When my husband and I discovered he had cancer, we had just sold our beautiful, large home in the suburbs. My mother-in-law was becoming increasingly frail and forgetful. Twice I had come over to find the house filled with smoke from the breakfast pan she had cooked her egg in, still on the burner. Something had to be done. My husband’s family ranch was beautiful but an hour away from the nearest large city. We had decided that we were going to build a large log cabin on the eastern hill overlooking a large pasture. The land was undeveloped so that meant we would be living off grid for several months while my carpenter husband built our future homes. In the meantime, we bought a small cabin that we intended to give to our son. We bought the unfinished cabin and began building in earnest.
It was difficult. Challenging. We had four solar panels. A water hose run up a tree with a showerhead on it for our shower… yes, we did. Actually, showering outside in the summer is a lot of fun… not so much when it is colder. I washed the dishes outside for months. I made my husband buy a portable flushable toilet. That was my luxury item! We worked diligently putting in insulation, sheetrock, floor boards, doors… all of it. We built all of it together. I planted a fruit orchard. I built garden boxes. My husband was working on the front porch when he started slowing down. It was annoying because we did not know he had cancer. Days turned into weeks of not having proper front door access. It was turning into a problem that became a crisis with a stage four cancer diagnosis. We still did not have running water or an indoor toilet. Off grid living was not going to work in this situation.
Through a friend, we ended up in a small one bedroom rental in the city of Lexington, Texas. Population 1300 on a busy day. All of our belongings were still in storage from the home sale. I did not know where anything was. Our kitchen stuff? Somewhere. Our pictures, books, curtains, carpets… everything was in storage. My husband had limited spurts of energy and the fear of death consumed him. He did not want me to be away from him. We functioned on the most basic of home surroundings. I think it is fair to say that it was a high stress situation. Very high stress. I was caring for a terminally ill husband, three dogs, two cats, one college kid and my aging mother-in-law at the same time. I had some help from his mom’s church, who chipped in to help out with my mother-in-law but that was not all the time. I needed some sort of outlet for my stress.
I took to riding my bicycle up and down the local streets. I would ride up to the cattle auction on Saturday mornings and watch the large pickup trucks pull up. I would ride by and listen as the steer called out as they were shuffled in through the various turns to be bought and sold. After about the second week, I began to remember riding my first three speed bike as a young girl. I had a clear memory of myself riding my bicycle with my arms extended out with my face turned up to the sun. I recall the warmth of the sun on my face and how happy I felt. I remember how the wind felt sweeping past my little face and it was in that moment that I decided, I was going to do that again! I did not care how long it took me. I was going to do that trick again and feel the sun on my face with my arms outstretched wide again!
That day after my ride, as I fed my husband his breakfast, I told him all about my memory and my plan to ride that way again. My husband was far too weak for such things at that point but he said that he wished he could be out there with me. I wished he could too. Every morning after that day, I got up and would ride and practice balancing on the bicycle with arms outstretched. It took me weeks but I got closer and closer. I kept my husband constantly apprised of my progress and everyday he would say that he was going to come outside and see it. We both knew that that was highly unlikely but it was a nice thing to say.
The next day, I went out to ride and after circling the town square and riding past Snow’s BBQ twice, I made my way back towards the rental. At the start of the street I gathered my speed and balancing my leg against the bike frame, I put my arms slowly up and then out all the way. To my delight, I stayed upright! I continued peddling down the street with my arms spread out as wide as I could make them. I knew if I fell, it was going to be really bad but I did not care! My neighbor pulled out of her driveway and saw me peddling down the street as fast as I could and throwing her arms out behind the steering wheel, she burst out laughing at the sight of me. We were laughing together! Just as I was about to put my arms down, I saw my husband standing in the front doorway holding himself up with all of his strength. “Did you see me? Did you see me? I did it!” I squealed childishly lugging the bike up the front steps. “I saw you! I saw you!” He said clearly delighted.
I don’t have any pictures of my triumph that day to share with you… but I can tell you that my husband saw me. Really when I think of it, that is all that really matters.