Reflections On Moving Homes

Jun 2, 2021 | Psychology, Travel

Two winters ago, I moved to Colorado with only what fit in my car: clothes, two saddles, riding boots and helmet, several pairs of cowboy boots, books, my laptop, and a guitar. I’d packed most of it into jumbo tote bags made of recycled sailboat sails by a woman in my hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. That summer, when I was living there after leaving my first marriage, I had gone into her shop and together we’d pawed through piles of old sails, finding swaths of smooth cream canvas with weathered hardware and rope telltales. For pockets and adornments, we chose brightly colored sail numbers and patches of brilliant pink sunfish sails. We designed the totes together. She was also in the process of extricating herself from a marriage, and there was an empowering camaraderie in creating some of the gear that would help me move on to a new life.

I spent a few months in Austin, a playground of live music, Texas two-step, and great barbecue. I had long before planned to attend a Natural Lifemanship training and conference there during that time, and I relished the freedom to drive halfway across the country and live in one of my favorite places on earth. Ultimately, my now-husband, Brendan, was able to entice me away from the honkytonks and up to the Colorado mountains. Aspen was completely unknown to me. I miss the nights out dancing, but this town is a paradise for year-round outdoor activity and natural beauty. In the time of COVID, it’s been a blessing to have all that at our doorstep. Despite these disorienting times in the world, I’ve come to feel largely at home here, for reasons even beyond my love for this wonderful man.

Now my Connecticut horse farm is sold. When my furniture and belongings arrived here in a moving truck, a wave of complex emotions came over me. First, there was plain old relief, after the mover-related drama that had ensued on the pickup end: the mover had underestimated the truck space needed and had solved the problem by driving away and leaving a bunch of things behind. (Seriously, that happened.) He said, basically, Get another mover or get rid of the stuff. Of course no mover was available on such short notice. Luckily, though, he had second thoughts that evening and decided to go back the next day to pick up the rest and transport it in a rented trailer behind his truck.

So I was overjoyed to see that my belongings had in fact made the journey. The mover had packed them well and done a good job in the end. But the episode had given me an occasion to contemplate my relationship with stuff. I don’t accumulate knick-knacks, but certain objects carry meaning—more poignantly so right now, for me, because I’ve changed so much about my life.

Among the things the mover initially left behind were my cherrywood bunk beds from childhood, which had been at my mother’s house when I was a kid; my spindled cherrywood twin bed that had been at my father’s house; my old toy chest full of Breyer horses; several framed family photos; my father’s record collection; the engraved silver bowl from my first showjumping Grand Prix win; and the twenty little silver julep cups, each from a USET class win, which together comprised the awarding of my US Equestrian Team gold medal.

I’d felt panicked at the idea of these things being lost. Although left behind at my old house was not the same as lost; I’d have found a way to get them here eventually. The emotion wasn’t logical, but it’s what I felt.

And here they were, thank goodness. As the mover and a crew of local guys unloaded the truck and trailer, in came the trophies and records. In came the childhood beds. My parents divorced when I was three. It’s something I came to terms with long ago and don’t think about much. But seeing those beds arrive, which had been in the employee housing at my farm, brought up memories and emotions: taking a suitcase to school every Wednesday; suddenly sharing my room at my dad’s when he remarried; crying in my lower bunk while my cat, Striper, purred on my chest, and the way she’d lean forward to lick my nose with her sandpaper tongue; the night Striper’s kittens were born, when my mom called my dad to wake me up, and he drove me over in my PJs so I could see the births. I remember loneliness and comfort; confusion; feeling small; feeling loved; feeling unloved, inadequate, shy, ashamed; and yet still a basic safety and containment in my parents’ homes. My dad playing his guitar while I took my bath, singing songs about dragons and baby whales. My mom caressing my forehead, singing a lullaby with the final lines, “The story that I love you, it has no end.” A sense of cozy familiarity came over me at the sight of these childhood beds: just simply, this is my life.

The trophies, too, have emotional weight. I lost my showjumping career to traumatic injuries. It was a sudden ripping-away of a part of my identity that felt central. I was an athlete, a horsewoman; that was what I knew. At the time I also derived a certain amount of self-worth from all the winning. I now know that’s not a healthy pattern. It drove me toward success but not happiness. Losing it all, being told by one doctor I’d never ride again—that forced me pretty quickly into a new perspective.

At first, I was happy just to be able to go to the barn and brush my horse. Those earthy, familiar smells; the pure joy of his warm, oaty breath on my face; how well we knew each other; the way he loved a certain spot on his hindquarters scratched; the feel of his sturdy, muscled body under my currycomb. But it was hard to give up the dream. I fought my way back to riding and struggled, through waves of physical pain and nervous-system trauma, to get back to the big sport. But at times I was so broken down with pain I could barely roll over in bed.

