The 5 Stages Of Grief As Applied To My 5 Day Cross Country Move | Part 2: Denver Colorado

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When initially planning the journey west to Phoenix, it was the snow-capped mountains of Denver and the painted desert of New Mexico that beckoned me to the road. I’d viewed the rest of the journey as a bonus, so expectations were high when I crossed the border into Colorado. As I pressed further south evergreens replaced the rolling hills of Nebraska's countryside and the evening breeze floated in through my open car windows, waltzing the pine tree car freshener that hung from my review mirror from side to side. With one hand deftly guiding the wheel and the other stretched around the passenger headrest, I couldn't help thinking about Mr. "New York."

The first time I met "New York" was at Cafe and Bar Lurcat in Minneapolis. He was leaning back in the white vinyl hightop chair at the bar wearing a brown suede suit jacket and a magnetic smile I'll never forget. His eyes were green. The kind of green that pushed its way through the piles of gritty snow to remind you that spring was coming. The same shade of green that budded on the prisoners of winter, bringing life back to their branches. He was surveying the glass of whiskey nestled firmly between his fingers, and I was surveying those green eyes that seemed to bring my earth back to life after an unforgiving cold. Eyes I swore, were the most honest eyes I'd ever seen.

We had both swiped right on Tinder a week prior, and after some casual, flirtatious banter, he was the first date I'd had in years where I felt nervous. A creative technologist, "New York" and I seemed to share a lot. A love for art, marketing, music, and the creative process as a whole. As I sat across from him in the dimly lit restaurant with its sweeping views of Loring Park, I mentally checked off nearly every box I had when it came to finding a partner. Tall, devilishly handsome in a rugged Russell Crowe kind of way, witty, ambitious, gentle, easy to talk to, and best of all creative. Meeting him felt like the kind of Lennon-Ono chemistry I'd been searching a lifetime to find and it was a first date connection I never wanted to end. And so when he invited me back to his North Loop apartment, I broke every single cardinal rule I'd put in place for protection and readily agreed.

After a night spent in the most passionate sex I'd ever had, I worried if I'd ever hear from "New York" again. Had I blown it sleeping with him so quickly? Relief washed over me when my cell phone pinged with a text message from him the next morning. The next few weeks flew by with what felt like complete bliss. I was smitten, and confident that I had finally found my person. I was so consumed with lustful passion that I'd ignored every red flag that had waved its ugly head in unrequited defeat.

The first red flag I ignored was learning that Mr. perfect was fresh out of a four-year relationship and raw. The second red flag was the amount of time we spent talking about his ex. He used to say to me, "Those lips, those eyes, that nose," but I was never really sure whether he meant me or the tall blonde that had broken his heart just a few months before. Try as I might, I found myself comparing my features against the bubbly honey colored beauty with her high cheekbones and porcelain skin and at every turn, I felt like I would never measure up to the idea of perfection I imagined her to be.

Red flag number three appeared over the next few weeks when the amount of time we spent together began to ween and slowly dwindle to merely texts. When we did see each other in person "New York" seemed preoccupied with other things. Our relationship felt as if I was riding a pendulum. Just as I would swing into the abyss of hopeless thoughts as I tried to decipher his changing demeanor, the pendulum would swing back with some small glimmer of goodness. It was a kissy face emoji, a compliment, and brief genuine shows of interest into my day to day that kept my heart plummeting further. He felt like a drug and every time I was with him; I felt high-inspired. I felt like I could be anyone and do anything.

When July rolled around the calendar, my friend Linda and I attempted to avoid the red flags in my relationship and the blistering heat of the city, so we booked a tarot card reading complete with complimentary air conditioning. Linda was interested in the merits of her love life, and I was interested in the merits of climate controlled air circulation. I was a cynic to psychics and the idea that a stranger could read my fortune. Keeping expectations low and my mind open, I sat across the table from the Stevie Nicks-inspired witchy woman as she shuffled through the deck. Chills ran up my spine, as I pulled my cards and the medium began my reading, "The Lovers Card," "The Two of Cups," and "The Six of Swords." Explaining each card's meaning in detail, my ears perked up as well as every hair on my body.

