Although I came to Austin knowing quite a few friends and family members, I've also met a lot of new people in my short time here. A short run through of a few new faces in my world:
Clint, 37 -- went to UNI with my friends (and co-workers from H&H) Nick & Randy. Our mutual friends gave me Clint's number and insisted I call him when I got to Austin. Clint works for a company that does fundraising for high school sports. He is very outgoing and fun and has brought many more people into my circle. I went to Cowboy Mouth and golfing with him.
Bonnie, 28 -- I met Bonnie through Clint. Oddly enough, she met Clint in the same sort of roundabout way as I did, but in a much more roundabout way! Her aunt sat next to Clint on a flight and started chatting, Bonnie's aunt got Clint's information and told her to call this really fun guy, and now they are friends. Bonnie is finishing college after spending 5 years in the military. Like me, she enjoys running and kayaking at Lady Bird Lake. We went to a fabulous wine bar for wine flights (then a bottle of sparkling wine, and a bottle of red wine...) and dinner last night, and she has intruduced me to friends of hers who live in my building.
Kristen, 27 -- Kristen met Hart & Wilson in Las Vegas a few years ago and they have stayed in touch since. Oddly enough, she also went to high school and hung out in the same group as Jessi Boka, Brian's cousin from Austin. I noticed our shared friends on Facebook and sent her a friend request and a note. Kristen is studying for her LSAT and is looking at her options for law school. She showed me the best happy hour deal of any Mexican restaurant in Austin, I'm convinced!
An interesting thing about those three people is that they all have personal experience with the loss of very close loved ones at early ages. They, like me, know death and grief intimately, more so than one should at this point in life. This has led me to ponder, with these new friends and on my own, how a seemingly random encounter -- on a plane, in a bar, in a dorm -- can lead to connections like this. It is remniscent of the movie The Butterfly Effect. We have no idea what impact a little decision, action, or event might have in our lives or those of our friends and family. Meeting these people in Austin -- even having just met them each a couple of times -- reaffirms that there is a reason I am here. I feel these people have been brought into my life to help me, and I also hope that I can help them, as grief is a lifelong process.
Normally, I wouldn't be the type to reach out to a friend-of-a-friend on my own to hang out, despite assurances that I "have to meet" that person. But I'm not the "normal" me right now, and I might never be her again. I am doing things I wouldn't normally do (like moving to Austin!) because I don't have anything to lose. Losing so much and feeling so much pain has made me realize I shouldn't take life so seriously and that there's no harm in taking a shot and hoping something works out in your favor. So far, it has.
With those moves paying off, I decided to do something here that I never did at home (despite thinking about it) when Brian and I moved into our house -- I just made cookies and delivered them to my neighbors. I went around and knocked on the doors of the other 15 units in my building, cookies in hand and smile on my face. I introduced myself to those who were home, gave out sweets, and invited my new building-mates to a housewarming/open house I'm having on Saturday afternoon.
One thing that has me worried, though, is something that has come up a few times already here in Austin -- when I meet new people, they naturally ask what I do, why I moved, whether I am married, etc. I don't always like opening up and talking about what brought me here, though. For one, it is an incredibly painful thing to talk about. I don't particularly enjoy crying in front of strangers. To do so in the first 5 minutes of meeting someone can put a damper on things and can make it hard from the other person to know what to say. The other thing is that, frankly, being 29 and widowed is a very rare thing. It is the kind of thing that could leave me with the equivalent of a scarlet letter. Instead of being "Wendy, that fun girl who just moved here from Iowa," people probably say, "That's Wendy. Her husband just died and she's down here to get away from it all." Certainly, the latter is true, but that is not all that I am. That, alone, does not define me.
Or does it? Is there any aspect of me that is not shaped -- or at least colored -- by Brian, his life, our marriage, his death? Honestly, probably not. We were together for 14 years, married for 5. I am here because he is gone. I am lost because I lost him. This experience will shape me forever, but will it always define me? What is the difference? Sometimes it is nice to let people get to know me once, or at least wait a few hours after meeting them, before I tell them "the real story" about why I'm in Austin. It is nice to be Wendy first, and a widow second. At this point, though, I'm still so rocked, so hurt, so numbed, that I'm not sure those aren't one and the same.
Yes, I am a widow. But I am also Wendy. I just have to figure out to show people both.