. The boys are on board. They’re excited about their new schools; eager for a new adventure.

And then I looked over at Mary Claire who had silent crocodile tears streaming down her face.

She is going to miss her Home Girls something fierce. I get that. I feel that. I understand that in the very core of my being. And all of a sudden, a lump rose in my throat, and I knew that swallowing one more beer-battered fry was no longer a possibility. So, I cried with my girl. Our sweet Southern waitress came by to check on us. When she saw the water works, she said, “Oh! I can come back later and check on y’all then if that would be better.”

And I said, “We’re fine, Honey. We’re just thinking of moving here, and it’s a little overwhelming. Do you like living here? Is it a good place to be?”

To which she replied, “Yes, Ma’am, I like it very much.” And then she made a beeline for the solace and comfort of her normal friends and colleagues — the ones who don’t wet their “Come Back Burgers” with the salt of their tears. The ones who had her back when she rolled her eyes at the Crazy at table 28.

Mary Claire and I spent some time in the bathroom together. We hugged, we cried, we consoled. We went back out to drink our Diet Cokes and move forward.

“I’ll never find friends like I have now,” she cried in my embrace.

And I took her sweet face in my hands, looked her in the eye, and proclaimed, “Sweet Thing, here’s what I’ve learned in my 41 years… Everything changes. Whatever you think is permanent and stable and good may very well change tomorrow. Friendships that complete you at age 10 may not exist at age 11. And that’s neither good nor bad — it just is. Every experience means something important to us. Every relationship shapes us into who we are. But nothing lasts forever. The love I have for you as my daughter? Undeniable and never-ending. The friendships you might make tomorrow? Not even on your horizon right now. You don’t have to let the old ones go. But you will need to make room for the new ones. You have so much in front of you that you can’t even begin to imagine all the good that’s in store.”

And I tried my hardest to heed my own advice.

Because the thought of leaving my friends right now is a searing, heart-wrenching pain. The wound is open and raw… the emotions, brutally real.

I called my Jenny after lunch and cried. And cried. And cried some more. The sweet faces of my concerned progeny pressed their sunkissed noses against the hotel window as they checked on my emotional breakdown in the Suburban. I admitted to Jenny that there were lots in life far worse than mine, that there was, indeed, some excitement to the journey, that I was so very grateful for what I had.

But.

There are so many women in my life who have touched me in ways I never thought imaginable. Mom, Carrie, Amber, April, Amy, Erin, Sherri, Chandra, Kerri, Heather, Anna, Gina, Andi, Jenny B., Jenny D., Deanna, Sharon, Beth, Debbie, Janet, Gail, Libby, Anne, Stacy, Molly, Kelly, Jody, Pam, Andi H., Nicole, Liz, Erin, Mary, Jenny G., Mara, Jeryl, Kristie…

They are all a part of my story. And that cast of characters is ever endless.

Leaving those who are such a part of my every day life right now feels like ripping a hole in my heart and trying to exist with a gaping wound in my chest. Beat, heart, beat. And yet, the damage is too deep, the pain too real.

And, perhaps, therein lies the lesson.

Who am I without them in my day-to-day life? Who am I if they’re not a short run away, a trip to the nearest Starbucks, a hug on a particularly challenging day?  I thought I could never live without my Stacy. And in removing herself from my life, she taught me how to move on, how to appreciate what once existed, how to glean all the happiness from the “once was” even if there’s not a “what is yet to come.” Perhaps that was the beginning of the lessons.

I cried with Jenny on the phone today. I wallowed in my angst, in my sadness, in my inability to hold it together. She lamented with me. She, too, expressed the selfishness that friendship often presents itself as. How will she come visit? Where are the nearest airports? How will I get her here on a regular basis? Because truly, all this sadness is about my own selfishness. What I’m mourning is my time with her, my experiences with her, the laughter and wisdom and insight that is always a part of her. And that is a selfish loss. Because who she is — at the core of her being — is still there for all to experience. She is still a gift. She is simply a gift that is too far away for my own personal liking. And she, in return, is redefining who she is without me… without our constant communication. Will there be others to fill her? Of course. Will they be me? Never.

