When my parents divorced, I was 3 and my brother was 6. My father’s mother had passed away just a year before, in the midst of their separation and divorce proceedings. He packed up the antique furniture she’d left him, searched out a plot of land in a rural stretch of farmland near a wildlife refuge and built us a house with both his own hands and the hands of those he knew and trusted.
We grew our own vegetables and picked plums and pears from a half a dozen fruit trees. We wandered the woods, threw rocks into untouched, bubbling creeks and discovered frozen ponds and fluffy, earthen moss on long walks through what felt like our very own hidden forests and secret clearings.
We had only one TV, and it was 13 inches tall with broken bunny ears and without cable. We didn’t have a dishwasher, a microwave or a VCR. We hung our clothes out to dry, stacked wood to burn in the marble fireplace my dad had helped to build and rode bikes for hours down empty roads.
We lived simply.
A lot of times, we hated it. We knew about the things we were missing in the dynamic, exciting and far more stimulating world. Our mom had two TVs, cable, a functioning dryer, a fancy stereo system and neighbors within steps from our front yard. We knew about microwaveable pizza and Kool-Aid, the freedom of a life without weeding and constant yard work and the sound of kids jumping rope or riding skateboards around busy streets until well past sundown.
Sometimes, we felt like our lifestyle didn’t fit in or make sense in the context of the busy, noisy world we were somehow growing into. By the time I made my way to college, I ended up in New York City, where I lived for several years after graduating. I chose noise and stimulation, diversity, constant change and a bustling, transient environment to make my home. My brother moved to California, beside the ocean, where he shared a tiny apartment with his girlfriend and a roommate and spent every free moment surfing or swimming in the Pacific.
Later, I moved home to that house built on my father’s broken heart, in a farmland made with good soil for growing our weary souls. After 7 years in the city, I longed for an open sky and the sound of frogs or crickets only. I wanted to heal my shrinking body and put my bare feet in the tall, green grass and remember the thing that had saved me before I could understand ever needing to be saved: