Waking up this morning in that bit of a fog between reality and dream, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me when I saw where I was. I was not where I had dreamed myself to be.
I was so young back then, and full of hope and promise, 20 years old and newly married to a man I absolutely worshipped and adored, with our first child growing in my large, protruding belly. Reality, back then, was that we had just purchased our first home together. It was an old, early 1900's farmhouse on a few acres, and my husband's dream was to have a small dairy herd to supplement our income. The old red barn with its empty stalls and stanchions held so much hope for us. The fields were ready for planting, and we were about to begin our farm and our family together.
My in-laws had come for a visit; we were doing some much-needed renovations on the farmhouse before the little one was due to arrive. I was picking out lovely shades of blue and brick colored carpet for our living room and bedroom and painting an old dresser a soothing pale yellow to match the teddy-bears-in-sailboats wallpaper I'd chosen for the nursery. It was a lot of work for both of us: stripping wallpaper, removing old plaster held to the walls with what looked like chicken wire shaping one side of the living room into a faux fireplace; yanking out cabinets and floors and putting in new ones and drywall and appliances. We had some cash from the sale of my husband's prior home, and we were saving a ton by doing all of the work on the "new" house ourselves. I stayed away from fumes and dust the best I could, and my father-in-law and my stepsons helped get the work done. But most of it was done by my husband. I was so in love with him. I knew, just knew, he was put in my path by God. We were meant to be a family. We would sit on the porch of our farmhouse in rocking chairs in our old age together, watching the grandchildren play in the yard. I just knew it. I was so, so happy.
We had many happy times in that old farmhouse; all of my sons were born while we lived there. All of them came home from the hospital, riding in our old van up the dirt driveway to be carried inside and loved and raised in that old house. They nursed in the rocking chair in the master bedroom that my husband had created from an attached garage. For the first few weeks they slept in a bassinet in the open, walk-in closet he had built across from our bed. They learned to crawl on that pale blue carpet in the living room and napped in a crib in that teddy bear nursery. My babies turned to toddlers and preschoolers and I sang them each to sleep at night after holding them by the window to look at the stars and the tiny lights far off in 'town' half an hour's drive away. They ran to the barn to milk goats with me, they toddled in the garden picking raspberries and carrots with me, they walked the irrigation ditches to cut wild asparagus with me. They gathered eggs with me in our chicken coop and ran wild in the fields with our big yellow dog. They played in the tractor-tire sandbox their father had made in our yard and enjoyed their simple birthday parties outdoors with their little friends. I washed the dishes each night while looking out the window as the sky turned pink and orange and red while the sun set over the mountains of the Wasatch Front.
We were loved. Living in a small farming community, we always felt like family to our neighbors. We grew corn and gave bags away to nearby families; others grew tomatoes and shared with us. When there was a 'down cow' at a dairy farm, the grandma would call anyone she thought might be in need and offer a share of free beef once the butcher had done his job. We helped each other, loved each other, worshipped together. When someone was sick, we brought them soup. We cleaned their house for them or babysat. When I went into premature labor with one of my sons, everyone stepped in to help care for my children and bring us dinners so that I could be on bed rest. When a baby was born, we got together to sew a quilt for them. The older women took me under their wings and taught me how to garden, to can fruits and vegetables, to cook, and to quilt. I had mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews... not by blood, but by heart. I never felt alone.
When my marriage was struggling, I found hope because there was always some religious leader to come into our home and counsel us. There was support. Divorce was not an option... at least, that's how it felt. We were a family and we would work it out. Ups and downs, very difficult circumstances, but the love I was surrounded with made up for it.