When I hung up with Jenny, Mara immediately called. “Breathe,” she told me. “Breathe.” And I sobbed and I fumbled and snot ran down my face. “Breathe,” she instructed. “Drink water. Your body needs it. You need oxygen and you need water. Let it out, but breathe. Grab a pillow. You know what to do. Let it out.”

And my babies’ faces peered at me through the hotel window as snot ran down my face and I made a spectacle of myself in the parking lot.

“Maybe your work in Indiana is done,” Mara suggested in her soothing voice. “Maybe Mississippi needs something from you now.”

And I stopped to listen.

“I’m so excited for the women in Mississippi who get the opportunity to know you — the ones who get to experience the gift of you and of what you have to offer this world. They are so lucky. And I’m so happy for them. And I can’t wait to come visit you.”

And those simple, heartfelt words shifted my vision.

Amazing how a different perspective can be derived from the dredges.

My heart still feels broken, still feels raw, still knows that there are tears to shed and sadness to experience. Jenny will be too far away. My mom will be physically unable to visit us. Mary’s laugh will reverberate through HeyTell only. Andi will raise a glass of wine via Skype. Mara will talk me off the ledge via her ultra-clean and well-sanitized iPhone.

And tonight, I had the privilege of lying with my babies (even thought they’re not such babies anymore) on a hotel bed in Starkville cheering for the Butler Bulldogs, our home team. And they will always be our home team. We will always be Hoosiers. We might be Mississippi State Bulldogs for awhile, but our hearts are in the Heartland. And the open wounds that will be left when we drive away to our new destination? We’ll just have to treat them with the utmost care. We won’t touch them, poke them, examine them too deeply. We’ll know they’re there. We’ll keep our fingers out of the rawest of the injuries. When our hearts are ripped in two and half of those bleeding organs are left in Indianapolis, we’ll know that those halves are being well-tended by our friends and our family and our neighbors. They have Band-Aids. They have Neosporin. They have healing hands.

Hold those hearts tightly, dear ones. We’re entrusting them to you.

And our doors in Mississippi? Always open. Always.

Forever.

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About Katrina Anne Willis

Author, friend, lover, dreamer, drinker of red wine.
This entry was posted in Big Thinks, Help From My Friends, Man Of My Dreams, Me Myself And I, My Kids and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Adventures in Starkville

  1. sherri says:

    oh. honey–I am so sorry for your sadness–your lament…so bittersweet as you try to put on the glass-half-full face…but oh, the opportunity. To become a Good Christian Woman who drinks sweet tea and developos a southern draw…you are such a person that will have the whole town over for dinner in no time, all at once…you will find your way there–and need I remind you that with the wonders of technology, distance just ain’t what it used to be. Yes, easy for me to say, but you are moving from the midwest–where life is all about friends–to a place where hospitality rivals that–in Califrnia, “community” is different–perhaps becuase evryone is working so hrad to survivie, or perhaps because the weather beckons you outside all the time, or perhaps–it is just because of ME?? But you, the mkaer of excellent (and copious numbers of friends) who holds no grudges, feels no pain, minimizes judgement to ZERO will have the whole town making you cajun mudbugs and Crawfish in no time, and you will, no doubt, treasure it for all it is worth! Love you and am thinking about you–

  2. Amy says:

    Oh, how I relate to what you have written! It is so unbelievably painful to leave behind the women who have helped mold us into who we have become. The beauty and the hope is that there are more of them yet to come. Not only do you have so much to offer the women in whatever community you land in, but they, too, will have much to offer you. And you will be changed and molded by them in ways that right now, seem impossible or even unthinkable. And the day WILL come when you can’t imagine what your life would be if those new friends were not a part of it.

  3. Greg Clark says:

    Tough piece for me to read as a chronic corporate nomad. But we are excited for your Tribe. It will not be easy but the benefits are many for your family. Having just spent a fantastic week in Paris with friends we met on move number 5…get packing, Karen, your new MS best friend, is waiting to meet you.

  4. kdehaai says:

    Wonderful post, Katrina. And wherever you go, you will always be you. You might even discover more of who you are at the very core. There are amazing people everywhere, and your family is an amazing people “magnet”.

    Kids are incredibly resilient…my own drama queen fussed and balked about our relocating to England, yet she came home from her first day of school there babbling on and on about how awesome her new friends were.

    I’m running off to softball practice, or I’d write more….so excited for you!

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