I had this dream. Of living in the Pennsylvania countryside.
I can still remember sitting at my desk at FOX news in Salt Lake City where I produced local newscasts, looking at farmhouses online like a dude ogling web porn. At the time it seemed like the ultimate happy ending for our growing family. We would raise our kids in a quaint farmhouse in central Pennsylvania near his mom and the rest of his family. We’d grow a vegetable garden and freelance write from home while his mom watched our children. And we did it! We made it happen. We moved across the country — from my home state of Utah. We wrote from home, grew a vegetable garden, the whole damn dream, realized.
But although the specifics of the dream became reality, it ended up being a nightmare for us. We were isolated, spent too much time together, we lost ourselves. We spent a rough couple years dealing with those issues as well as a house fire and typical extended family drama and, ultimately, I began to realize Pennsylvania, at least for me, was a mistake. I am not a full-time country girl. I grew up in the suburbs, spent years in New York City and, at 38, realized I’m a city girl who would probably do best with small doses of country (or beach) throughout the year.
So when it became obvious our marriage was dying a slow, sad death I instinctively wanted to return home to Salt Lake City. My friends and family are there, as are all my connections in TV news. I craved familiar faces and places. Pennsylvania no longer held any appeal to me other than its roughly four hour proximity to New York City, the city that feels more like home to me than anywhere in the world. Being from Pennsylvania and living near his entire family, my ex-husband clearly didn’t want to leave the state. I couldn’t (and still can’t, if I’m honest) see any kind of life for myself in Pennsylvania. He couldn’t see living in Utah.
It was shaping up to be a long, contentious battle over where to raise the kids because, obviously, neither of us could fathom not living in the same state as our children. So it was everyone move to Utah or everyone stay in Pennsylvania.
We live in Pennsylvania. It is not ideal for me. I am lonely beyond measure. While he spends a significant amount of his share of time with the kids taking them on fun activities with his mom, I am always alone. Where he pops over to the grandparents’ house for hang out time, I don’t have that opportunity. Where his brother and his girlfriend spend time at my ex’s house hanging out, I have no family nearby. No friends. Sure, I’m working hard to make new friends – and I have! – but it’s hard to make friends as a busy adult. Real friends. People you really enjoy hanging out with as opposed to people you get together with for your children’s sake. In Utah there would’ve been a dozen childhood girlfriends with children the same age as mine that I could hang out with on any given day. My own mom would’ve been down the street. I could’ve returned to producing news in a familiar market and, at a time when I don’t recognize my life, I crave familiarity.
Sometimes, when my kids are off doing who knows what with who knows who, I experience the ultimate awfulness of feeling like my children are not my own. I imagine every divorced parent goes through that at some point: listening to your kids describe a day that you played absolutely no part in, talking about people you don’t know. When my kids are attending this or that holiday family shindig or get-together with my ex (that I’m not invited to), I feel like a stranger in a strange land. My children have this whole other life with his family that I’m not privy to. Had he moved to Utah, he probably would’ve experienced a lot of the same isolation — so it’s understandable that he would want to remain near his family. Even just the little things are heartbreaking; knowing my kids are having Sunday dinner at his mom’s, for example, or realizing he’ll likely go with a whole crew of people to chop down a Christmas tree when getting my tree consists of me wrangling three kids alone. Where he’s got his family Christmas parties to attend I’ve got … My work party? I don’t know.
I know, I know. Wah wah wah. Cue the violins. It’s true. Sometimes I spiral into self-pity and rage over how it’s all turning out. This specific circumstance has compounded the difficulty of the divorce for me. On nights without my kids, where I would’ve spent time with my girlfriends of 25 years in Utah, I am alone. Where I would’ve driven to mom’s house during those long days I become overwhelmed with coordinating three kids, here, I am on my own. I am working hard to build a solid community around myself; I found a job with excellent benefits, I rented a beautiful home in one of the best neighborhoods in my city so my daughter could start kindergarten at a reputable school, but I can’t help but slip into self-pity more than I care to admit here. I hate myself for it and that just makes it all the worse.
You have this image of how life is going to turn out for you, you know? Never in a billion years would I have guessed mine would be this; working at this job, living in this city in this state, alone, far from all that is familiar. But it doesn’t matter now. I need to get a hold of myself. I need to start acting like the person I want to be regardless of how I feel about where I live now. I need to discover who I am and who I can be in response to these circumstances. I need to start being who I want to be instead of lamenting the loss of who I thought I was going to be.
I need to make this world, his world, my world. Starting now.