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Steven's Universe


I have known Steven Partlow for twelve years, but unfortunately, I couldn't say that I really knew my brother-in-law. That is, until he agreed to accompany me on a two-week excursion to America. My daughter and husband had just visited NC recently, and we didn't want Cloud to miss more daycare, so I asked Steven if he'd like to go. I've always felt that he was incredibly introverted and content to be a loner of sorts, so I was actually a little surprised when he enthusiastically agreed!

In Charlotte, I would be completing my IVF cycle, and I’d also been invited to participate in the Sci-Fi literary Convention, Capricon, in Chicago. Apart from these to dos, I really wanted this trip to be all about Steven. At 43, he had never left Europe, had never been on an airplane, and after 8 years of marriage to his younger brother, Chris, had never met my side of the family. I was slated to unveil a presentation at Capricon that I’ve been developing called “Fuck Hustle Culture.” One of the tenets of FHC is that even hobbies and the things we do for fun deserve to be well thought out and organized, and so we began planning.

We only live a 15-minute walk away from each other in Ipswich, so Steven would come over more often to hang out, game, and work with me to figure out what all he'd like to do. Their dad, my precious father-in-law Keith, religiously cooks a big Sunday dinner for everyone, which gave Steven and I additional opportunities to solidify our game plan. The more we interfaced, the more I began to see a fire inside this man to live his best life that didn't seem to exist as of just a couple years ago.

I also found out just how much we have in common. We both love all things science-fiction & fantasy, video and tabletop games, and learning more about history. Steven unfailingly sees the best in absolutely everyone, which I also try to do, despite the fact that we were both victims of severe and merciless bullying in our teens. He was tormented all through high school, whereas the worst of it for me was in middle school. I feel like my upper years were a major reprieve that allowed me to then move through college and adulthood with much more confidence. Forgive my armchair psychologizing, but I believe that because Steven was hounded beyond his formative years, the armor that he had to don started to cure and form a cage.

And then their mom died. The family's whole world collapsed in the course of a week, and Steven had to handle the devastation on top of a pervasive feeling of needing to be strong for everyone. It took many years, but Steven finally got to a place where he felt that he could worry about himself at least as much as he worried for his father and siblings.

Over the last 18 months, Steven began speaking with a therapist, started running, lost a ton of weight, and put himself back in school. I, of course, saw all this peripherally, but I never knew his motivations or the incredible obstacles he had to surmount in order to place himself on his desired path. It quickly became clear to me that this wasn't going to be just any vacation, but a monument to, celebration of, and renewed catalyzer for all his self work.

Here is the final itinerary that we developed:

  • New York - Brooklyn, Chinatown and Little Italy Food Tour, Times Square

  • Pennsylvania - Day trip to Gettysburg, dinner with friends in Philly

  • New York - Harlem, MoMA, Central Park, Madam Tussaud's, Broadway

  • Chicago - Capricon Sci-Fi Convention, Millenium Park

  • Charlotte - Meet my family, Concord Mills, Discovery Place

On top of the touristy things we planned, we created several moments to help Steven continue his personal growth. I set up a very special appointment for him to receive a professional haircut from a master barber named Jenessa De Alwis at her Manhattan salon, Groom House. When we got to Charlotte, we visited Smile Direct and got his teeth digitally modeled for a full set of aligners. Steven also plans to get fitted for a suit and purchase the hair products he needs to maintain his new look he when returns to England.

All throughout the trip, Steven was placed in several situations that challenged his social anxiety. From being around large groups of people, to dealing with people in positions of authority, to meeting new friends and socializing with small groups in intimate settings. He overcame his discomfort famously at every turn. He says it's because he came to realize just how kind everyone is, and that's just beautiful.

The most impactful part of the journey was definitely our day trip to Pennsylvania. Steven's mother, Patricia (my daughter's namesake), was a massive Civil War buff, and had always wanted to see some of the historical sites of that era. She passed away before fulfilling this dream, and so we did it for her! Steven got to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center where we explored the exhibits, saw a very informative film narrated by Morgan Freeman, toured the actual battlefield, and experienced the Cyclorama, a 42-foot tall, 360° painting and diorama made in the 1800s that depicted the battle and Union victory.

Take a moment and watch the following video to see our entire two-week trip in ten minutes:

The best day for me was in the second half of our New York visit on February 1. How amazing is it that we got to spend the first day of Black History Month doing a Civil Rights tour in Harlem? And what better place for Steven to try his first taste of Soul Food?

Afterward, we took in all six floors of artwork at the Museum of Modern Art (The MoMA). I was surprised by how many famous pieces I recognized, and by how much representation there was by African American, Hispanic, and Indigenous artists like Gordon Parks, Faith Ringgold, David Alfaro Siquelros, and T. C. Cannon.

Moving forward, I believe we will both keep the memories we shared close to our hearts. Even today, it's been a couple weeks since our trip, but we're still texting it up all the time, and I can not wait to see Steven again when I return home. I feel like I made a true friend for life and it was such a privilege to get to know this man on a much deeper level. He has inspired me so much, to the point that I've begun working out again after having zero motivation to do so. I still don't have any, but his jump-in-with-both-feet attitude is that contagious.

If you'd like to keep up with Steven, you can follow him on Instagram or Twitter. The primary takeaway that I hope you are left with, dear reader, is that creating deliberate moments of connection with the people you love will actually enrich your own life. I challenge you to select a friend or loved one and plan some kind of outing, staycation, road trip, or other shared experience. I already told my sister-in-law Emma that she's next!


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