Seven years later, we moved. When my father-in-law had visited back when we first bought the farmhouse, he had once paused from scraping wallpaper and said to me, "Maybe you'll move back east again so we can see you more often!" I had responded, "Oh no. We are here forever. This is our home. It is so very special to me because my husband *made* this home for me! We put our hearts into it. Wild horses couldn't drag me away from this place, because it is the home that Love built." And he got tears in his eyes, because I loved his son so much. Yet here we were, seven years later, about to leave. My husband had gotten a better job in another state many hours away, and we felt this was best for our family. Many tears were shed and I had such mixed feelings about leaving: excitement for a new start, but great sadness leaving behind our beloved home and community. Everyone cried as they held my fourth baby, just weeks old, kissing him goodbye and hugging me as we packed our things to leave.
That's when my life changed. That moment is the distinct point in time... that very hour when we were gathering our children and getting into our cars to leave... that my life was unalterably changed forever.
We moved to a city. It was a small city, by most people's standards, but was still the biggest city I had ever lived in. A rental house for six months, then a purchased home in the suburbs. No farm animals here; no garden, no country fields for play. Busy streets and fences between neighbors made it difficult to adjust. Here is where I lost my religion; the new church was just not the same nor as welcoming as the old one. I never felt the community I had before, even though I did all the same things: babysat and cleaned and cooked for others when they were sick, joined in all the activities, taught Sunday school, invited people over. People just seemed so busy here. Moms worked. No one canned or quilted. There was just no sense of community for me. I felt very alone. Years ticked by and I only got close to a few. And when I stopped going to church, almost no one bothered to call or come by and see if I was okay.
I wasn't okay. I was so far from okay it was frightening. Less than two years from our move, my husband and I got divorced. And let me tell you, "city" life as a single mother with four little kids is about as far as you can possibly get from the life I had before we moved. I was thrown into an unfamiliar world with no family, and chaos ensued. Oh, I made it through somehow. I raised the kids. I made a few friends. I managed to hang onto our house. I worked, I went back to college, I got some degrees. My toddlers and preschoolers grew up here, no more chicken eggs or garden carrots to gather, no more sheep or goats to pat, no fields to run in. But we did okay. The kids made plenty of friends at school. They played in parks instead of fields and when we ran out of food we got donuts and Ramen at the food bank instead of tomatoes and beef from neighbors. The kids had things here they never would have had in our old home: a school they could walk to, Little League teams to play on, real soccer fields with real teams to compete against, city buses to ride with their friends. They went on Boy Scout trips for camping and rock climbing and got to play instruments in concerts and went to a real city pool for swimming lessons. They had a big library to borrow books from and we were even close enough to the ocean to go camping there every summer. We had good times. And I grew to love it here, in our new home.
I dreamed I was in our old house with my children last night. I was smiling to be finally back "home." I was walking through the rooms, remembering all the work we put into each wall and floor and ceiling. My little ones were playing in their rooms and their laughter echoed down the stairs. I felt content and at peace and I said, "I want to stay here." And I knew I always would. And then I woke up.
My life now is good. Great, even. I am happy with what I have created here, and when I think about it, I know I'd never want to move back there. But some part of me seems to mourn the loss of what we had back then. Some part of me wishes we had never left. I dream of my children playing in the fields under the sunset mountains. I taste the fresh raspberries as my children's pudgy fingers toss them into the pot as we make jam. I hear them laughing... I imagine those rocking chairs on the porch, forty years of marriage, holding hands, grandkids picking dandelions and playing in the grass.
I know it isn't real. I do remember the bad... the real reasons we divorced. I see him sometimes, and I know I would never, ever want to go back to that relationship because truly, it was bad. My memories and dreams whitewash the past and revert to the time were we were newly married and nothing was wrong yet. My dreams never have him in them. Just the house, the farm, my babies standing on stepstools washing dirty carrots in the sink.
I have one of the greatest blessings of my life now: my wonderful daughter. She never would have happened had I not moved here. I have often recounted how very thankful I am that we did move. I think I would be in a far worse place now had we not. But somehow, even though I am happy and satisfied with *this* life, the memories... the dreams... of the old life reappear now and then. But when the morning fog lifts, I look around me and know I am where I need to be.