The year I turned twenty my best friend gave me a book called Wide Angle that was filled with beautiful images of people and places throughout the world. My best friend said that this book had two options: it could either set on my coffee table in my future home or the images could spur me on to see the sights and the people for myself.
That birthday was a difficult one. I remember sitting on a bench beneath a crab apple tree and thumbing through the book’s pages, wondering what future path I should choose. After college graduation I was contemplating joining the Peace Corps or an organization like it, yet I was dating a man who had no plans outside the States at all. I knew from various conversations that my best friend had not given this gift as a way of manipulating me toward one decision over the other. She was just trying to show me that there was a decision I would soon have to make.
Looking back, I am not really sure how I chose the path I am on now. I know a lot of it had to do with the events that unfolded over the next two years; events that showed me I could not leave my family or those who had become like my family because I wasn’t sure what would happen to them while I was gone. And, simply, the path of my life was formed because I fell in love. I fell in love with the man who sat with me on a rustic dock overlooking a Pennsylvania farm and began to cry over the death of my dear friend before I could even find emotion to relieve my grief. I fell in love with the man who drove four hours to my school and held me while revealing the unthinkable: that my best friend’s cancer had returned. I fell in love with the man who embraced my family’s idiosyncratic behavior and loved them all the more for it. I fell in love with the man who -- once cracked free of his introverted shell -- was the funniest person I had ever known. I fell in love, and so, after college graduation, I did not fly off to a foreign land.
It has been three years since that evening in late September when that man and I became one. As in every marriage, there have been good times and there have been bad. That first winter after I moved out here, into our apartment adjacent to our grocery store, was the loneliest of my life. I knew no one in the area besides my husband, and for the first time I had no idea how to go about making friends. I wasn’t writing, and I truly believed that I probably never would. Then we met a family through our store who invited us over to their home for supper. We ate pea soup and buttered homemade bread while sitting at their long wooden table in front of a fire. A speckled dog was sprawled on a rug brought close to the stove for warmth. In that simple conversation, in that simple breaking of bread, so many things came alive, and when they asked what I did, I began to tell them that I worked in our grocery store. But then I stopped, looked down at my white soup bowl filmed on the bottom with green. “Well,” I said, swallowing, “what I really want to be is a writer.”
That night, although I did not know it until months later, was a turning point for me. Through that family, I met a group of girls who all loved the written word as much as I. Through reading, my desire to write returned, and by the next winter I completed my first full-length manuscript and immediately began working on another. In the meantime, my husband and I purchased forty acres of land in a valley tucked against the base of the mountains. On the weekends we would spend hours out there: combing over the woods and exploring the caves and the local derelict home where Civil War legends were said to have died. I quickly realized that one of the reasons I had struggled those first months after marriage was because of not having this refuge, this land to sift through my fingers and the sun to dapple across my face.
Now I am sitting on a camping chair outside of our new home with the sun on my face, our land spread beneath me like a quilt, our baby girl swirling around inside my stomach. And although I am not inhabiting a foreign land and we do not have any intention to do so in the future, I find that I wouldn’t mind raising our family in this rich Tennessee soil. I wouldn’t mind facing the coming obstacles and triumphs while living in our house tucked against the base of these mountains. For I know if our lives, and those of the people we have met, were placed in a picture book similar to the one setting inside on my coffee table, they would be a beautiful sight to behold.