I'd been unable to stay married to the father of my children. Sure, I was a better, less bitter mother alone. I was alive and hopeful and bright—and this matters. But where my daughters were concerned, a pink refrigerator and a cheerfully painted floor would never make up for their father's absence. The pain would persist, no matter how beautiful their house looked.

I'd made the same mistake in my marriage—focusing on appearances. Spending my time arranging flowers when I should have been taking a long, hard look at what we were. And what I had become. I had latched onto domesticity to fill the holes in my relationship. I couldn't connect emotionally with my husband, but I could feed him. I could not make him love me more or better, but I could cook and clean and decorate. I could fold his shirts and pair his socks. In time these choices made me tight and joyless, as I fretted about thread counts and piecrusts and all manner of things that did not bring us an inch closer.

I did all this, then resented my husband for turning me into a wife. But this time around, there was no husband to blame. There was only me, and the unhappy truths I'd been trying to avoid.

I'm fairly certain the gentleman who was detailing the insect-repellent virtues of cedar versus oak had never witnessed crying on the gazebo lot. Which must explain why, when I sniffled and said "allergies," he mumbled something about paperwork and exited the scene. I was left by myself in a 10-foot octagonal, screened gazebo, sitting on the dusty floor, sobbing. I cried for the untarnished life I wasn't going to have. I cried for the year I'd spent isolated and lonely. I cried because despite all my efforts I had not fallen in love. With my marriage. With my renovated house.

"I don't belong here," I whispered. "This is not my home."

The tears stopped. Just acknowledging that plain fact made space, finally, for light to creep in. I knew that I would have to move, would have to take my children to a place that felt like home to me, that no amount of paint or primroses would alter what I felt inside—disconnected, adrift, and most of the year, really, really cold. I wasn't blaming geography this time. But I wouldn't be a prisoner to it, either.

After some time, I got up and drove back to the farm. A few months later, I ended up buying the gazebo. I think it will be good for resale.


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