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But it’s hard to play defense against a player you’ve never encountered. Turns out that the x I was trying so desperately to solve in the equation was something utterly out of my control: another person and his secrets. I grew up in a household where one person managed and controlled all the money, and that one person was not even the one making the money. Some stuff becomes hardwired in your brain, even if you know it’s not absolutely correct. This was one of those things.

I simply don’t care about bean counting. In fact, Quinn and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program at our church when he was in high school. Dave’s a bean counter; I knew pretty quickly it wasn’t going to resonate with me despite some good ideas. That and he’s one of those conservative religious guys who says things like, “Guys, you know your wife’s gonna shop, right?” [barf!]

In all the months of COVID, Dr Marry and I have eaten out very little. But one day this week, he came home early, and it was a beautiful, sunshiney fall day. I asked him if he would walk to my office to check mail with me. It’s a perfect 1-mile walk, and on a day like that, it’s a dream to traipse under the golden canopies of trees and crunch through the dry leaves under foot.

I’m leaving this residency a less fearful and more inspired, thoughtful person. The entire time I lived in income-based housing, I said that I wasn’t really working much because what job could possibly pay me enough to value the one commodity I have always prized above all else? Time. (Believe me, I look back on that version of me with some level of shame at that entitlement. Reality Bites is hardly comedy or fiction for me. #HardcoreGenXer)

I think I got cocky about my “new” rhythm, assuming (incorrectly as it turns out) that in the nine days since my first round of this unease, I had shaken it and formed a completely new set of habits that would just carry me going forward. I was utterly certain that Dr Marry could come visit (wouldn’t change that, regardless this dumb day’s outcome, likely in part from that disruption) so far into my time away that it wouldn’t throw my routine into chaos. Turns out my confidence was misplaced.

So I try to keep September 10, 2001, always present in my mind, even though I can’t tell you a single thing that actually happened on that day. I keep it present because that day is a perfect example of the “before” time to whatever instance abruptly stops you in your tracks and hijacks your world. Before the diagnosis. Before the accident. Before the breakup. Before the ______________.

Today, I have shaken off the miasma of yesterday’s slump. I’m shedding a skin composed of demands from external factors, some which are simply the reality of life and a demanding job but some which are self-imposed and easily dropped. That shedding is a process, like peeling an orange. The skin rarely comes off in one long peel, and even when it does, there’s pith and seeds to pull away from the sweet fruit before it’s ready to be consumed.

In some (often) unconscious way, I have always tried to honor the spirit of animals, vegetables, grains, elements and more. I talk to flowers in my pollinator garden as if we are intimate friends. I encourage the potato plants to thrive, despite the weeds that inevitably crop up around them. I stop to say hello to every bunny in the neighborhood on our daily walks.

We didn’t just talk about addiction, of course, because these men, and the other woman and I are more than the product of this disease, which steals from every person with whom it comes in contact. But it was so easy to ask questions, to recall a similar experience, to look at this couple, who in many ways are a mirror of us, and see where we had been, where we are and what damage still lingers. Because believe me, no matter how much better it is, no matter how fabulous it is, in fact, there is lingering damage. Scars heal over time, stop being red and raw, but never go away entirely.