The rural life was not my first choice. It wasn’t even my second.
“It’s not really as far as you think it is,” I said, trying to convince my partner, Chris, that we could actually live in the charming little college town that I loved even though it was nearly an hour’s drive from her job, a job she took so that I could leave our city home to go to graduate school in Massachusetts and still wake up next to her, every single day.
“I just can’t spend two hours of my day in the car,” she said.
“But think of all the audio books you could listen to,” I said. “You love audio books.”
In the end we split the difference: a house 30 minutes from my beloved town, 30 minutes from her office, and smack in the middle of nowhere.
Of course this middle of nowhere was beautiful. Of course. Pastures and old barns, stone walls and ponds. Beaver dams and bird sanctuaries. Blueberry bushes and apple orchards. Thick forests that had never been farmed and fields where cows ate and lazed in the tall grass. I must admit I was smitten. I was charmed. I had dreams of growing tomatoes and hanging diapers out to dry in the afternoon sun. I was in love with the local grocery store that sold bait worms and chocolate layer cakes and six different kinds of olive oil. I knew that these hills of western Massachusetts were a sweet anomaly, a place where former Brooklynites and artists and radicals live in an awkward and honest harmony with people whose grandmothers were born in the house just up the road. Part of me wanted to be one of them. Part of me thought I could really make the whole rural gig work. But most of me just wanted a house to call our own. We had been trying to conceive a child with the help of an anonymous sperm donor for nearly six months and I was certain that it wasn’t working because we weren’t settled. I was a woman in search of a nest.
And so we bought the house. We bought the house even though it was on a road that does not appear on most maps. We bought the fixer-upper with amazing southern exposure and one hundred adjacent acres that belong to the Audubon Society.
We moved in October. We stacked wood, painted the walls, fixed the chimneys, and worried about the crawl space. We unpacked boxes of books, arranged furniture, and hung pictures. The week before Thanksgiving we drove to our midwife’s office with a tank of frozen sperm in the trunk, just as we had done every month since the first green of spring. I was distracted this time; I was ready to move on to a new donor or a new midwife or maybe even fertility drugs. I just wanted to get this insemination over with so we could try something — anything — else. We returned home and I got back to work scraping and painting and buying rugs.
Two weeks later I was pregnant.
We have been in the hills of western Massachusetts, “The Hilltowns,” as they are called, for six years. I have conceived and carried and birthed two daughters here. We’ve had six years of ice storms and six blueberry harvests. Six maple syrup seasons. Six summers spent picking peas from the farm up the road and peaches from the tree next to the mailbox. Six years of isolation and my unrelenting desire for a neighbor and a latte and a Barnes and Noble. Six years of meeting people and trying to make friends and trying again and finally — finally! — succeeding. Six years of worrying about our daughters being the only children who have two moms and finding love and acceptance in the most unexpected places.
Still I wonder what it would be like to leave these hills. Not for that charming college town 30 minutes away (six years and I finally know myself and that town well enough to know that we were not made for each other), but for the city we left behind. I wonder what it would be like to take our girls to baseball games on Saturdays and dim sum after school. I wonder how it would be to plan my day around morning train schedules and the 5 p.m. rush at the post office and the evening fundraiser at the LGBT community center. I feel a clenching in my heart when I imagine walking our girls to school down the streets of the city where Chris and I met and fell in love; I feel that same clenching when I think of leaving these beloved hills where I have made my own meandering and frustrated and deeply satisfying way. My life is a coin I hold in the palm of my hand — I can only see one side, but I can feel the imprint of the other against my skin.
For now I am here in these hills, in this house full of girls on a dead-end gravel road. For now I am the one who doesn’t keep chickens and doesn’t keep bees and who dreads the day her daughters will realize that they are the only girls at school who don’t have a horse. I am the one who worries about the local school and wonders about private school but knows that her children can’t have a 30-minute commute to their life. I am the one whose idea of putting up for the winter is a nice long Netflix queue and a stack of chocolate bars. I am the one who swims across the lake in June and September and all the glorious months in between. I am the one who snowshoes when she is pregnant and then with a baby on her chest and later with a toddler on her back. I am the one who skis alone. I am the one who plants six different kinds of cherry tomatoes and an entire garden bed of sunflowers and not much else. I am the one who often wants to drop to her knees in gratitude for the perfect alchemy of luck and desire and ignorance that brought us here, to these hills, to this house full of girls on a dead-end gravel road.