meet me in toledo

I started working on this, writing this while sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight to Toledo, Ohio last weekend.
My second trip to lovely Toledo in 6 months.
Unfortunately sitting on a delay, but taking time to be grateful I even have this opportunity.
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My first trip to Toledo was in March (2017).
If you told me I would one day be flying to Toledo (of all places!?) to meet someone I had been connected with online, my eyes would have fallen right out of my head.

Actually, now that I take a minute, I probably wouldn’t be so surprised given my track record of impulse decisions and jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.

I never, ever could have foreseen or scripted the last 17 months of my life, much less the last 7. I’m starting to settle into the flow of “these things happen and I’m just going to choose my reaction.”

Truthfully the more time has pressed on, and upon leaning into my new normal as a solo parent & widow… I had this discovery.
An ache and longing in my heart, a knowing.
Even without my person, who I thought was my one and only, I knew I wasn’t put here, in this moment in time, born to do all of this… alone.
I think we all having a knowing about this deep in our beings. Somewhere.
But it takes courage to know it, and demand it, pursue it and allow it. Doesn’t it?

I was given too much by Shayne’s presence in my life. Allowed to feel and grow into so much for it all to have died with him.
To be left arms stretched out, hands empty, starting over with a deficit and feel it’s hopeless to think I could love or be lovable ever again.

And be left doubting, and wondering that he would be it, our life together was my pinnacle, my summit. The only one and only, ever.
Something in my heart of hearts just wasn’t in agreement with any notion that I had had my moment in love and I was meant to pine and sit in quiet, lonesome widowhood under a black veil for the remainder of my life.

That didn’t look or sound like honoring my late husband or our life together to me, at all.
What sounded like honoring our life together to me, was grabbing the hell out of this one life I’m still waking up for and stepping full out into it. Hurt and all. Take the steps. Do the things. Make the decisions. Close my eyes if I have to, but just.keep.moving, wanting, desiring, living.

I don’t have a debilitating fear of being alone. I just don’t want to be the rest of my life.
I sure do enjoy solitude. Quiet. Peace. Time with myself.
I have learned how to self-soothe and lean on and into myself a lot throughout my life.
I am sure, I know, I did a lot even in my marriage. Even when it was probably not the most productive.
Alas, introvert through and through, I turn inward, a lot.
My recharging station is retreating into myself. No interactions, no social media, no phone calls, no messages, nothing or no one pulling on or at me, nothing but my thoughts and whatever outlet I need to create and express and release and just be… with me. This year and a half of being “alone” has been both an extremely lonely journey, but an extraordinarily empowering one.

But doing life. The rest of my life?
Living my days, connecting, loving and being loved, creating and building a life… I was meant to do that hand in hand with someone.
I know this. I feel this. I believe in this.
I had that, experienced it, and I knew, specifically 5 months after Shayne had been gone (I remember the conversation and where), I wanted that again.
Deserved that.
And I didn’t want to feel ashamed about feeling that.
I wanted to let that truth rise up and out, admit it and lean right on into it.
Speak it, and let the universe abide.

I lost my first love indefinitely, but not my desire to live a life full of it.
That was what was placed on my heart.
And I wanted to follow and pursue that curiosity…. is there love after death? Can I? Should I? Am I capable? What will everyone think? Will it devalue what I had with Shayne? Is it a betrayal? What will our families think? How will this affect his girls? Who will this person be? Will they have children? Will they have empathy? Will it take several years to feel ready? How will I talk about Shayne, will I be able to? When do I start dating? How?

I didn’t know when. Or how.
Its never up to me to decide those, right.
But I took comfort that I could relinquish control of the when and how, and it would be when and how and exactly what I needed it to be when it arrived to me.

So I just continued to control the controllable, to love on Shayne, on us and try through that to love on myself.
Get reacquainted with me.
Empty the grief cup while filling it back up with soul-enriching miracle grow.
Creating space within myself along the way by releasing pain, and the guilt for wanting to keep pursuing a life I know I was meant for.

He took with him the future we had planned together. But I am still here, I’m still here and have the golden egg opportunity to rebuild and create a new one if I choose to be so bold. A second chance. One that he does not have.

This is more difficult than I imagined it would be. Sharing this. Telling this.
Because… I am unfolding and telling a love story.
One that I have not been sharing over the last 10 years. But it does, in a way, still feel like a continuation of the one I have been telling. Because I’m still here, and his girls, we are the part of it that’s still here.
Its just evolving into a new one.

