Knotted Road

By Lisa Henthorn

Knotted Road

I fixed the toilet this week. It may not seem noteworthy, and honestly, not an entirely exciting topic, but I’ll tell you why this is something to cheer about. If I were to rewind my life nine years in the past, I’ll give you a snapshot. I had just received a massive promotion at the non-profit organization where I worked. I was now a manager for a statewide procurement program and overseeing a handful of outreach centers in Washington State. I was elated at the opportunity and the big bump in my salary.

My husband of three years and I had just bought a dump-of-a-house in a gorgeous seaside town, and we had dreams of fixing up the crumbling 500-square-foot shack. Life, as we knew it, couldn’t get much sweeter. After years of struggle we finally felt like grown-ups.

We expected the inertia of our hard work and good fortune to continue with prosperous careers, a budding family, travel and eventually, retirement, but life, as most of us know, doesn’t always follow the path that we envision. It’s full of twists and turns, forks and big, giant gaping holes that we must navigate. My path became a knotted road the day my husband didn’t come home from work.

The “he’s just running late” actually turned out to be my worst nightmare as he was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way home. In one blind flash, my life was shredded. The guy that I had loved since my junior year in high school was no longer going to walk through the front door. He would never kiss my lips or whip up dinner or make up goofy songs on long car rides. Our already booked trip to Mexico to take a belated honeymoon, our plans for a family and our vision of growing old together were gone in one instant.

I didn’t know how to live my life without him. Every decision, every bit of exciting news, every fear, I shared with him. Our lives were intertwined in every possible way, and I felt as if I were a piece of fabric, torn in half, and left with jagged edges in search of a connection with the missing piece.

I knew in my heart that he would want me to pick up the pieces and move forward. I knew he would want me to be happy. How did I know this? He actually told me. When he bought his motorcycle a few months prior, we had a pretty frank discussion about the “what ifs.” Although I didn’t want to talk about it, he told me that if anything were ever to happen to him, I should go on with my life, be happy and find love. I can’t express my gratitude for this conversation as it helped move me through my grief and pick up the pieces of my life.

I struggled immensely, especially throughout the first year. I went back to work six weeks after the accident and found I couldn’t focus. I was making mistakes – huge mistakes – left and right, and I felt a mountain of pressure on my shoulders to perform as a manager. The once golden opportunity had turned to brass in my eyes. I made the decision to quit my job, go to graduate school and get a degree in teaching. It was a path that I had considered from time to time, and I felt like it was the right time to make the leap.

I graduated in 2008 with a master’s degree in adult education and began teaching basic reading, writing and math at a community college outside of Seattle immediately afterward. Working with adolescents and adults who have struggled in their own lives has been fulfilling in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Besides the career change, there was so much I needed to learn about being on my own, like how to tackle my overgrown yard. I know it may sound funny, but I had never used a lawn mower before. My husband always did that. But I lugged it out of the shed, learned how to check and maintain the oil level, and pull that starter string with all my might. I’m also a maniac with the weed whacker. I can change the batteries in smoke detectors that are six feet out of my reach (with a little help of a broom handle and some double stick tape). And yes, the toilet was running the other day, and I was able to shut off the water, drain it, find the problem and with a little help from Google, fix it. I have to admit; I am pretty proud of myself and feel a little like MacGyver.

Not to say my life is back to normal. I still have days where I grapple with the loss. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him. I’ve had several friends and family members tell me they admire my strength. Although, I appreciate the sentiment, it’s not exactly right. Through his death, I don’t think I’ve so much gained strength, as I have gained confidence in myself. I’ve always had the ability to do these things, but it took a great nudge from fate for me to learn it. I’m not the same woman I was nine years ago. The frayed ends of my life have found new connections, and I feel complete again – a quilted patchwork of old life and new.

His last words – emailed to a dear friend of ours – were, “Life is good.” I hold those words close to my heart and can almost hear him saying them into my ear. Without a doubt, life is good. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine, but the good moments far outweigh the bad. For now, I look forward to the bumps and turns that life sends my way for I know I can tackle it.

About this writer

  • Lisa Henthorn, an Edmonds, Washington, resident, teaches basic reading, writing and math at a community college near Seattle. In addition to teaching, Lisa enjoys reading, writing, and traveling.

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14 Responses to “Knotted Road”

  1. christina says:

    Beautifully written. Such a talented woman! And being strong can also mean finding your strength in yourself to venture in uncharted waters. You ARE strong, in yourself and in your writing.

  2. dawn says:

    It’s rare that my motormouth is at a loss for words and even rarer that I can’t come up with something to type, but you’ve left me grasping for something intelligent to say.

    I’m so inspired, impressed, proud, and happy for you all at the same time. This must be a work of art because I feel like a friend who lived through this with you and your proud mother all in the same breath. I am making no sense but thank you for this, you wonderful, brilliant girl.

  3. Tami says:

    What a inspiring story. Xoxo

  4. Deanna says:

    My heart goes out to you! Having to endure a tragedy like that takes a very strong person, like you!!!

  5. Tammy Smith says:

    I agree, you are an amazing woman. I’m blessed to have you in my life. Love you Lisa.

  6. Bryan says:

    KNOTTED, yes, God gives us strength too breathe and move when we feel like we don’t have the strength too.

  7. Nick Pirozzi says:

    I love Lisa….plain and simple ~
    A beautiful courageous woman who I have known at her lowest most difficult moments(when we met in Maui); to the bright sweet future novelist and educator that she is now!!;))
    These words come from the sparkle in her heart…the place that Dustin resides~
    I am so glad to call her a friend and draw inspiration from her!!!!
    LG;)) every moment I know her is a gift !

  8. Melissa Vandridge says:

    Very well written. I hope you keep writing. You are truly amazing. :)

  9. Rose Ann says:

    Beautifully written, inspiring essay.

  10. “Life is good” — what a gift to hold on to and face life with after such a deep loss. Blessings to you!

  11. Erika Hoffman says:

    So many women can understand the challenges faced when you lose the love of your life, also the person you depended on for many daily tasks, and the person you wanted to shape your future with. The loss was devastating and your writing conveys that feeling as well as the subtle advice you are giving everyone– pick up the pieces and carry on. It’s the way your partner would want it. Well crafted essay with a deep pull at heartstrings.

  12. Nancy Felke says:

    Beautifully written from the heart. Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking yet inspirational story. Your life experiences are what makes you such an empathetic and kind person and teacher.

  13. Lina Rehal says:

    Lovely story. Very well written.

  14. Brian says:

    It’s amazing what we find out we can do all by ourselves when somebody exits from our life.
    “Life is Good!” Thanks for the inspiration!

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