Today is my 28th birthday, a marker that holds very special meaning to me. Some of you may know that the idea to create Rue came to me on my 27th birthday and at a time when I felt deep heartache, loss, and emptiness. A season of my life was closing and a beautiful four year love story that began in Italy had ended. I always go back and forth about how much of me I am comfortable sharing here but the reality is I feel close to you because in some intangible way you've been part of my journey. So today I'm looking back at where I was a year ago today as a reminder of how far I've come.
At this same time last year, I unexpectedly found myself alone in the South of France with a suitcase, a camera, and a journal. I spent a week traveling the beautiful riviera by myself, eating meals at tables for one, and sitting with silence. Some of you may also know that I lived in Italy for three years in my early twenties. Like the moon and the tide, Italy always pulls me in. So I couldn't help but hop on a train one day from Nice into the nearest Italian city I could find -- Genoa -- so that my heart could feel that love again. It was a dismal and rainy day in Genoa but I walked around the city in my big sunglasses to hide my tears. I buried my face in the scarf wrapped around my neck to mute the sound of my sobs and roamed the city, crying every step of the way. Here's what I wrote in my journal that day:
"I am in Genoa. In Italy for the first time without him. I loved this country before him, I will love this country after him. But so much of it was with him. I tell myself I'll be fine. And then a deep sorrow hits me like a punch in the gut, acid to the eyes, and I can't see. Now comes the true grieving and the pain. The beginning of the healing. But healing seems like the wrong word, when I feel so far from ever knowing its meaning...
The learning to be a little more comfortable in silence. A little less lonely when alone. A little less empty without a companion. A little more comfortable sleeping in an armless embrace. And all I want to do is cry. Cry because I have an empty bed to go home to tonight. Because I still miss the easiness of his unconditional love. Because nobody is here to catch my tears or break my fall...
When you lose a love, well then nothing else matters. Nothing has a taste, a smell, or a voice as beautiful as when you were here. You light my world with your smile, your laugh, your knowledge, your large personality. And without you everything is muted. I cannot even begin to figure out a 'why,' a 'regret,' a 'what if' because I am too disoriented to sift through all the pain.
Sitting at a table alone, I just finished my meal, which would have tasted better if you were here. I am writing, tearing up, and the Italian waitress looks up, her dark hair, big brown eyes meeting mine, gentle smile and chiseled face asks, "Vuoi un cafe?" And it is beautiful and what I came here to feel. I loved Italy before you, I'll love it forever after. But you are so much a part of the reason. And as long as I am writing, keep my pen to the paper, I am not alone with my heartache..."
I finished that day by sitting by this fountain for about an hour just sobbing and not wanting to leave. I had nothing to go back to and a heart full of mourning. My train back to Nice was coming and, like led, I could not get up. I didn't know how or what would happen next...that day or in my life. And that's the pivotal moment when everything changed for me. Words of conviction mixed in with a little anger and determination burst out of me like the most sure thing I'd ever known: "God, I'll go back and get on that damn train and just show up for life. I'll continue to show up for life every morning and every day. Whatever happens or whatever you have planned on the road ahead, I'll just show up. But you better show up for me. You damn well better show up for me!"
And so I went back to Nice and then home to Chicago keeping my promise to show up for life through the mourning and the grieving and the pain. And he showed up for me. He showed up for me in ways larger than I ever imagined or could ask for. In ways bigger than I'll ever understand. And so on this day, all I know about this life is that it's a divinely beautiful one and a journey so worth living.
And that, my friends is how Rue...and so much more was born.