But, fills me up with pure joy because… I am writing a new one. Fortunate enough to be. Bursting with gratefulness to be experiencing, again, what some do not in their lifetimes. How is it that lightening has struck twice in my life? I’m astonished. How?! What is happening?!

So I am here. Living and writing my second edition.
A new one that begins, really, with loving myself. Loving myself enough to persist, and show grace when I was falling short.
Loving myself enough to begin to know my limits, my capabilities and… what I deserve.
Love myself enough to allow someone else to enter into my sacred soul space.
A space that was so heavy with sadness, loneliness, depression, anxiety and feeling empty, but as I worked to release that, began filling it up with love and joy and happiness.
I did that. I had to in order to be completely on track to welcoming this new person into my life.

And as much guilt as I have felt over it, I no longer want to carry that.
I want to break open and share how this person, how this chance, how this bizarre turn of events has again… changed the course of my life.
And bringing me big joy. Excitement. Hope. Happiness. Love. Courage.
A clearer vision of a future.

I don’t want to be ashamed of that. Or have a moment of hesitation or fear that it diminishes what I had and feel for Shayne.
That was all real. As much as it feels like a dream now, it was real. It was authentic. It was true.
Just as this is all real, all authentic and true.
Again, someone has crossed my path and whipped me around. Brought me perspective and changing the trajectory of life as I have known it.

All truth, no filler…

We were driving back to his house in Lansing, it was after midnight, after spending a few hours in the upper peninsula. He was driving, and we were chatting.
I don’t want to share someone and their story who doesn’t give me their blessing first. I had been wanting to ask him, “Can I write about you?” I was afraid he would say no. My bucket was overflowing to write about him, about us, what we had been through and going through and working toward. I have 17 drafts sitting unpublished in this blog. I have started and stopped more than half of them about him, about us.

I connected with Jessep on Instagram. Wasn’t a dating app, not a website; a photo-sharing app I have been sharing my life via cell phone photography for 5 years.

We somehow connected around the time the Cubs were slaying the World Series last year, he had joined in my journey of sharing my excitement.
I didn’t think anything of it. I figure he found me through a hashtag. The truth remains unclear on that. There are multiple theories.
Truth is, I have had hundreds of people connect with me since Shayne died, total strangers, friends of friends, receiving kind and supportive messages, cheering me on, and of course people connecting with me to ask about what I am doing with health and fitness and if I was still coaching. I really didn’t give any deep & concerning thought to why this gentleman from Michigan was interested in what I was doing. Other than he was rooting on the Cubbies and probably interested in how I was honoring my late husband. Just like everyone else who has jumped on this train, they are curious, and hopeful for me.

Of course I checked him out. Of course I did!
I saw what everyone else did… he hangs out and adventures with his son a whole lot. Heart melting stuff, ladies.
I had no idea what his situation was or even trying to know. Other than a quick glance at his bio and you’d see he has ties to the panhandle, cool!
We had few and far between casual exchanges before the start of 2017. My focus was all on going through the first holiday season without Shayne.
The laaaaaaast thing I was thinking about was how am I going to pursue this person I know nothing about who lives 5 states away.
I sure as shit wasn’t “dating,” had no clue how to even do any of that (obviously getting married at 22, never done it/had to) and really, not interested in the slightest.

I had this hunch, or rather… expectation, I was going to meet someone serendipitously either on the beach or in the produce section. I had a few betting it would probably happen as a friend of a friend situation. Made sense.
I just wasn’t going the online route to find companionship, I thought, wouldn’t need to.

As only the universe could inspire action, I ended up closing my eyes and hitting the send button in a Facebook message Valentine’s Day and submitted my phone number to this fella.
Yep. Gave him my digits. Who does that? I do.
Didn’t plan on being so romantic and dropping a Valentine’s phone number bomb, I realize how cheeseball that all sounds but… there I was.
Playing widow Cupid for myself.
And I can’t leave out the detail about my dear friend Britt and I sharing a bottle of wine by the pool, making the best out of the day with our girls, her coaching me to “just give him your number, whats the worst that can happen?” I kept sheepishly telling her, “No!”
But that got me. Right. What’s the worst that can happen…
I’ve already lived through the worst. There really is nothing to lose here.

Send!
Liquid courage, widow perspective, flushed cheeks, the school-girl giggles, and a jolt of nervousness and anxiety… all in! Just leap.
Happy Valentine’s Day to me!