"The Lovers Card" signified perfection in a relationship, it symbolized a union of grand and cosmic alinement between two people. "The Two of Cups" I learned meant intertwined emotions between two lovers and the balance of an equal partnership and strong connection. "The Six of Swords" showed a woman and a young child being rowed across a body of water towards a nearby land. Her head was covered, and I read the sadness and loss the image conveyed as she drifted away from something in her past.

"Your lover is moving." The gypsy interrupted. My eyes traveled back and forth between my friend Linda and the mystic like I was following a tennis match. I hadn't told anyone that "New York" was vetting offers from advertising agencies on the East and West Coast. Furthermore, I hadn't even told this woman that I was seeing anyone. I sat in the chair dumbfounded as she continued. She foreshadowed that my love interest would relocate by October and that I'd be moving not long after that. Puzzled, I probed further. I had just moved into my uptown brownstone in April and moving again anytime soon felt like the furthest thing on my radar.

Was "New York" really moving? Was the connection I felt strong enough to survive a long distance relationship? Was I destined to follow him wherever he might land? The mysterious bohemian I sat across from seemed to have the answers.

According to the cards, "New York" was the one. But only part of the foreshadowing the gypsy's deck foretold would come true. "New York" would leave Minneapolis under the cloak and dagger of a cold September night, but I would not be following him.

His departure was penned and posted on Instagram. And I found out "New York" was moving to the city of New York from a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1080 x 1080 pixels. I tried to be happy for "New York," and I was happy that he was finding success within his career, but I was also sad for what this meant for our budding romance. I desperately wanted clarity to ask him where we stood and if he'd be open to long distance, but I never got the chance to see him before he moved or have that conversation.

"New York" continued to reach out once he'd settled into city life, but he was different. He'd ask me how I was but then never probe further. This was red flag number four. In the beginning, he showered me with passionate curiosity, but now I had the distinct impression that he wasn't really interested in me as a person but merely interested in the attention I showered upon him. I desperately wanted nothing more than for him to run his fingers through the pages of my book once again but now all he seemed to do was thumb the outer spine. "Niice!!" would be his usual response when I'd catch him up on my life before he'd shift the conversation back to him and what life in the Big Apple was like.

We were drifting. And by the time my mother hung herself five days before Christmas, we had floated so far away from each other that the person I wanted to talk to the most as I grieved became the person I felt like I couldn't talk to about anything anymore. Months flew by with little to no contact, but I still thought about him daily. Some memories sprouted like weeds at the strangest times, but I plucked them out of my mind and decided the best thing for me then was to heal from my mother's death. I felt that maybe if I could cure myself of the pain, I'd endured that "New York" and I could have a future.

As the green flags of the trees that sat outside my Minneapolis apartment turned to soft chocolatey browns and the crisp Autumn air descended I found myself able to catch my breath after the busyness of the holidays, funeral arrangements, and a jam-packed wedding season. I was still thinking about "New York" and wondering how he was. I thought about our connection, about all the things I had wanted to tell him but never worked up the courage to, and the things the gypsy women predicted.

By September I had mustered up the courage to text "New York," and we were back to texting regularly. But I found out rather quickly through the course of our conversations that he was seeing someone. "It's casual" he promised and the way he described their relationship lead me to believe that they were more friends with benefits than an actual coupling. The way he talked about her and the way he talked about our connection made me feel like there was still hope for our love story volume two.

Nonmonogamy wasn't something I was keen on, but it felt like a symptom of our online dating culture where the cyber grass is always greener on the other side and an idea I would have to get comfortable with. I tried to remain open and thought that if "New York" could remain honest and upfront as he'd always been in the past then maybe we would stand a chance. The one thing I'd learned after my mother's passing was I didn't want to spend my life regretting the chances I never took and so with that knowledge I finally opened up to "New York" about my feelings.

