Long before I took the huge leap of faith that was moving to Vermont—before my marriage failed and I found myself unemployed at the end of a miserable divorce—I wondered how rural New England life might feel on my bones. It was just a fantasy. My life and family and work were deeply rooted in East Tennessee and the idea of undertaking such a huge shift could be only that—an idea. I have had occasion in the last year to reflect on how this idea could never come to fruition—or even really bear discussion—during our marriage because my ex would always say his work was in East Tennessee; one of many red flags I chose to ignore in my two-plus decades with him. Even a New England vacation was out of the question. What we had was never really a partnership.
Ironically I am writing this post at the big, glass desk I placed intentionally below one of two large, west-facing picture windows on the cheerful facade of my Vermont cottage. From here I can look across a small road, through a stand of tall scrub pines and onto a picturesque frozen lake; it is close enough to me that if I threw a rock it would land in it. Or skid across its surface. The locals tell me it will teem with winter activities before too much longer; Handsome Chef Boyfriend ran around it yesterday morning and reported that there were already a few ice fishermen out on the shallow north end. The week before Christmas there was no ice at all. Then a winter storm blew in, and two days later another on its heels, and suddenly the lake was frozen. Just like that. It is magical, and all new to me.
My shepherd Clarence and I saw a few of summer’s waning days before New England fall was upon us. And then we had several weeks of delicious, long runs against a backdrop that was more stunning than I could have imagined, or that any picture postcard could ever do justice. I kept pinching myself to make sure this was no dream.
I have arrived at the next chapter, at my life in rural New England.
Leaving Tennessee was rough. I walked away from close bonds to people, to family, to land there. I closed my small ballet school of necessity. The local economy was and remains weak. Had there been a couple more years of financial and emotional support I think we—my ballet school families and I—could have made a go of it. We were very close. But there was no way in the world I could bear the thought of spending the next half-century of my life standing behind a cash register at the mall, and that was the emerging picture. My ex would have been fine with that scenario.
A great hue and cry went up when I announced the school’s closure: proverbial wailing, tearing of hair, gnashing of teeth. As Eloise would say, You can imagine…. I still hate that I had to walk away from my students, some of whom I had been teaching from quite young and who were now experiencing their first summer study away from home at American Ballet Theatre. If you are uninitiated in the ways of the ballet world, this is a big deal. Abandoning a work in progress is a horrible feeling, and I am eternally grateful to my mom—a veteran ballet teacher—for stepping up to the plate in my absence to care for some of these kids, in spite of a two-hour commute. (Thanks, mom.) I really did—and still do—care about my ballet kids.
Many of my Tennessee friends, and some of my family, urged me to reconsider the idea of leaving. It is nice to be loved, and I think a few people just did not want me to go. My closest family members were worried about my finances and felt that it would be more difficult to help me if I were a thousand miles away; they were probably correct. It was difficult to explain why I had to go, although I tried to make it clear. Some people did not get it, others got it right away. Still, it was a good exercise for me to be careful about this decision and spend some time reflecting.
And then there was a single moment when the decision to get out felt right, in fact urgent.
On an early summer day I sat idling in traffic at a signal at the entrance to my neighborhood, waiting to make a left turn when the light changed. The driver’s window in the car ahead of me was open, and then her arm emerged and came to a rest on the door. The arm that was tattooed with flames from the shoulder to the elbow. The arm belonging to a woman, a massage therapist who had worked on my ex. The massage therapist who had held him. And dined with him. And slept with him. And lived in a condominium three blocks from our family home. And probably passed by it many times a day, unbeknownst to me.
In that moment, I realized that the city of roughly a half million I had called home for three decades had just shrunk, kind of like the Grinch’s heart, two sizes too small. It was time to go.
One of my favorite writers when asked recently the biggest lesson life has taught him answered, there isn’t one lesson, but many. But, he said, dealing with love—finding it, doing what one loves, taking risks to do what one loves. The choice, he says, is security or satisfaction. So he has settled for a lot of satisfaction and no security.
That, in a nutshell, is where I find myself now. I won’t be in this beautiful little cottage for very long, because the reality is that I can’t afford it. I am trying to take each day at a time, trying to enjoy the beauty and serenity of this place while I can. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon a few days before I left Tennessee I found myself sitting on the porch at the home of another brilliant writer and friend who has seen more than her share of sorrow, telling her about that crystal clear moment when I knew I had to go. Her advice to me: you must tell your story.
That is precisely what I am doing. It is risky. There is no security in it. It is deeply satisfying.
I know my friends understand.