I realized recently that for Bill and me Hillsborough is a sacred place. Of course, I only see that now as I reflect on the life we have shared. It seems like any other place, but it is here that Bill and I have made commitments and crossed thresholds into deeper phases of our shared life.
Hillsborough is a small, quaint, historical town due north of Chapel Hill. While the main streets of many small towns across America have fallen victim to the successes of big box stores and strip malls, Hillsborough has somehow managed to keep its small downtown thriving with used book stores, antique shops, and family owned restaurants like the Cajun-themed Tupelo’s. It boasts a number of historic homes and sites and makes for a lovely day trip.
I first became acquainted with Hillsborough during my cycling days. I started cycling in college, but cycling in Philadelphia was akin to having death wish. In Philly, I usually road along the Schuylkill River, which was dense with cars traveling at high speeds. It’s a wonder that my Schwinn and I survived.
When I arrived in North Carolina, I mourned the loss of big city life. The only thing that saved my sanity was the ability to cycle safely amid beautiful landscapes mere moments from my dorm. I had a southern route to Pittsboro, a western route to nowhere and a northern route to Hillsborough. I spent many a happy hour on my bike, passing by farms and their cows. Drivers graciously shared the road without feeling the need to flip me the bird or call me names that even a cuss-lovin’ gal like me won’t utter. I liked cycling here so much that spring semesters I routinely cut classes; I just couldn’t resist a long ride on one of those first warm days.
Bill and I met in early September and our courtship was rather fast and furious. I joke that we were married by our second date, which isn’t much of an exaggeration. With Christmas coming, I wanted to do something special. I drove up to Hillsborough to tour a bed and breakfast that I had seen on previous trips. The inn, the Hillsborough House, was built in 1797. The colonial building included a wide porch complete with rocking chairs and ceiling fans, in typically inviting Southern fashion. The innkeeper gave me a lovely tour and I was struck by the fabulously decorated family room with its black walls and bold artwork. After touring all the bedrooms, I settled on Miss Annie’s room and made a reservation for the first weekend in December.
I suppose it seems silly to “travel” to an inn 12 miles from one’s house, but what the trip lacked in geographic distance it more than made up for with change in scenery. We treated ourselves to a fine dinner, something not normally part of our graduate students lives. After dinner, we returned to the hotel and climbed into the bed and snuggled together amidst all those cozy white pillows, comforters, blankets. We had one of those blissful sleeps that feels like a pure indulgence rather than a bodily necessity.
The next morning we woke and enjoyed a lovely breakfast. We walked around the town and looked at all the charming old houses. Afterwards we went to the used bookstore and indulged ourselves with a few purchases. We spent the afternoon reading in bed and napping like two satiated kittens. We shared another dinner that was memorable for the fact that the restaurant actually offered a diary free apple crisp, and I was so happy because I never get to eat dessert at a restaurant.
Regrettably the weekend had to end. We awoke the next day and packed our bags before heading down to breakfast. I remember that there was a glazed cake on the table, which struck me as a rather decadent breakfast treat. After we checked out and loaded up the car, we climbed into the porch swing. We sat there for quite a while, holding hands. We said very little for there wasn’t much to say. We had fallen in love; there was little point in stating the obvious.
One day in July Bill and I were out looking for a coffee table. As you may recall our first attempt to buy a coffee table turned into dog ownership. And Watson wasn’t working out well as a cup holder. Off we went to the Hillsborough antique stores only to come up empty once again. As we stood outside our car, Bill eyed an estate jewelry store, “Should be go in?” I knew there was no turning back, “Sure.” I tried on rings and was especially fond on one with the diamond in a fishtail setting. We were altar bound; all that remained was the formal proposal.
One Saturday night we were supposedly meeting our friends Marc and Rachel at a new restaurant in Durham. Bill blindfolded me when I got into the car. I have a very god sense of direction and tried desperately to follow Bill’s turns. “We are not going to Durham,” I teased, “I know we are on a highway.” But I couldn’t figure out where we were headed. When the car came to a stop Bill took off the blindfold, and my eyes filled with tears. We were standing in front of the kitchen house suite of the Hillsborough House. Had I planned my own engagement, this was the very site I would have chosen.
Inside the kitchen house was the rocking chair Bill and I had refinished together. The room had a corner fireplace and a lovely bed with posts fashioned from braches that had been bent to meet and form a canopy that was filled with Christmas lights. A silver bucket held a bottle of champagne, water condensing along the sides, and a vase of flowers adorned the bedside table.
Bill sat me down on the rocking chair and posed on one knee. He told me how happy I had made him and how much he wanted to spend his life with me. I said “yes” through my tears and he slipped the ring onto my cold, blue finger. I had been sick for about 6 weeks; he knew exactly what he was doing and did it anyway.
It seems like Bill and I return again and again to Hillsborough when there is need to commit ourselves to each other. It has never been a conscious choice; it merely seems to have happened this way. The Hospice facility and the Unicorn Bereavement Center, where we all go for counseling, are located in Hillsborough. For all our other commitments Bill and I walked side-by-side, but on this occasion, I have been a few steps ahead for quite some time. Last Saturday, after another coughing fit I lay on the floor, “It’s time for me to go, Bill.” “I know honey; I see that now,” he replied, “We will call Hospice on Monday.” The inpatient admission was a surprise so once again Bill and I found ourselves in Hillsborough. And it is here that we have committed once again to each other: this time to walk this final leg of my journey, together. And the bitter irony is that we have to become closer than ever so that ultimately we can let go. No one tells you how much you fall in love during the “Til death do us part phase.” No one tells you how much is spoken between your hearts in those silent and vulnerable moments. No one tells you how much it hurts to recommit your love knowing that you will leave or be left behind. But I wouldn’t trade it. The alternative – not caring – would be far worse.