Surprisingly "New York" was receptive to a romantic rekindling and we began the dialog about long distance and how exactly it would look. Euphoric with grandiose visions of the two of us exiting the fantasy stage I started to let down my carefully constructed amour. I'd even fallen back into the habit of sexting him. Every time his name would appear on the banner across my cell phone I felt like a giddy little girl with a grade school crush. The feelings I'd spent the better part of a year trying to subdue were now plunging my heart further down the abyss of love at warp speed.

But red flags kept wielding their ugly head, and when November came without so much as a single phone call or video chat, I felt I needed clarity. Had his other relationship progressed? Had they cleared the friend zone? With more questions than answers plaguing my mind, I texted him to find out. It would take more than a week before he'd respond. What I learned was that "New York" wasn't just casually dating this other woman but in an exclusive monogamous relationship with her. I felt like he played me like a careful hand of cards. Precise and calculating. Everything he'd ever told me now felt tainted and the intimacy I once felt now felt superficial, flagrant and manipulative. I was already painfully aware that I was on uneven ground since I was 1300 miles away but discovering that his other relationship had always been much deeper than he had conveyed in all our previous conversations was crushing. I was now the other women, and that was a gray zone area I didn't want to live in. Those eyes that I once regarded as the most honest eyes I'd ever seen, now felt like the eyes of a would-be predator. "New York" had retrieved into the role of women charmer. A slithering serpent tempting Eve.

He was a liar, the gypsy woman with her tarot cards was a liar, and my dead mother who spent her final days reassuring me that I would see "New York" again after he left was a liar. I had planted the seeds of hatred in my heart and sworn it would grow to be a massive tree whose roots would strangle them all. I was a woman scorned, and I wanted answers. I wrote "New York" an email detailing all the ways I'd felt he'd hurt me, vulnerably wearing my heart on my sleeve. It was reactive, accusatory, and heavily influenced by a few glasses of whiskey I'd needed to confront him. I didn't want "New York" to be someone I'd grown to hate. I just wanted to make sense of everything. I wanted to know if my feelings were unrequited, an explanation as to why he'd strung me along, and whether or not I had to accept that whatever existed between us was in the past. Mostly though, all I wanted to hear from him was a genuine an apology.

The morning after I'd pressed the send button and my email went out into the cyber vortex, "New York" sent me a text saying he'd gotten the email and had read and reread it several times. He promised he'd reply to it but just like all his other broken promises I'd spend the following weeks before my move to Phoenix waiting for a response I'd never get.

I spent much of interstate 80 and 76 traversing through my relationship with "New York." Barreling west towards Colorado, I had a bad case of leadfoot as I tried to get the 450 miles of Nebraska and my lingering questions behind me as quickly as possible.

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Denver began with decadence as I settled into the hip Nativ Hotel. As a chic hotel by day, I could grab a Molecule Effect signature latte and tackle some work remotely. Once the sun went down, however, the Stereo Lounge attracted Denver's finest for an evening of craft cocktails, local beats, and dancing. I felt appreciative of my current situation, yet slightly disquieted. Was I becoming spoiled? Or was it the lingering questions from Minneapolis following me to the Rocky Mountains? Exhausted from miles I had traveled, I curled up in my cozy queen luxury room and passed out.

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Wiping the sleep from my eyes the next morning, I decided to take in the mile high cities downtown shopping areas before I met my friend Avery for lunch. Any wayward traveler will tell you it's a dangerous business, visiting Denver, Colorado-because even a few hours getting lost in this hip and vibrant city might just convince you to stay. The progressive cultural hub with its trademark bike-sharing programs, farmers' markets, and soft-pedaled marijuana dispensaries offered a plethora of boutique coffee experiences, organic restaurants, and world-class galleries for my enjoyment.

I slipped into Amante coffee for a quick morning pick me up in the LoDo district and took in the sights and sounds of Union Station. The historic train station that re-opened to the public after a significant renovation in 2014 I discovered had since established itself as the cultural heartbeat of Denver.

