by Nancy King
The phone rang, a welcome break from correcting student essays. “Want to take a road trip to New Mexico?" asked my son. “I’ve got five days off and I haven’t seen you in a while.”
My son. The southwest. Five days of fun. "Of course," I replied.
We spent four days of our visit driving around northern New Mexico, enjoying chile-infused food, appreciating the vast expanse of sky and the changing colors of rock formations sculpted by the wind. The fifth and last day began innocently enough. My son sells houses so our host suggested he visit some properties with a real estate agent. “Want to come?” he asked me.
"Of course," I said. I had no idea of what was to come.
The first house the realtor showed us was old, ugly, and expensive—mouse droppings everywhere. “Good thing I’m not planning to move to Santa Fe,” I thought. The second house looked so forlorn it needed anti-depressants as much as it needed paint. A third house had mirrors everywhere—even on the ceiling in the kitchen. Who would want to live in a place that looked like a brothel?
As we drove away, the realtor said, “There’s a house that just came on the market two days ago. If the owners agree, would you like to take a look at the house?" My son nodded yes. The realtor looked at me. I shrugged. What did I care? Just one more house to look at.
As soon as the realtor's car headed up the driveway to the house, something strange happened. My heart started beating too quickly. Hmmm, I thought. Santa Fe is 7,000 feet above sea level, could altitude sickness first appear after five days? Unlikely. What about a heart attack? An unusual virus? Indigestion from too much chile?
We got out of the car and my heart continued to race. Despite feeling weird, despite entering a house cluttered with dark furniture and tacky paintings that covered the walls, despite tchotchkes crowded together on every horizontal surface, I gasped in awe at the light that poured into each room through windows of every size and shape. I stood, transfixed by the space drawing my eyes into each unexpectedly angled conformation.
I forgot about my pounding heart. I forgot about everything but what it felt like to be in the house.I couldn’t help myself. I babbled about the glorious views, the amazing light, the interesting triangular rooms. I couldn't stop talking. I hardly recognized myself. Then, something happened inside of me. I felt my chest expand, as if my heart had been a crumpled balloon that was suddenly becoming unstuck, filling with fresh air.
Standing in the house, I could almost hear the sounds of my stuck self unsticking as my inner self inflated. I could feel my spirit soaring. I was absolutely sure I had to live in this house in Santa Fe and I was ready to do whatever it took to make it mine. I sensed a powerful inner rumbling, but I had no words to describe the feeling of change that was happening inside me.
Although I had never done anything like this before, and certainly wasn't expecting to do what I did, I calmly told the realtor and my son, “I' m buying this house.”
The realtor gasped. “What? Are you sure? Don’t you want to think about it?”
“No. This is my house.”
My son, stunned, asked, “What about your job and your house and your friends? I didn’t know you wanted to move.”
“I need to live in this house.”
With each passing moment I felt increasingly certain that the life I had been living was finished. I made an offer. The realtor drew up the contract. I signed it with a sense of elation and excitement. We celebrated by going out for dinner, where, for the first and only time in my life, I drank a whole bottle of beer. My son, astonished by my goofy joy and transformation, announced to the diners around us, “My mom is buzzed.”
I flew back to my home on the East Coast the next day and learned that the owners had accepted my offer. The house was mine. Much to the amazement, puzzlement, bewilderment, and shock of friends and colleagues, I quit my job. People bombarded me with questions: “How can you just up and move? What will you do there? How will you meet people? You’re going to move into a two-story house? What about carrying packages up the stairs?” None of their questions made a dent in the certainty I felt about changing my life so radically.
Without a doubt or second thought, I packed up my office, sold my house, moved two thousand miles across the country with my cat, who celebrated our move in his own way, by not throwing up even once, during the long drive to Santa Fe.
When I look back now, what happened seems even more remarkable. On the surface nothing was wrong with my life. I lived in a cottage in the woods, in a beautiful, historic, intentional community in Delaware, and loved my work as a professor in the University Honors Program, teaching world literature. I felt I was living a meaningful life. Not only did I have no awareness that anything was missing, but there was no way I could have imagined that on the last day of a casual trip to New Mexico with my son, I would wake up in the morning with the life I knew, and by evening, everything would have utterly and irrevocably changed.
Since moving to Santa Fe, I have discovered that a whole world was waiting for me to discover it. I began to realize how stuck I had been in my life, held in and held back by doubts, worries and concerns. I found new friends, fulfillment, healing from wounds I didn't even know I had. People I met valued me and I began to like and value myself. I found an abiding comfort and joy being in nature—riding my bicycle, walking city paths and trails, hiking, breathing in the fresh mountain air. Most unexpectedly, I have learned to appreciate the four-legged visitors who tiptoe into my back garden, leaving me with a profound sense of awe and gratitude.
Bobcat. Photo by Nancy King.
I understand now that my heart was pounding with the excitement of what was to be my new house. More than that, it was to be my new life.
Nancy King is the author of the new book, Changing Spaces, coincidentally about a woman who wakes up one morning with her husband in the life she knew, and by the end of the day, she is alone, on her own, and in a different life
[lead photo by Pete Zarria via flickr.com CCL]