I made up my mind to go to the party, despite the fact I had disappeared months – a year? – earlier. I don’t remember. First COVID hit, shots were fired, and then I became a mess.

I arrived too early, like usual, and decided to wander around downtown Wilmington in search of an iced coffee drink to take the edge off.

What I really needed was double shot of Jaegermeister, but I thought better of it.

I took my time. I parked far away so it would force me to walk and reflect. I arrived at the old coffeeshop where we used to meet and got my iced coffee. I took the long way around, checking out the construction – how is the gazebo still closed? – new shops I bookmarked in my mind. I’m never downtown anymore. As I walked in the direction of the party, I couldn’t remember the order of the cross streets and like a tourist, Google maps showed me where to go. How did I forget this?

Why did I park so far away? Despite my sun dress, I did not take into account the sun mixed with humidity.

I walked into the venue, not expecting to see such a large crowd. April saw me and gave me a quick tour. Last time I was here, it was a construction zone and now it would make HGTV proud. I was in a time warp.

I wished Rob could see this, but Rob is still in jail.

I knew virtually no one. I met Chad, who was so kind, he was an old soul with a story I didn’t know. A guy named Jeff introduced himself and thought I was related to the host. I was not, but you know how white girls look alike. “You looking for a place to stay?” he asks. I knew what he meant, he thought I was homeless. “No, I’m housed,” I replied. Yikes, I know I didn’t wash the salt out of my hair after this morning’s surf session, but I didn’t think I looked like I was outdoors. He asked why I hadn’t been around and I waved my hands in the air like a damn fool. COVID. Life. I couldn’t look away from the deconstruction and reconstruction. His questions were probing deeper than I want to go with friends, let alone a complete stranger. I was thankful when he walked outside for a cigarette.

I ate some cake in the far corner, away from the huge crowd of people. I have to get out of here.

As soon as I decide this, Mrs. H. walks in and hugs me. Our small talk barely scratches the surface, she was just being nice. As soon as I move away, Sally walked up to me: two years thrown out in a conversation: got all the details of good, bad, and ugly news. Isn’t that how life always is?

She said my busy work life was a season and not to do this forever. I wanted to scream. Make that three shots of Jaegermeister. I wasn’t even feeling the iced coffee.

I finally saw the host. Say hi and leave, Braden.

I walked up to her and hugged her, wishing her the best. My life was forever changed because of her – my view of God and the church twisted on its axis because her strong faith. There was a lot of heartache intertwined in that too. It was all difficult to acknowledge. And then, I did the unthinkable: I got choked up. What the actual? I never cry. I’m completely losing it in this room of complete strangers. We exchange lyrics to a rock song as I walk out, before anyone can stop me to talk or ask if I’m okay.

I’m clearly not okay.

I had known it for awhile, but now it was crystal clear: I was unmoored in a longshore current. The reality hit me like an unexpected head high wave, as I summersaulted against my will in the surf.

I’m in a desert. I am officially in the wilderness, alone, away from all the community I once held dear.

I walk pass where I got married, it’s closed now, all under construction. Good God in heaven is nothing the same anymore? I stood there awhile, going back in my mind’s eye to my wedding day.

My guideposts were gone. The scenery isn’t familiar anymore. Here I was in Wilmington, North Carolina, crying like the milksop I was.

I kept walking around the streets of downtown until I was calm enough to drive home.

On my way home, one of the gentlemen I passed on my walk was panhandling at the intersection.

The light turned green and I kept moving forward.

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