I love country roads in the summer. Growing up in a rural community I am always transported to my childhood of fields of hay and corn, narrow roads flanked with cornflowers, black eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s Lace and Tiger lilies. The fragrance of Mimosa trees and the silky feel of the blooms are what home felt like.
Amidst the pleasantry of a drive on less traveled roads a few hours from Richmond, the rolled hay in the fields reminds me of the farm bordering the house in which I grew up. Out of the blue, a rogue memory of him invades.
We were living on the farm in Varina. It was late afternoon one fall. He’d decided to get on a tractor the farmer had left and drive around the fields. He was as far from a farmer as imaginable and we laughed and laughed and laughed. In a softer moment still, I remember the Saturday nights with dinner and champagne and dancing slowly in front of the fire.
It is not the abuse that is the most difficult to bear. It is the unexpected moments of remembering being in love with him that are absolutely crushing. I cannot mourn him both as the love of my life and my would be murderer. To an observer it seems easy to choose. I wish it was me who had the capacity to hate him to the degree that I loved him, or to any degree. We were tied and the loss was undeniable.
It is complex to love someone who hurts you. It is gray and blurred and difficult to draw a clear easy conclusion how to move forward when every choice included with it extraordinary pain.
That final summer the narrow course I navigated to leave was interrupted by a tranquil week at the cabin in the North Carolina mountains. We walked hand in hand every morning, gathering wildflowers. He picked blackberries and stopped, gently feeding me, opening his mouth as I opened mine to receive them, like when urging a child to eat. We stripped and swam in the river, the fish nibbling at our feet; reminding me of one of our first outings, a picnic at Sugar Hollow outside Charlottesville.
We had come to some middle ground I thought, a truce, been able to experience each other again. I savored our togetherness but couldn’t be fully in it, knowing I had to stay the course and exit the marriage. I understood the peace of the trip would be short lived. I knew he could not maintain it.
Only days later, after we’d returned home, I walked into a dark bedroom to find him putting bullets in a gun. The calmness he had is incomprehensible knowing now what his intentions were. Later that night he insisted I didn’t understand what I saw, that he meant to protect us with the gun. Indeed I did not understand because my fear was that he might kill himself, not all of us.
Certainly it was not what love and protection look like. But for a short while driving down that road, in a memory stirred that stood isolated from the end scenes, I felt that inextricable longing of loving someone who is no longer with you.