I had to feel my way through what I could do without destroying my quality of life. I managed one last hurrah of winning the intercollegiate individual national championship for Stanford, a competition over much lower fences than the Grands Prix I’d previously been jumping. And I learned, eventually, to find the fullest sense of joy and satisfaction in the day-to-day experience of riding horses I loved—at my home farm.

I still feel twinges of the old, competitive urge. The sport was exhilarating. But what mattered to me most even then, and still does now, is the connection with the horse: the rhythm, the feel in the reins, the conversation that happens with each ride, and the deep relationships we build. What I feel best about, thinking back on those wins, is the way my horses tried for me. They gave me their best because I was, and still am, a compassionate, educated horsewoman with a feel for a horse. Back in the day, I didn’t give myself enough credit for that; it’s a part of me that can never be taken away, whether I’m winning classes or not.

The trophies had been boxed in my basement, not displayed. But just knowing I still have them matters to me. My fellow meditators can weigh in on the dangers of pride. But I admit: it feels nice knowing I was good at that thing I used to do. And the trophies, naturally, remind me of the horses themselves, who I deeply loved. Hurricane and Grappa are gone from this world. I suppose I’m clinging to the remaining objects that represent those extraordinary beings who had such a powerful impact on my life.

The simple fact of seeing the furniture arrive that once populated my Connecticut house also carried complex meaning. That chapter of my life was marked by a lot of learning and a lot of difficulty. The farm itself was both a place I loved deep in my bones and a source of enormous stress. I have wonderful memories of riding and working with horses on that property—trotting the grassy hills, riding through the peaceful woods with their bright leafy canopy and sounds of birdsong and rushing stream; my round pen with views of the fields and stone walls and antique hay barn—those moments when I’d look around and think, Mighty nice office.

Running a big, old, working horse farm at a high standard of quality is complicated and expensive. I had tenants and employees, and I was developing my own young horses to be sold. The horse business is full of challenging characters, and I had to learn a lot, let’s just say for now, in the realm of boundaries. And then if a valuable young horse of mine had an injury or mishap, my level of distress could best be described as a combo of fear for my child and my business all at once.

Most of all, I experienced stress in my marriage. There was the ongoing hope that things could get better, because I so wanted that, along with the private shame and pain of the reality I lived with. I am resilient and persevering, and I can still hold in my mind the bright spots from that part of my life. But they came with so much pain that it’s hard to feel, in hindsight, what I took for happiness during those years.

And yet—I needed the learning that happened. I’m happy with where I am now, in life and in my evolution as a person, and so I don’t believe in questioning the path that got me here. Still, naturally, there’s been a lot of emotion to honor and work through and heal. I’ve come so far in that process that it no longer occupies my daily life. I can’t predict when another, deeper layer will show itself and offer me a chance for more healing and release. But I know I have the tools, support, and inner resources to do the work.

Most of my belongings, I realized as I saw them come out of the moving truck, predate my first marriage and life at that farm. There’s furniture from my California days and from the farm my mother and I once owned with my riding trainer, Missy, in Vermont. There’s the pair of leaning bookshelves I bought for the office nook in my old New York apartment, in a quirky prewar building on Christopher Street. There’s a dining table and rug from my father’s old house, along with dining chairs passed down from my maternal grandfather and restored by my stepfather, a master cabinetmaker. There’s even some artwork and a flamboyant, antique gilt mirror from my great-grandmother Agnes, who was a force of nature and seminal figure in my ancestry. There’s a simple old round table with a rich, deep finish that belonged to my mother’s mother, who died when my mother was pregnant with me. All I know of her is stories, her work in epidemiology, my mother’s love and grief for her, and somewhere deep in my brain, her voice which I would have heard from inside my mother’s womb.

Our personal stories can become our greatest assets. I’m learning to celebrate mine in all its complexity, the joy and pain that inevitably come with every human life. The capacity of objects to symbolize and remind us of experiences can be powerful. I sold and donated some things rather than drag every last stick of furniture across the country. But what made the trip still feels like quite a lot of stuff.

When it all arrived, I thought, Okay, I’ve officially moved to Colorado. The significance of it felt wonderful and momentous and relieving and exhausting. When the unloading and organizing were complete, I came home to our condo in town and took a nap in the sun slanting through the big windows that face Aspen Mountain, with our dog, George Doran, in my arms. There is an undeniable feeling of shift: an ending, and a beginning.


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