Tuesday, 19 April 2016

"We can live here"

We've been in Ohio nearly three years. Three years.
Neither my husband, who'd grown up in Orlando and DC, nor I, who'd grown up in a global city of 8 million people, had ever lived somewhere like North East Ohio. The closest I'd come were a couple of weeks spent with family friends in Western Michigan. The closest my husband had come was visiting his brother at university in Oklahoma.
Did we arrive with preconceptions? Yes, of course. He's east coast, big city. I'm a Londoner. There's a certain amount of unavoidable snobbery baked into both those world views. But there is also the very legitimate reality that the way one lives in big, metropolitan, cosmopolitan areas, the sources of pleasure, the expectations, the coping mechanisms, are very different to what one finds in the semi-rural rust belt. Putting aside judgments, it is simply true that, to an extent, a big city transplant out here is somewhat ill-prepared for this environment.
So there was some trepidation. Moving into the tiny town where the university I work at is based, just before the onset of one of the hardest winters in the region in years, did not help.
Perhaps the hardest thing to deal with initially was the isolation. In the winter especially, people don't leave their houses much. There are no pubs where one can find ersatz community as a newcomer. More subtly, people here are from here. Their families and friends from their whole lives are all nearby. Unlike in a largely transient city like DC or London, not everyone out here is desperate to make new friends. For newcomers, it takes a lot of work to build a social network, especially outside of work.
So it was hard initially. There were hard days, there were days when we both pined for our former lives in the big city. Yet also, from the beginning, there were good things: good jobs for both of us, good bosses who understood how hard life was sometimes, and, quicker perhaps than we thought, good friends. In this last regard, it helps that LBGT folk out here look after their own, once they find them.
And there are things to do. One has to drive more, and look harder, and develop new habits, but there are things to do. There are concerts and museums in Cleveland to explore. There are restaurants, ranging from country steakhouses unchanged since the '70s where you get an amazing steak dinner for 20 bucks, to fine dining restaurants. There are lakes and state parks aplenty. And there is space. And space means room to take up hobbies. I have my piano, my husband has a dark room in the basement and a painter's studio in the attic. We have two small yards, and for the first time in my life I can devote time to learning how to garden. There is cooking, and having friends over for dinner (as I say, our house is the best restaurant in our town, it's just hard to get a table).
For Easter, we had my husband's family over. Our large, old, slightly ramshackle, slightly run down but beautiful house has enough rooms that we had two couples over, each with their own room. On a beautiful, sunny Easter sunday, after service at the local episcopal church, I was finishing up supper in the kitchen. The family were out in the back yard, sitting around the table and drinking champagne. And it felt like home.
In the front yard, the daffodils and tulips I planted in the cold last days of fall have bloomed. When we moved to this house last October, I had also transferred to the soil a clematis and a rose bush I'd been keeping in pots on the balcony of our first place in Ohio. I trimmed them back at the end of winter, and they are growing like crazy. Soon the clematis will flower bright purple, and the rose bush will begin to put forth yellow flowers, as they will for years, even after we leave. We have left roots here now.
When I get up in the morning and look out on that front yard in the sun, like Tenar at the end of LeGuin's Tehanu, I know we can live here. I don't know that we will, but I know that we can, and that is an encouraging thought.

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