Estrangement. Covid. Holidays. ‘Fabulous combo’, she said sarcastically. Grumpy and fatigued from all of 2020’s drama, she plopped on the sofa with her cup of hot cinnamon tea.

She sat thinking about the last 23 months of their life. They’d been through a lot. Her husband Andy’s brother died from a rare form of cancer, they lost three jobs between the two of them, and they made a move across the country after selling most of the things they’d owned. They tried living with his mom and her partner, a guy named Dave. The idea was that they could reset. They needed to find some solid ground and re-form their life together. So they left California and their two grown children and moved in with her mother-in-law. In Miami, Florida.

53 days into this plan, though, they found themselves homeless. Yeah, the mother-in-law thing didn’t work out. She’d asked them to leave. Long story, mostly having to do with the MIL’s partner – an angry, jealous man who didn’t like to share his partner with her son and his wife. The hostility and abuse took its toll on her for sure.

In any case, they found themselves an apartment in Tennessee. Near the Smoky Mountains and in a quiet community, they kept trying. Two months later, he got THE job. The one they’d been counting on him getting a year earlier that didn’t materialize at the time. It was back in California. Fortunately the company wanted him to work from home and travel there once or twice a month. And it paid well enough that she wouldn’t have to work.

So In the spring of 2019, she had the opportunity and the need to take a break – a long, intentional one – from her life. She talked about it and she wrestled with it. She especially struggled with not working, not earning her own money, not bringing income to the table. Not being in the ‘outside world’ for a while.

With Andy’s support and encouragement and at the suggestion of her really good therapist, she stopped looking for her new job. Talk about hard. No alarm clock in the morning? No structure to her day? Whaaatt?! The therapist said she could do with a healthy dose of not trying so hard. With not following all the rules she’d set for herself or that she thought other people wanted her to live by. She might do well with just letting all the chips fall and seeing what happened next. Sounds good, right? It’s what we all think we might like to do sometimes, huh? Scared the crap outta her, if she’s honest. And she is.

One by one, her expectations and rules fell away. There was a lot of struggle, there were tears, and there was grief. There was a messed-up sleep routine, there was illness and there were two back injuries. Her therapist kept saying there were no rules. That she should just do things only if she wanted to. And just cuz she can.

Covid came. We all know how that’s going. Masks and mandates and staying at home a lot more. The staying at home wasn’t different for her, since she’d started it a bunch of months earlier, but it felt different knowing it wasn’t her choice anymore. Now it was a necessity. It felt more stifling, less free.

Then there’s the estrangement with her family. Which will take a long time to adjust to and she hasn’t completely yet. But it’s been good for her. The freedom. The removal of mistreatment and power struggles leave so much room for love and support from others instead.

Everything she does now are things on the ‘inside’. She rediscovered cooking and baking and art, writing and crafts. She got back to exercising – but only when and if she chooses to. More and more, she does things just cuz she can.

Her animal friends love it. Her dog, Maisy, comes to her often wanting to play, so she does. They go for walks of indeterminate lengths almost every day. And there are her two cats, as different in personality as possible, though they are brother and sister from the same litter. Lila is mischievous and playful. She knocks things down on purpose. And carried things off throughout the day. Sometimes she buries them in places hard to find. Needless to say, she requires some looking after. And Tigger requires lots and lots of belly rubs. So she incorporates all this into her days now. Just cuz she can.

Frequently ordering books on Amazon she reads often, like she did as a kid and teen. She spends time painting and crocheting, too. She watches Drew Carey and Wayne Brady on their game shows. Cuz the silly lightheartedness makes her smile. She zooms with friends sometimes. And her kids, too. She spends time just sitting on the balcony, watching squirrels and birds and trees and clouds. Just cuz she can.

She used to think she had to be ‘on’ all the time. Out there, living her life among people. Involved and interacting and socializing and living busy and stressed. That’s normal, isn’t it? That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? No, she thinks now. No, not at all. Thinking about all this, she’s realized her life’s on the inside. And it’s not so bad in there. She likes it. A lot.

Now the holidays are here, despite Covid and estrangement. Last year she didn’t decorate for Christmas, but this year she will. She wants to again. The holidays are here and they’re different, really different from past holidays. She supposes she could do things to make Thanksgiving more meaningful this year. Maybe she’ll write Christmas cards. Maybe she’ll hike a special trail. Or maybe she’ll write in her journal a list of things she’s grateful for. Eh, let’s face it, she thinks. She’ll probably just eat turkey, drink wine, and watch football with her husband. Just cuz she can.