A month and some change later I was flying to Toledo to meet him.
After chatting for most of all night a few weeks after that fateful Valentine’s Day, I came right out with it and asked him, “So, what airport am I flying into?”
That was that.

Reminds me and places me in direct reflection of who I am.
This is me, this is what I do. This is my authentic self. I chase experiences and want to drain the life out of life. All nighter conversations, laughing till my face hurts, food that makes me go, “Mmmm!!!” Running full out into bliss.

I feel something, I get an “all systems go” feel and I say yes, and figure it out.
Sweet benefit of being totally aligned with yourself.

Example, when I was getting impatient with Shayne making the first “move.”
We had been hanging out for a few weeks and were down at the complex pool. I was getting annoyed waiting for him to ask me out so I gave him his direct clue, “When are you going to take me out on a date?”
He laughed and said, “Wednesday.” Wednesday, July 12, 2006 he took me to PF Chang’s.
4 days later, at a bar surrounded by our friends, I leaned in his ear and told him I loved him.
You know when you know, right?
I realize I sound like a lunatic. Trust me, I’m never going to admit I’m normal. But I’ve never made a decision I couldn’t live with.
Goes without saying, the trend is consistent, I don’t like waiting around for stuff to happen… and things to ‘develop’ and just for satisfaction of the world around us, time to pass. Get to freakin’ living and leaning into truth as soon as its felt!
Its ok to feel! Those who mind don’t matter…….

So unbeknownst to just about everyone in my life, I trekked to Toledo. I held it tightly to my chest.
To be fair, a few of my very close friends who I consider big sister’s knew, naturally they were keeping their paranoia tucked in as much as they could but eagerly wanted to know where I was, his license plate number, his driver’s license and exact locations at all times. It was like coordinating a black (widow) ops mission.
Vox updates. Photos for proof I was still alive.
I am not embellishing when I say time and time again, I have a fierce lady squad.
They’ll pounce. Don’t we all want that, though? People who fiercely care.

I got off the plane in Toledo and hauled ass to the bathroom. I wanted to throw up, I was so nervous.
And I wanted to brush my teeth, fix my face and self-deprecate for a minute or two, but my stomach was in knots.
I kept my girls updated/entertained along the journey. I am not sure how people tolerate me.
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I have never done anything like this in my life. Shit, never been a widow.
So, lots of firsts. Lots of nerves. Lots of anxiety. Where’s the wine?

Blind dating 4 states away and leaving my children with their sweet and incredible aunt, Shayne’s younger sister (who, I had…who am I kidding, still have! massive amounts of guilt for, for not telling her the whole truth and she’s probably finding out now but I also know she’s very smart and has put things together).
My first official “date” as a widow… flying to get there. Who does this?!
It was hitting me in all the feels.
Heavy on the shame & guilt, lots of excitement, raaaaaaging anxiety, totally piqued curiosity, I was flirting with all this new territory.
What the hell was I doing? What was I thinking?
I am an idiot.
There she goes, she’s lost her damn mind. Brain is officially leaking out of my left ear.

How poetic, though, he informed me he was delayed so it was going to be another hour until he arrived to pick me up.
Oh, I did… I had a moment where I thought, yep. This is it. This is the part I get stood up, stranded. In dreary Ohio, with no proper jacket for the weather that weekend.

I had butterflies in my stomach and remedied that at the bar with a citrus vodka & tonic. I nervously walkie-talkied my crew and gave them play by play.
“He’s going to be an hour late, so I’m sitting at the bar watching Hulk on FX.”

If you’ve never been to the accomodating Toledo airport, all I can say is they’ve got one terminal.
Right as you walk out of the gate (which I think there are all of 2), one bathroom, a Subway and the bar. I was the only person in the entire terminal left sitting there, they were closing up the entire terminal as I was attempting to finish my drink. I felt like someone was going to snatch it away with the vaudeville hook. And in one fell swoop close up shop on me. The whole airport was practically closed.
Before noon.

He thankfully showed up before I had a chance to get tanked. I didn’t want to drink all my Smirnoff and be half way to buzz town. I just wanted to take the edge off. Famous last words, right? I stopped myself way before I got the warm buzzy fuzzies.

