January, 2001 was the month and year that I decided that the corporate legal world had seen enough of my talent. In January of 2001 I truly believed I was still that little pot-smoking hippie, outdoorsy chick who grew up in the Adirondacks but was forced to sell out to The Man. That was the month and year that my new fiancé said, “Sure, I’ll move to North Conway, New Hampshire because you once spent a day there in the midst of your previous unhappy marriage and thought it was idyllic.” Okay, well that’s not exactly what he said, but this is a blog, not a book.
In my 28 years, I had never encountered a person who accepted that the act of running away might be an acceptable means of therapy and rebirth. Then I met David. The love of my life that was, as I found out, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. He wisely recognized that I was being suffocated by my own existence and that perhaps, running was precisely what I needed to do to find myself.
I had been divorced for exactly seven months. My ex-husband got my dog, the house, some friends and even a few of my family members in the settlement. Truth is, I walked and told him to keep it all. I was too exhausted to fight over a life that made me miserable enough to ponder death. Granted, I had hoped for a bit more support and understanding, but as Joe’s preschool teacher once wisely said, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” The problem with that sentiment is that I was upset. Somewhere along the line I had lost myself in my quest to become what everyone else expected me to be. I had lost my true self and the people who were supposed to be closest to me didn’t even know. Unfortunately, the last known sighting of the real me was a 19-year-old who liked to camp, smoke a little dope on occasion, write short stories and listen to folk music. I was under the impression that I was still a decent skier, which thrilled Dave because he’s an incredible skier and had spent several years doing just that in Sun Valley.
I had it all planned out. We’d move up to North Conway where we would ski. We would drive to the mountain in our blue VW van; we’d hang out and just…hang out. (I had stopped the pot thing by that point.) I’d be living the dream…living off the grid and returning to my roots. I’d start braiding my hair again and I’d wear fleece. I’d live in jeans and my Birkenstocks. I’d just ‘be.’ I happily boxed up my Jimmy Choos and invested in a new pair of ski boots.
We drove to NH in a blizzard. He drove a Ryder truck full of our possessions and I drove my little Honda with Rosie O’Kitty ensconced on the passenger seat. Six perilous and blizzard-filled hours from Brookfield, Connecticut, we pulled into our new home in the White Mountains. In reality, we had rented a shack. A freaky little shack in the woods because that’s all that would accept our dog on such short notice. (I wish I had photograph of the place to prove that I actually lived there.) Our previously delivered van was parked between some trees, which I assumed was meant to be a driveway. There was really just too much snow to figure it all out.
Dave began work right away, leaving me to my solitary existence. I was consulting for my old company and working from home. What this really meant was that I sat around in pajamas all day and lorded over the contracts for my old company. I deciphered legalese for non-legal personnel and sat through phone conferences while I watched the snow that continued to fall outside of my window. I also watched Regis and Kelly and discovered HGTV. I was alone in the woods of northern New Hampshire in a tiny shack on a lake where the snow never seemed to stop falling. It was uncomfortably quiet and the snow was clean. Pine trees were weighed down with mounds of snow and occasionally, I’d hear a muffled thud as a pile slowly slid from the boughs and hit the ground. I was alternatively freaked out by the solitary nature of my new existence and thrilled to have done something so spontaneous. My new-found freedom both thrilled and terrified me.
I braided my hair and wore fleece. I skied alone on a weekday after one of the biggest snowstorms of the year. The peacefulness and freedom I experienced on that day will stay with me forever. Despite the breathtaking peacefulness and freedom I felt on that day, I came to the realization that I’m a really shitty skier. Dave won a mogul competition and I skied on the long, winding groomers with old ladies and seven-year-olds. Dave skied the glades and I secretly cried because I was cold and my feet hurt. I silently freaked out on the chairlift as I took in the endless peaks of the White Mountain range and became overwhelmed by the vast wilderness that thrived beneath the carpet of trees. From that chairlift, it seemed that sea of trees and undulating mountains never ended. I found myself looking forward toward where I imagined Canada was. It was a beautiful, but somehow lonely expanse of mountains full of dark mysteries that terrified me. That vast, overcast view intimidated and frightened me. I often contorted in the chairlift, twisting to see the view to the south where I longed to see the buildings of New York. What had I done? I was stuck now, somewhere in the middle of who I once was and who I was to become, but I had no idea. I felt homesick but never wanted to go back.
I began living a rather hermit-like existence. I realized that I had no real idea who I was or what I was doing with my life. I was a blank slate and my only real connection to humanity was David. I sat at my computer each day, reading contracts and sitting through conference calls. I e-mailed my insights and opinions. I drove to the post office. I let the dog out. I stared at my face in the mirror. I drove aimlessly. I looked at my teeth. I inspected my skin. I started braiding my hair in intricate patterns. I read cook books. I was bored.Out.Of.My.Mind.
I craved a cocktail at a swanky lounge and I wanted to get there in a cab. I wanted to walk through the doors of Barney’s and inhale the heavenly scent of luxury. I longed to aimlessly wander the shoe department of Neiman’s and try on shoes I couldn’t afford. Unknown to Dave, I began to realize that Hippie Chick was, well…kind of an aimless loser who was better off dead.
Once summer arrived, we spent our weekends hiking a trail to a deserted oasis on the river where we lounged on the rocks, swam and ate our lunch next to the crystal clear water. I rode my bike to the top of Bear Notch. I swam alone in a deserted lake and soaked up the warm sun from a raft surrounded by masses of trees and silence. That glorious silence forced me to confront myself and I haven’t stopped yet. I’ve discovered a lot about myself in the past ten years and I sometimes hate what I see.
We stayed there for only seven months. I’ve come to realize that my dream place wasn’t meant to be a permanent, but rather, served as a temporary shelter. Ultimately, David gave me the gift of escape and patiently waited nearby as I let go of my past. In that tiny shack in the woods, I confronted ghosts and tried to exorcise my demons. I discovered that I wasn’t who I thought I was and realized that I had no idea who I was to become. Sensing I was on the verge of a long process of change, I squeezed a bit of abandon and soul searching into seven short months.
I’m all for a posh get-up, some killer shoes and a filthy dirty martini, straight up, please. I don’t love red meat. Sometimes I enjoy a long, skinny cigarette. I still like running, but don’t always have the time. I like going to spas and salons, especially after a weekend digging in the dirt or splashing through mud on my bike. I can go days without makeup, but have been known to inexplicably crave a makeover. I like fancy underwear. I rarely wear shoes anymore, but knowing they are on stand-by in my closet is nice. I think I’m ugly, but try my hardest not to let you know that. I listen to the Grateful Dead but happily switch to Cat Power or Weezer or Pearl Jam… Jeans are my current uniform. I can’t relax unless my surroundings feel pretty and uncluttered. I refold the laundry that David already folded. Sometimes I don’t shower for a day and a half. I know that I don’t want to go back into the legal world. I know that I need to be creative to thrive. I feel completely socially inept at all times and I think you think I am too. Feet freak me out and so do men with long fingernails. I never think I’m good enough, smart enough, funny enough, pretty enough or that I’m a good parent or wife. I’ve battled depression for most of my life and I’ve grown tired of hiding that fact. My shack in the woods introduced the path to clarity. It was there where I finally began accepting that I didn’t need to hide my eccentricities and faults. I learned that I can never be perfect to everyone, but I never seem to be able to stop trying.