Why I Must Go
Escaping the life I’m supposed to love
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The reminders are everywhere.
Living in this town has kept me trapped in a past I’ve struggled to forget; one I’ve tried to leave behind but never managed to move on from.
I moved to the White Mountains fifteen years ago in pursuit of a literal dream: I awoke one morning from a vision of a cabin overlooking the Presidential range, near the place I’d attended summer camp as a teen. I was visiting my parents in New Hampshire the summer after my first year as a Ph.D.student at the University of Wisconsin. I was supposed to fly back to the apartment whose lease I’d renewed, and the second-year classes I’d registered for, and the husband whose job supported me on what would be a decade-long journey to become an Environmental Studies professor, working with the most famous mentor in my field.
Instead, I woke up from the dream and searched the internet for real estate in the town where I’d attended summer camp and I found the cabin overlooking the mountains. The next day, I drove north with my mom to meet with the realtor and I stood on the porch of the place I’d dreamed of. Beyond the pointy tips of the spruce and fir trees, the summit cone of Mount Washington loomed, covered in craggy felsenmeer (literally, “a sea of rocks”), its iconic weather towers and observatory silhouetted against the blue sky. It felt close enough to touch.
I had to have this house. But how?
I found my then-husband some teaching jobs in the area, and I wrote the applications for him. A week later, he flew from Wisconsin to New Hampshire for job interviews. We visited the log cabin and checked out some other real estate. We took a two-night backpacking trip across the Presidential ridge, and when we hiked out and turned on our phones, he had two job offers.
By then, someone had put a deposit on our cabin. A piece of my heart broke, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t practical: the cabin was built as a vacation home, with tiny bedrooms and closets, an inflated price tag, and a controversial crude oil pipeline crossing at the base of the driveway. It was on a dirt road surrounded by a mix of other vacation homes, trailers, and industrial-looking garages. The views were magical, but the surroundings left a lot to be desired. I wanted my future kids to have a nice neighborhood to play in, with friends down the street. The cabin wasn’t close to anything, including my husband’s job offers.
But the dream was in motion, so we kept searching. When I walked into the little white gambrel colonial on a quiet street in a quiet town, I knew it was mine. It had two features I’d always wished for but never had in my childhood home: a front and back porch, and an upstairs. And the backyard bordered a forest! I envisioned my future children climbing the boulders in the woods out back, riding bikes up and down the street, and splashing in the bathtub. My heart soared being surrounded by the mountains I’d loved since I was a girl, rather than the acres of corn fields in the Midwestern town where I was studying. I knew I couldn’t sacrifice another decade of my life grinding away in the ivory towers of academia when I could be living in the mountains. We wanted to be closer to family. We wanted children of our own, and I wanted to raise them in this place. I was 28 years old, and I followed my heart and my dream to the White Mountains.
My husband took the job that was ten minutes down the road from the house we bought. We got approved for a mortgage just weeks before the 2008 financial collapse, and closed on our house the day after Lehman Brothers folded. I broke our lease in Wisconsin and withdrew from my classes and arranged with my professors to continue my doctoral research remotely. Just weeks after that fateful dream, we were driving a UHaul back east. We signed reams of paperwork and the realtor handed us the key to our new home. My husband carried me across the threshold and we surveyed our new abode. It needed some work. I remember sitting on the carpet at the top of the stairs thinking, “What have I done?”
I seem to have a habit of blowing up my life like this, and it happened again a few years into our new life in the mountains. That is the part I wish I could erase from the story. I wish I could say that the academic work continued and the babies came and the picture of us sitting on our porch swing glowing in the sunset became an annual tradition, adding kids and dogs every year and living happily ever after.
I destroyed that dream for what I thought was another one.
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