What I Wanted

Two weeks ago I was in New Hampshire. Again. I’d never been to the state until this February, and now I’ve gone on three trips to the North Country. It pulled at me the first time, and I knew it had something to do with the dreams of my younger self. Blanketed evergreens and hidden lakes. Winding roads and maple syrup. This is the land I wanted in my youth. It is the life I tried to create my first go around.

Picture this: I sleep in half-finished cabins with caulk and insulation peaking out from the gap between the ceiling trusses and the subfloor, with warped bathroom baseboards and iron-stained sinks from where the water drip never stops. I visit houses with plans for garages, gardens, and chicken coops. I talk with people about to buy land and make their dream house their new life. And I get sucked in and think I should do the same. But then I realize that I’ve done it already.

When I was in eighth grade, I petitioned all four of my parents to go to Farm School. This would be high school–with cattle milking and hay hucking thrown in. It was in Iowa, there would be outhouses, and I could wear Carhartts every day. I was convinced I was the next Laura Ingals Wilder/Annie Oakley… until my parents got in my way and sent me to a college-prep Episcopalian school instead.

As an emancipated woman of 19, I walked away from my upbringing and forged my own version of Farm School. I went for the whole kit: a strawbale house I built, my own version of Manly (my ex-husband, 12 years my senior), even an elderly town doctor. I topped it off by working at Williams Sanoma one holiday season so I could get a price break on the ever important matching crème brulee set and Le Cruset 14-quart roaster. I composted, collected gutter run-off for landscaping, and had a professional window-washing squeegee so as never to spoil the mountain views.

And then I walked away from all of it.

New Hampshire is lush this time of year. The vastness of it all pulls at me. Reminds me of what I used to want. Makes me want it again. On the phone, outside of a shop on the main street of North Conway, NH, I told my friend Victoria that maybe I would just chuck it all, move to the northeast, and start a lettuce farm.

“Okay, then what?” She said.

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s put it another way,” she clarified, “how long, exactly, after you started your lettuce farm will you have written a book about lettuce and be on a lettuce tour?”

For the first three years after I graduated from college, I casually omitted that I’d even attended an institution of higher learning. Back in college, I’d completed every assignment I’d ever had a week before it was due, and then suddenly I was living in the world of the chilled out mountain people—I was trying to be one of the chilled out mountain people—and I was not going to blow my cover. I was going to make it work.

Across the mountains from where I was in Estes Park, was Telluride, Colorado. Telluride has the highest rate of divorce in the state—usually due to couples who move there looking to get away from it all and then realize that once away from it all what they really wanted was to be away from each other. Do we all have this fascination with being more remote? Think that it will save us?

I leave New Hampshire and get on a connecting plane in Baltimore. I am surrounded by successful investment bankers with Armani suits. and just like that, I want my own peony crepe ensemble and everything that goes with it. I do not make sense, even to myself. And maybe I am not enough in either of these worlds because I am trying to be in both of these worlds.

When I started dating again, post-marriage, I had a friend give me advice I’m still not sure I understand. Just because someone likes you, he said, you don’t have to like them. If I can picture myself in a half-finished cabin with an Oscar De La Renta dress in the closet, am I supposed to make that my goal? What if I can picture everything? Then what? The best I can figure out is that it’s time to acknowledge the person on the would-be lettuce tour. That certain things are bound to come with me wherever I go. Besides, a lettuce book is not such a bad idea, really. Most everyone eats it, right?