OUR HOME. A wooden table, a vase overflowing with wildflowers, a golden-green field. Long walks with Wyn, and shorter ones with Gloria.
Sitting on the back porch, smoking a joint with the love of my life and his mom. Getting giggly and munchy, and making brownies from scratch in a too-hot kitchen. Sleeping over in a room full of Wyn’s high school soccer trophies so we don’t have to drive back to our new apartment over the overpriced stationery store downtown.
Our new Save the Date stuck prominently to Gloria’s fridge.
I memorize all the floorboards that creak or groan, so I can tiptoe downstairs in the morning without waking anyone, take the Jeep into town for a sugary latte for me and black coffee for them, orange cinnamon morning buns for all of us. Or at least Wyn will have a bite, and I’ll polish off the rest.
I walk for a while, enjoy the bittersweet scent of whitebark and pine and quaking aspen.
There’s an entire shop here for sauces, syrups, and oils. Last week, after sampling easily two dozen, Wyn and I bought a smoky maple syrup aged in charred bourbon barrels. For Gloria’s birthday, we made pancakes, and when she tasted the syrup, she said, “Tastes like camping.”
Then she got choked up, because camping was something she and Hank used to do. “When we were first dating and had no money,” she explained. Then, after a teary laugh, she added, “And once we’d been married for decades and still had no money.”
Wyn stood and went to wrap his arms around her shoulders, and she patted his arm as she recovered. I understood, then, the immense honor it is to hurt like she does. To have loved someone so much that the taste of maple syrup can make you cry and laugh at the same time.
And I know, if nothing else, I’ll have that. I know I’ve chosen the right universe.
The thought breaks my heart a little for my parents. For my dad, who worked nearly every Monday through nearly every Friday at a job he didn’t like enough to ever talk about, and I understand that something was stolen from him and he accepted it. Because we needed him to, or because he believed we did. And for my mom, who left behind one home to follow him and never quite found another.
I duck into the shop and buy four bottles of campfire maple syrup.
One for Parth and Sabrina, one for Cleo and Kimmy, and one for each of my parents. I want them both to have every drop.
I want them to have everything they’ve ever wanted.
There are times, still, when I am anxious about my decision, worry over whether my parents will ever understand it, understand me, or if I’ll ever find something to be my thing.
And whenever I need a happy place, I still think of the cottage. Or maybe not the cottage so much as an alcove under the stairs that smells like Wyn, a sun-washed dock and Cleo asking about our other lives, Sabrina and Parth fuming over a game of gin rummy, and Kimmy singing Crash Test Dummies into a wooden spoon.
I think of sitting in a row on an extralong twin bed in a musty dorm room, silk scarves tucked into drop tiles to soften the fluorescents, watching Clueless.
I picture an ever-less-run-down farm in the northernmost part of New York, and the first time I held my goddaughter Zora, couldn’t stop staring at her tiny fingers, the golden-brown eyes of her mother staring right back as my heart said, Miracle, miracle, miracle.
I revisit the drive out from San Francisco with my mom, when we finally packed up the rest of my stuff into a rented truck and hauled it out. The seedy motels we checked into, the episodes of Murder, She Wrote we watched while feasting on vending machine candy. So much of the trip was objectively awkward or stressful, but in my memory, those aren’t the moments that loom large.
Instead, it’s Mom telling me all about how she and her sister used to pretend to be witches in the woods of Kentucky, where’d they’d lived when they were small, grinding blackberries into mud and wild onion to smear on their foreheads, pretending it made them invisible.
It’s when she asks me to tell her the whole story about meeting Wyn, and afterward, how she says through tears, All I want is for you to be happy.
And I say, What about you? Don’t you want to be happy? and she looks so baffled, like the thought had never occurred to her. All that time, those nights lying awake in my little yellow bedroom making bargains with the sky, spending wishes on her joy, and now I understand.
No one else’s happiness is yours to grant, Mom, I tell her. You need to find yours.
Eloise and I text on occasion, mostly surface-level stuff, but I’m trying again. I’m hoping.
Sometimes I cast my mind forward too. Think of the rustic ranch turned event center that Wyn and I put a deposit on, and imagine an early fall day with a bite in the air, the smell of sweet hay and dying leaves thick. I imagine our friends and family lined up before one of Wyn’s tables, an antique lace cloth draped over it, blankets waiting on every chair for guests to swaddle themselves in as the sun sinks. (Or the Vegas bachelorette trip Sabrina’s started booking.)
But more often than any of those places, when I need to feel safe and happy, I go home.
And no matter the weather—feet of snow or sun bleeding the thirsty fields dry—when I walk up the steps and put my key into the lock, I feel a lift in my chest, a surety:
He will be waiting on the other side, still covered in sawdust and smelling like pine. Before I even see him, my heart starts singing its favorite song.
You, you, you.