I am not kidding when I say, the minute I saw him get out of his car, his beaming smile, kind eyes, open heart displayed on his sleeve, the anxiety and nervousness instantaneously slid away (there is a chance I drank it away).
But really, it was like seeing an old friend. An old friend that I already unknowingly had heart eyes for. We both had come all that way to make a meet and greet happen. Who does that? People who DON’T like each other? Nah.
We ended up having the most fantastically weird time in Toledo. Ate shitty food, drove around and saw the glimmering sights and sounds and smells, laughed for nearly the entire 48 hours we were together. Never forget it. It was perfect. Exactly what it needed to be.
Why Toledo? No other reason than it is the closest airport to him that Allegiant flies super cheap to from Orlando.
“Wanna meet me in Toledo?” “Sure.”
Done.
Why drag this thing out and make it an unnecessary tug and pull?

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Over the course of the following weeks, we talked every.single.day.
Totally oblivious and tuned in that something had happened to both of us, and between us, that weekend.
We went into it with the said mutual agreement of, “NO EXPECTATIONS.”
When you leave the expectations at the door, you allow so much room in you to grab the present, and take in that person just as they are, and have permission to be yourself.
Come as you are. No expectations here.

So much has transpired between then and now.
Between us, having navigated 3 deaths in our families just since we began talking.
A week after our first phone conversation, my brother died in a car accident.
A month later my sister in law’s husband died. A month after that, his son’s mother died.
It seemed like were being inundated with tragedy while trying to establish and get our connection off the ground.
Nevertheless, we persisted.

So we intentionally chose to keep our privacy a priority.
Protect our little units, our children, and keep our relationship mostly between us, for our own peace but be mindful of the families involved, and so we can enjoy the growth of it ourselves on our terms.
Just us. Behind the noise of our circumstances, the why, how and when we were brought together. Just enjoy the present as much as we could, when we could.
Behind the curtain of the tragedies we were facing, we found joy in connecting to each other.

Circumstances as they are and the delicacy of both of our situations, we wanted to keep things between us.
Keep the focus where it needs to be. Work on us. Enjoy us. Build us.
Everyone else can and will have to wait. Let’s roll this out the way we want, and when.
Because we are on our time. And all we have is now.

There is nothing I want more than to shout from the rooftops about this amazing person, who makes me smile big and belly laugh every day.
This person that has come into my life, in the wake of so much heaviness on my heart, and is doing phenomenal things to and for my mind and heart and soul and allowing me to love and be loved in a way I wasn’t sure would ever be possible.
Restoring my faith in so many things I thought had died with Shayne.
Thats huge, right? I want to shout it loud.

Any time I think about how this has all unfolded, I’m shaking my head in disbelief with a  smile. Couldn’t have have been possible without courage, boldness, eagerness, acceptance, & wide open hearts and minds.

There is so much, so much. The bitch slaps and plot twists from life we have both endured since our friendship began, the honest and gritty conversations late into the night, breaking open to each other, processing this and relearning how to be with someone else. It has been a lot. A lot.
But more the reason I step back and think to myself, this isn’t an accident.
And we were brought to each other to choose it, fight for it and pursue it.
Not turn our back to a past that brought us to this moment, but bring it along, build upon it.
Thank it for what it did to our hearts, and walk onward, in joyful stubborn pursuit of what we know we were meant for. Big life, big love.

Two people who have our perspectives and life experiences aren’t brought at a crossroads to wave at each other from the other side of the street and keep walking.

But it takes bold courage to step out and say, the world may not understand, our families or friends or acquaintenances may not understand, we may not be fitting into everyone’s square pegs and not making sense to anyone else but us… but we are so happy regardless.
We are so punch-drunk joyful with every choice we are making and every time we spend time together.
We are happy with each other. With who we are and what we bring, and we want to keep digging.
Gather our broken pieces and create a mosaic.

We know how precious time is and we want to spend it feeling, living, sharing, breathing, experiencing joy. Keep it simple.
Lucky us, we found each other.
Because, finally for maybe the first time in both of our lives, we are truly honoring who we are and what we desire out of life.
Grief and loss will sharpen your focus to what’s really important in this life, assured.

Distance has not necessarily done us favors, but the more I examine our evolution, I think it has. I think it has been exactly what was needed.
Our hands have been forced in a loving way. Our hearts have been pressed on to break open.
To communicate.
In great, thorough and consistent detail.
What a blessing.
There’s little hope a long distance relationship can survive without let-it-all-hang-out communication. Makes the heart grow fonder? I know it makes the conversations richer and the commitment stronger.