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Lunch was at Watercourse. The menu was cruelty-free, vegan, and comforting. It's was a hold up for the eco-conscious and after a day eating combos as I cruised through the countryside I was ready for a real meal. Avery and I caught up on life, work, and our love lives as we pursued the extensive menu. After my massive carb-load from the day before, I was craving greens. To eat, I ordered the brussels sprout salad with shaved brussels sprouts, kale, pomegranate, grilled apples, a maple dijon balsamic reduction, and candied walnuts. Avery ordered the Benedict with tofu Canadian bacon, tofu poached egg, tomato, and a rich, creamy Hollandaise sauce served hot and drizzled over toasted English muffins with sweet potato hash as an accouterment. We both decided to split the Seitan Memphis BBQ and Buffalo wings upon our server's suggestion. It felt glorious to bite into something that wasn't a stuffed snack pretzel housed in a 15-ounce bag. The small vegan cafe in Capitol Hill impressed my taste buds and my delicate sense of sustainability.

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After we satisfied our bellies, I had planned to make the most of my short jaunt in Denver and Avery, and I decided to hit up one of Denver's slew of dispensaries before we searched for the Rocky Mountains. Weed, Grass, Pot, Mary Jane, Ganga, Dope, it what you liked it was marijuana and I was going to find some. The liberal state of Colorado had legalized cannabis in 2012, and I shopped from the dizzying area of products like a kid in a candy store. There were dozens of strings of bud, oils to vape, weed-infused edibles, mints, syrups and lip balms. I settled on a Mary Jane infused "lip bong" and 100mg tropical punch Sativa gummies for our journey to the snowcapped peaks.

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High on the altitude and the gummies, we climbed further up to view the rocky mountains, and I pushed further inward towards enlightenment. I thought about the cards, whose fortune they foretold and I knew I didn't want my grief towards "New York" to resurface in my future relationships. I had been traveling through anger, bargaining, and depression since our last conversation but I was ready to close the door into acceptance. Maybe those cards hadn't lied at all, maybe the gypsy and I just misunderstood them. Maybe the love interest I was searching for was a rekindled passion that "New York" had helped me to find. Since meeting him, I had sparked an old flame for writing an affection I'd always had but had seemed to have forgotten until he crossed my path. And that "Six of Swords" card now held so much more symbolism for me, I was moving on from loss and moving towards a future in Phoenix that looked more promising than the past I was leaving behind. I'd learned over the course of a year that you can be wrong and fallible and I didn't want to carry the heavy load of bitterness any further on my journey.

I knew at my core that all I wanted was to love and to feel it returned. I wanted to love generously no matter what. I even wanted to love people who might never love me back the way I longed for them too. If "New York" was happy to live his life behind his concrete walls, that was fine for him but not for me. I didn't want to love with conditions anymore. For as much as "New York" had hurt me, I wanted to say, "I'm happy for you" and truly mean it, even if his happiness lied elsewhere. Maybe it was the THC or the altitude, but I felt so high on love that I knew I wanted to continue on my journey loving without conditions. I wanted to love even when someone was in a guarded moment in their lives and couldn't respond the same way and to love without restrictions. And I knew that I deserved love, but I knew there was still work to do and feelings left to process. I had spent the year since my mother's suicide building up nice big walls of invulnerability and this trip to Arizona was the first start in clearing the obstacles that I'd put in place before me. As I descended the mountain, one thing was certain, I was changing, I was growing, and I was different. I was breaking the cycle and starting a new reflection of love. My world, I decided reflected me. And up until that point, I'd picked only safe men. They had their walls, and I had mine, and we both loved up until a point, stopping short of the authenticity, vulnerability, and honesty that leads to deep intimate connection.

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Denver Colarado, The 5 stages of grief as applied to my 5 day cross country move, rocky mountains-www.rachelsmak.com4.jpg

As I trecked back through the snow to my car, travel, I mused was a lot like falling in love. Mostly because it was a heightened state of awareness, it made me mindful, receptive, and undimmed by the familiarity of life in Minneapolis-ready to be transformed.

To be continued…

read part 1 here

read part 3 here

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