Essential Gear

We had our first significant snow of winter starting on Christmas Day and for 24 hours or so following.  Winter Storm Euclid (who knew that snowstorms have names?) left us with about a foot of the white stuff when everything was said and done.  After a short, sunny reprieve, Freyr rolled in yesterday morning and gave us about another half foot by late last night.  Clarence and I still managed to sneak in a short run, but my fingertips were bright pink and frozen solid by the time we returned home.  (Note to self:  mittens work better than gloves when it is really cold outside.)  Suffice it to say that my teenager, who is visiting me for a few days from my home state of Tennessee, got the snow he was so anxious for; he is still pining for a moose.

Although the locals like to chide me for being an uninitiated Southerner–the nice guys at the Oakes Brothers Building Supply and Hardware not far from here call me “Tennessee” when I come in–I actually did arrive mainly prepared for a cold winter in Vermont.  Tennessee does in fact get some cold weather, and even occasional ice and snow in late December, January, and February; a rogue winter storm has been known to visit the South even in early springtime.  So I own a down coat, tons of fleece, mittens, gloves, scarves, ear warmer thingummies, and various hats.  But I do not have one of these:

 Elmer Fudd Lumberjack Hunting Hat

This is the so-called Elmer Fudd hat, and you can get one online right here at Wilderness Woolies.  As trite and clichéd as they are, I have seen them around.  In fact, there is a whole rack of them right up the road from me at the Farm-Way, where you can also buy a Vera Bradley bag or a nifty pair of Dansko clogs on the same outing.  The Elmer Fudd hat, though, is the bomb.  I actually saw a woman step out of her car recently wearing a black sequined one.  Seriously.

I was also told shortly after my arrival here that I should own a pair of Serious Boots.  And I don’t mean fashionable boots, the lady behind the counter at the local hardware store advised me with furrowed brow.  In short order I found myself rockin’ a pair of these:

Sorel

Now that there is real snow–the kind you sink into knee-deep if you have not yet shoveled–I am really glad I got them.  They are in fact waterproof, and keep my feet pretty toasty even when the socks I am wearing are insufficient.  But boy, are they ugly.

Which brings me to a concept I’ve been developing for a few weeks now:  Vermont Barbie.  That’s right.  I think Vermont deserves an iconic girl-doll all its own.  Vermont Barbie, though, does not exactly have a waspy waist, because Vermonters really love their dairy products (to wit:  buy local here means buy Ben and Jerry’s.  Lots of it.).  And of course Vermont Barbie comes with an Elmer Fudd hat and ugly girl boots like mine.  But best of all, she drives one of THESE:

No Barbie Country Camper will do for this tough girl.  And because I have some dear friends in Tennessee who care about me and worried some about my first New England winter, I bought a 2007 Outback just before my move at their behest.  Turns out this is kinda the official state car of Vermont.  All you’ve got to do is drive around for a few minutes to affirm this truth.  My Outback, however, is brilliant white, which was perhaps not the best color choice for a state where it appears that snow and mud are part of the landscape.  I note that the marketing folks at Subaru took this into consideration, as you can see.

Thus far I must say that my Outback has allowed me to go pretty much anywhere I need to, unimpeded.  (Note to the Universe:  please do not interpret this statement as over-confidence on my part.  Please.)  Verdict:  I like my Subi.  It seems sure-footed and plucky, and it goes in the snow.  The seat heater keeps my tush warm, and the winter package appears to keep things defrosted on the outside.  Just gimme an Elmer Fudd hat, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and call me Vermont Barbie.

Of course, Handsome Chef Boyfriend says the Subaru Outback is an old lady car.  But that is a story for another day.

This…

…is not how the story ends.

The word gobsmack returns a peremptory “No results found,” when you search dictionary.com for its meaning.  Okay, no problemo.  Here it is, precisely, in my own words.  Gobsmack is what your husband of twenty-three years does to you when you sit down opposite him on a Tuesday morning in late October at the breakfast table, and instead of discussing, as planned, the beautiful new space you are about to move your burgeoning young ballet school into—the space you have been looking at, dreaming of, and talking about for weeks, and for which you are about to sign a lease—he says these incomprehensible words to you:  I think it’s time we think about a divorce.  I think it’s time we think. About. A. Divorce.

Congratulations:  you have officially been gobsmacked.

If you could translate this full frontal emotional assault into a physical action it would be tantamount to a whack in the head with a two-by-four.  Or maybe evisceration by a Tolkien orc.  Or being squished by a freight train, although that one would be more humane because you would never know what hit you, and it would just be over.  This is worse because you are not dead; instead you are suffering horribly, and in slow motion.  Kinda like road kill that is still alive, a little.

But wait, there’s more.  Although you are finding it difficult to breathe, and you feel your knees could never support you if you decided to stand, and it is possible you are suffering a coronary event that might be shaving years off your life in a minute’s time, still you somehow summon the courage to ask him, Is there somebody else?  Before he answers this question, you  think, No, no way this man, who has been my trusted soul mate (key word there: trusted) and my rock in good times and bad (think, marriage vows), the father of our almost-grown child who is still so needy, dutiful son to his parents as they were ageing and dying, this man, this man would never, ever do that to me; there is some other problem, some inexplicable thing that is causing him to be so unhappy—whatever that is, we can figure it out.  And the nanosecond it takes you to think those thoughts is enough for him to quietly nod his head and hold up two fingers.  Without looking you in the eye.

It turned out to be many more.

<Insert Very Uncharitable Thoughts here.>

Thank the universe, I come from a long line of very, very strong, sometimes too-willful matriarchs—not all of them blood relatives.  On that late October day, the instant he left for work, it was one of them who yanked my ass into gear.  I called my mama, herself a veteran ballet teacher, still turning out young dancers destined for the stage even in her advancing years.  I was incoherent, which pissed me off, making it still harder to hang on to what shred of composure remained (okay, none).  HOW (I demanded through my snotty sobs) was I supposed to stand in front of a class of FIVE-YEAR-OLDS later that day and teach them BALLET?  This was a question I had put to my husband moments earlier, and to which he had replied, There was never going to be a good time to tell you.  That one statement so beautifully summed up his own character.  Good time for whom?

In that one instant with my mom tossing me a lifeline I was reduced to a fifth-grader who was blubbering about turning in a social studies project on time that, in my juvenile estimation, was imperfect. I imagined my mom squaring her shoulders and tightening her grip on the phone.  You listen to me, she spat.  You are a professional.  You get yourself together and go teach those children.  THAT is what you will do.

I was talking to a tough-as-nails woman who had already lived this moment in her own life.  That is what I did.  I taught those children like nobody’s business.  My young piano accompanist—who knew what was going on—gave me two thumbs up at the end of class, after I asked her, beseeched her, to tell me truthfully whether it was obvious that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

And then, after the last family left the school and I turned the deadbolt, I came completely, piteously, wretchedly, unglued.  The performance had ended; the curtain was down.  In so, so many ways.

And I was still standing, sort of.

I am still standing now, in earnest.

This is not how the story ends.  It is instead how it begins.  I had a moment of clarity recently, outside on a beautiful fall day in New England, a thousand miles away from the Southern city I have called home for three decades, amidst the terror and uncertainty that had followed me here, and it was this:  had my husband not delivered that horrible blow about a year ago, had we continued down the path we had been on for some time, I might have wasted the best years of my life, which I am convinced now stretch out before me. In spite of lingering fear and uncertainty, to say nothing of a shrinking checking account and poorly insulated New England cottage home, I am happier than I have been in my life, ever.

And that is really something.