It has shown the spotlight on our choice, to choose, day after day, to connect with each other.
I know this, much like what’s needed in any successful relationship… its not enough to say you’re together, co-exist, roll through motions of life and duty.
You must choose, every day, is this person important?
Do they matter, and how much, to me?
What time, energy and focus am I willing to give to them to make them confident in my love and devotion and commitment to the ‘us’?
Its all in your perspective.
Distance, sure it sucks, but it sure makes your intentions very clear.
Your actions, and how you choose to stay connected to the person, are precisely defined.
There’s no time or room for ambiguity or silence.
All we have is now.

The irony is I felt that I was already in this torturous one-sided long distance relationship with my husband who died. So, I kind of thought it was a cruel joke I was connecting and vibing and wanting to love this person who lived 5 states away. But in the same breath, I thought, “If I can still love my husband who is now deceased, and keep living and loving through that, whats 980 miles?” This person lives and breathes, and wants to talk to me, like every day.
So, make it work.
What airport am I flying into?
Perspective.

I’m not one to give up.
And let even a challenge of death(s), a move, broken promises, uncertain future, absence, keep me from pursuing in my heart what I know to be true.
I’ve known, all along, one of the most important connections I can make every day is to sit still and listen to the whisper of my own heart.
I’ve let it lead me here. This far.

To now grabbing hands with this amazingly inspiring, encouraging person who has so much patience for me, my story… for my children… for my circumstances, for Shayne.
Who has poured and devoted himself and his heart to his son, and willing to open it right  up to create space for my girls.
Again, I feel like I’m watching someone else’s life.
How did I win the lotto of being connected with someone who understands, empathizes and is incredibly patient with this. All of it. With me. Who sees me, in all my broken pieces and faults and anxiety… and shows up anyway.
Who has not run for the hills (yet) because of anything I have brought to the table. Written or said. The mountains out of anthills I can create, my big emotions, my anxiety, tears, stories I have told, he’s still here. He’s taken it all in, and in his way, given back to me. Just who he is. The soft soul he really is. To take on this trio…

Our understanding is this, permission to show up, just as you are. Let’s keep the focus on loving and living and doing right by these children.
Just the hope that they won’t ever feel a void from their parent missing, is worth any of the work of trying to create a loving, joyful space together. Let that be the goal, let that be the focus.

He didn’t see me at my worst in grief, but I’ve worked too hard with myself… by myself.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t have been ready to be with anyone until I touched down at homebase with me. Fallen, scraped bottom, felt all the feels and picked myself back up, dusted off and persisted. Without anyone here. Just me.

This may be the truth that no one could possibly know and may not be able to understand: I’m stronger than I have ever felt. Exhausted more than I can convey in words.
But he gets to be apart of my rising. I wouldn’t want him to know anything else or have come at any other time. I trust the timing of it all. The slow and steady of our progression, to the ramp-it-up sense of urgency to grab life by the balls we are hell bent on living now.
So grateful for it. I’m running out of ways and words to say how much gratitude I have for his presence in my life, our life, and sharing his with us. I’ll hopefully be able to write it properly one day.

We both have come to know and realize how fleeting all these moments really are. All this, how temporary all of this is. That all we do really have is now. So why not grab hands and leap. Feel and fall hard. Let it engulf you and guide you.
Why not? Not one moment past the present is guaranteed.

I never thought I would be so willing and ready at this juncture to wrap someone, much less a father and his son, up in my love. I’m just as surprised by all this as most are when I have told them what is happening. I have said this and will continue to, I am living, breathing proof our hearts really are capable of much more than we realize.

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These two, these brave souls, …they weren’t air dropped into my life for naught. This is not a happenstance, not an accident.
This is a big call of duty I was obviously built for. Meant for. I don’t take this lightly.
So, no, I am not afraid, I was born to do this.
Love.

We’re all in. I haven’t even shared the best part, yet…

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

joy+health+peace,

caroline

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5 thoughts on “meet me in toledo

  1. So happy for you two and your families! I have know Jessie for 11 years and yes he has a massive heart and a love for life! He was actually the one who gave my husband a job at a time he really needed one and we had just started our own little family. I will never forget his willingness to give a 21 year old kid with no experience a shot and it lasted 6years. Enjoy this time and I couldn’t be a bigger supporter of you guys, and it’s not that crazy I met my husband online also just not that far away. We now have 12 years in and 4 kids. I am a firm believer of fate. So again enjoy and I look forward to following your blog, it is written so beautifully!

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  2. I love reading that you are on a new journey of Love! I’m so happy for you, him and your families. I’m excited to follow your love story! 💖💙💖💙

    Like

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