I used to live up here, far from a big city. Muddy Subarus everywhere. Ads at the local cinema for a tattoo parlor. I knew Route 89 like the back of my hand.
I came to live in New Hampshire, in a small town, in the summer of 1988, with no prior experience of rural or small town life. I’d always lived in large cities: London, Paris, Montreal, Toronto. The absolute silence of our street was astonishing.
I followed the American man I would marry in 1992 — and who would walk out of our apartment, and our marriage, barely two years later.
The woman who lived here 24 years ago was terrified.
She — I — had left behind her country, friends, family, a thriving career. My whole identity. Anyone who moves to a new country “for love” better have a Teflon soul, a full bank account of her own and the stamina for re-invention.
I remember exactly how I felt as I crossed the border into the U.S. from Canada to move here — like a raindrop falling into an ocean. The United States has a population 10 times that of Canada. Surely I would simply disappear, never to be heard from, or of, again.
How would I ever re-build my career? New friendships? A sense of belonging? Who would I be(c0me)?
And so I used to look at all the women here — almost every one of them mothers or pregnant — apparently so secure in their identity and their marriages, roaming in packs.
I didn’t want children, and everyone here did, eagerly. I’ve never, anywhere — not even far, far away in foreign countries — felt so alien, isolated and disconnected. There were no jobs for which I was qualified. I knew not a soul. My boyfriend, then a medical resident, was always gone, returning home exhausted and grouchy.
That we were unmarried, even then un-affianced, seemed to make everyone deeply nervous. What was it, 1933?
It was the loneliest I’ve ever been.
I did love our apartment, the entire ground floor of a big old house. I did a lot of sailing. I spent every Friday at the local auction house and learned a lot about antiques. Eager for more, I drove 90 minutes each way to Massachusetts to take a class in it there. For amusement, alone, I drove the back roads of Vermont and New Hampshire. I drew. I even drove every Monday back to Montreal to teach journalism.
But, after 18 months of my best efforts, I was desperate to flee, to re-claim a life that made some sense to me, socially, professionally and intellectually. So we moved to New York, just in time for the (then) worst recession in journalism in decades. After six relentless months of job-hunting and with no contacts to help me, I found a magazine editing job that required my French and Spanish skills. I’d never edited a magazine before.
Coming back now, I sat in the sunshine at the farmer’s market, listening to a band play bluegrass and eating a slice of wood-fired- oven-made pizza. I stared at all those mothers with their babies and their swollen bellies — and felt at ease.
I’d gone to New York. I’d achieved my dreams, surviving three recessions; in 2008, 24,000 fellow journalists lost their jobs nationwide.
Achieving my dreams would have been impossible here, then. There was, in practical terms, no Internet or cellphones. Social media barely existed. And no one had ever heard of me or read my by-line.
Nor had I yet paid my American dues — attending all those meetings and panels and conferences, getting to know editors, serving on volunteer boards, showing up, landing a few good jobs, getting fired, getting other jobs, getting laid off. Finding an agent, and then another one, and then another. Selling two well-reviewed books. Mentoring other writers.
It felt sweet to sit in the sunshine here, now, content in having done what I’d hoped to and which looked impossible, here, nestled deep within these green hills.
I no longer have to prove myself to anyone here.