A wonderfully kind friend who lived in San Francisco at the time FedEx'd me the keys to his apartment. He was going to be on a business trip, but invited me to stay at his place during my school's spring break, clear my head, get some perspective, learn how to breath all over again.
I flew to San Francisco and arrived at a doorstep in the Castro in the middle of the night. I let myself in with my FedEx'd keys and dropped my bag in my friend's empty living room/bed room (ah, the days of studio apartment living!). I spent a lot of time sitting out on his tiny balcony, watching the fog crawl down hills, writing in my journal and wondering how long it would be until I felt whole again.
Over the next several days, I only spoke to ask directions or to order food. I walked the city, from the Castro down to the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf to Golden Gate Park (not all at once). As I walked down Haight, a bare-chested long-haired hippie ten years younger than me stopped playing his guitar and offered me a foot rub for $1. I climbed on a bus that dropped me at the Muir Woods, where I wandered through the giants for the better part of an afternoon.
Everything about San Francisco was rejuvenating, and slowly I felt myself coming back to life. I knew I had a long way to go, but that week gave me glimpses of peace and the strength to fight through the depression to find it. But the one place I remember above all others is the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. There's no way to describe the calm I felt walking through there without sounding like a giant dork (not that I usually let that stop me, I know).
Down the road, not far from the tea garden, there are little ponds. I sat by the edge of one pond, thinking about my life--choices I had made, choices that were made for me, and how to move forward with my life. I don't know how long I sat there (I'd walked from the Castro, so my feet were freaking killing me; I had not taken that hippie up on his offer of a foot massage, but I was in no hurry to get up and start moving again), but at one point I looked down and a turtle, no bigger than the size of my hand, had crawled up out of the pond and was sitting next to me. He didn't move until I got up to walk away. He was just a silent witness and companion to my healing.
For some reason, that turtle was profoundly comforting to me and when I got up to walk home not long after, I felt there had been a shift in my mindset and my belief that life would go on and that happiness in the future was a real possibility for me.
This weekend, more than a decade having passed since that week of my life, Husband and I took Ethan to the aquarium in Golden Gate Park. When we arrived, I recognized that we were only a short walk away from the tea garden and after we'd exhausted Ethan's ability to oooooh and aaaahhhh at jellyfish and Nemos, we headed over to the tea garden.
Watching Ethan explore the garden, and being there with Husband, aside from just being fun, brought me at once back to that time in my life when I could hardly envision a future in which they could exist, and brought what has been in a way a long journey towards inner peace, full circle.