Photo: Jessica Todd Harper
I found the farm online. Ten acres of rolling pasture, with a burbling creek and a garden of heirloom roses. The house— white clapboard—was built in 1790 and boasted original wide plank floors and brass doorknobs black with age. Outside were peach trees and peonies woven along a hand-sawed picket fence. Behind the house were fields of green ending in a bank of centuries-old trees. "Blossom Farm," the listing promised.
When I happened upon the real estate ad, I was living in Knoxville, Tennessee, an insular, melancholy little town that I loved. I wanted to stay in Tennessee, where I had lived before, just out of graduate school, and where many of my dearest friends were mere blocks away. But my husband, Nick, an Aussie who had only ever resided in major international hubs, wanted to be back in New York City. Nick had moved to the South for me, gutting it out for two years in an environment he found stifling and alienating, and now the bill had come due.
The farm, a couple of hours up the Hudson River, was our great compromise. Close enough for a sporadic urban commute. Grassy enough for the kids and the dog. So what if the place had no functional upstairs bathroom, and the kitchen counters were rotting, and the neighbors included a guy who practiced shooting his crossbow in night vision goggles. "It has acreage!" Nick had exclaimed when I showed him the listing. "If we're doing the farm thing, let's really do it!" Our property was lovely, storybook, and so too would our lives be once we moved.
Then again, perhaps not. Six months after we moved in, Nick moved out. He fled our green acres for Manhattan, abandoning the farmhouse for a posh one-bedroom apartment with floor-to-ceiling views of the Empire State Building. I assume there was no "acreage."
The reasons for my husband's departure vary with the person queried. (I blame us. He blames me.) Our marriage, less a nurturing partnership than a convenient way to split a mortgage, had been unhealthy for years. But I preferred attributing the crippling malaise to incompatible geographic needs. If we could just find the perfect place to live, I thought, we'd both be happy again. I was a big believer in the influence of environment, the energy of landscape, the healing power of a sunny day. Which may explain why in eight years together, we'd moved six times. It was easier to point the finger at place than to admit that our marriage was broken. Suffice it to say, the farm was to us as a baby is to many other couples—an unspoken and ill-considered last attempt to force a bond where there no longer was one.
Once Nick left, a peculiar release settled in. The fog lifted. Yes, there was pain. Deep and hobbling, in the muscle, the gut. But there was some peace mixed with it. A sense of meant to be. The Band-Aid at last ripped off, I thought I would be fine. I would not begrudge him his exit, or even the girlfriend he subsequently got in record time (who just happened to be at least a decade younger than my 38). About those developments, I was surprisingly sanguine. I was, however, a little pissed off about the farm.