Wednesday, July 3, 2013

West 4 Independence

"I think I could do this," I whispered.

"I was just thinking the same thing..." Ella replied, her own voice barely audible.

I reached out and took her hand in mine. My eyes wandered across open fields, up mountains, and  towards the big blue sky.

This simple exchange occurred two years ago this week, while driving through Eastern Utah on our way to spend a few days with Ella's family at Bear Lake. We had already spent a few days in Oakley, relaxing at the family cabin. You wouldn't think that surrounding ourselves with two dozen or so nieces and nephews would be a relaxing enterprise, and in the past it hadn't been for me. But that year I had embraced it, and found the experience to be a restful one. We had spent the evening of Independence Day at the Oakley Rodeo, where we watched the bucking, riding, roping, and when it was over, the colorful flashing of fireworks overhead.

I searched my memory for a more patriotic 4th of July but could not find one.

Bear Lake was sunny, hot, and metamorphic. I had brought the first half of a manuscript that I was working on, and it was passed around to brothers and sisters-in law. A discussion ensued one afternoon, as we sat in the sun and watched the kid-cousins playing in the water. Common ground was uncovered, and for the first time in an eighteen-year marriage I felt kinship with Ella's family.

I flew home two days later, leaving Ella and the kids to stay in Utah for a couple more weeks. During that time the cell towers between us crackled and sparked with excitement as Ella and I discussed our plans to move west. It was unreal; we were the last people on the list of those destined to move to Utah. We had long ago fallen in step with those bent on stereotyping, ranting, and speculating when it came to “Utards.”

By the time Ella and the kids were home, my excitement had melted in the hot humid air of New Hampshire. We would not be moving; we ran a successful business, lived in a nice home, enjoyed the company of good friends, and loved our sweet little town in spite of its growing pains and ever-increasing tax burden. Wasn’t the thought to move west just a knee-jerk reaction to a restful vacation? Would living in Utah be as wonderful as visiting had been? I imagined my doubts until they grew into the joy-killing weeds of reality. I informed the Salt Lake City based company that was eager to meet me that we were no longer seeking an immediate move to Utah. Ella and the kids were deflated.

Summer ended, school started, and happiness struggled. We pushed our way through the autumn months in slow motion, still hoping for a reasonable end to the perfect storm of emotions that had raged since Jared’s suicide two years earlier. I wrote sporadically, never imagining that I would actually finish my account of the troubled relationship I had shared with my little brother, and the shame that I felt at having abandoned him whenever he had truly needed me. I longed for a sweeping, cleansing change, but fear and the unknown stood in the way. Driving the winding, canopied roads of New England became a metaphor for life; I couldn’t see where I was going.

An unexpected email, a couple of phone calls, and a flight to Salt Lake City later that winter seemed (at first) to confirm my doubts. I had come to meet with that same interested company on their dime, but upon entering their office I knew in an instant that it wasn’t to be. I threw the interview and left the building. Looking up at the grey layer of winter smog, I felt depressed, lost, and let down.

And then I accepted a ride up to Summit County. There the sky was blue, the sun was bright, and the mountain air was clean. Snow covered the ground, but I was warm. It felt like home. I called Ella and told her that yes, we could do it, but it would have to be at 6500 ft.

Soon our house in New Hampshire was on the market, and so was my business. Both sold with little trouble, each to good friends looking for their own sweeping, cleansing change. Ella flew west, and after a couple of days searching around the valley, she found the house and neighborhood that had been waiting for us.

We moved in just before the 4th of July, one long and winding year after that moment of clarity we had shared in the car. One of the first things we did after unloading the truck was to buy tickets for the Oakley Rodeo. As it began, several girls rode into the arena on horseback carrying the Stars and Stripes. The crowd went wild as the flags fluttered and a song about “Home” began to play over the loudspeakers.

One year later.

Ella has made our home comfortable and happy, and she has worked hard while I have scribbled. When she goes missing I know to look for her on the back deck, where she is sure to be sitting on the couch swing, staring up at the mountains with a smile on her lips. The kids have settled in; they’ve made new friends, tried new things, and admit to loving it here.

My book is finished. People love it, and I refuse to check sales figures. I like to drive through Summit County; out here I can see where I am going.

I am doing this; we are doing this.

1 comment:

  1. I am now weeping - STOP IT!! I am so beyond happy for you all, I can't take it. It seems odd to me that you've only been in Utah a year. It seems you've always been there. This kind of scares me though as we too have made oaths NEVER to live in Utah. Never say never, eh?