The Breadth of Air Out There

Written By: Kristen  Dehler

“You were born blue,” my mother explains. She has told the story of me, her most difficult pregnancy and birth, so many times that it may be my earliest memory. She nods and relives that silence. “I waited for your cry.” When I catch sight of the small circular scar in between my clavicle where the umbilical chord was tightly wound, I’m reminded of how I struggled to breathe. I lived a sheltered upbringing in the suburbia of western Long Island. After graduating from a local college my teaching career began just one mile from the home I grew up in. I was most alive at work, in a classroom filled with children and books. In my personal life, I was struggling. “It’s better you know now, and you will meet the right person,” was my father’s recipe of gratitude and hope each morning after my marriage ended at the ripe old age of 28. After a few cups more heartache, a pinch of repetition compulsion and seven itchy years, I would drive two hours to the seaside village of Sag Harbor, for my last first date. Kevin lived in New York City. And after ten months of dating him, so did I. We married and upon expecting our first child, left Manhattan to rent a home in Garden City, Long Island. The town symbol, a golden pineapple, graces the engraved and perfectly painted wooden welcome signs posted at every border point. This bustling bubble of a neighborhood with welcoming wagon-hosted movie nights and ladies Bunko was the place to raise our family. And our parents lived nearby. Every Friday though, we packed our bags and headed to a home Kevin had for years on the east end of the island. People would often say something to the effect of “You must love it out there.” But I didn’t. I didn’t want to be there. On weekends I wanted to be where my friends and family were. To my relief, our search for a home ended at the close of the third winter. Kevin had his reservations but I told myself it was more a side effect of the physical pain he was in. It shot down his right arm and worsened with every crowded 5:50 AM train ride he took. Surgery was set; I sat in the waiting room, seven months pregnant with our second child, praying and envisioning a successful surgery for him. I saw him fishing and golfing, enjoying Sag Harbor again. On those weekly drives to the east end, we talked the talk of family plans, and dreamed thirty years down the road. “I just love the calm and peace of out there,” he would announce regularly. “Would you ever live here though?“ I ask . “It’s so quiet, and there’s the long gray winters when so much shuts down.” I feel the anxiety in my chest rise at the very thought of it. Without hesitation he answers. “Yes. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about it.” He can sense my fear and places his hand on mine. “We’ll stay in Garden City and I will keep doing what I’m doing for as long as I can to keep us there.” And for as long as he could he did. One month away from the birth of our second son, he was at the surgeon’s office, cleared to return to work. He never would. The firm called and the message shot through like a pack daggers: “They’re restructuring.” That evening, we sat, stunned, on day nine in our new home. Sometimes, no matter how hard and smart you work, your hand is so forced and you leap, not knowing where you will land. I witnessed a lesson in grace on the last day he stepped off the Long Island Railroad from that final meeting. The life inside me kicked and turned while I waited for his train to pull in. “How are you?” I texted. The loud dings sounded, red lights flashing as the barriers descended. We had been here so many times before and nothing about it felt familiar. The phone illuminates. “Fine. I’m jobless and the I’m the luckiest man in the world,” The doors open and like the flip of a switch, the hardest torrential rain I have ever known pours from the sky. I watched Kevin work the full time job of finding employment through the first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in our new home. I would look around this pretty house that it took three years to find, memorizing every thoughtful molding and fixture. When I sit rocking our baby boy, I realize how fortunate we are to have brought him into a home like this. But I knew. Because instincts are louder than words. Because it was coming upon a year that Kevin was home with the children and me for those sacred rituals of dinner, bath and story time. Because I loved our new normal more than anything the hours and pay of a city job could bring. And so did he. An offer came from where it was never expected. From the east end. The office is 12 minutes from our home in Sag Harbor. For Kevin, it is a dream come true. I am all at once relieved that Kevin has something to hold onto to and frightened by the voice in my head, “What will you do there? You can’t even handle two days a week there.” I had choices. I could resist, negotiate a way out of becoming a local in a rural setting. We could sell both homes and buy one in the middle …or I could take the leap into a space void of anyone or anything familiar. Perseverance can mean holding on and maturity might mean letting go. We put the Garden City house on the market. There I was, an educator turned stay-at-home-mom with no sales experience, selling something I really did not want to part with. Life is quite the classroom steeped in surrender. It will take three months when the words, so perfect and pure, come to me from a place that is not inside my head. They feel divine, and I will only have to utter them once. Because they are perfect, “Release us from this.” The bid we would accept comes on a Sunday evening of April rain. Kevin snaps a picture of the giant rainbow outside our back window. It is surreal when something you longed for so much at one time becomes the thing you pray will end. I step outside and feel my throat tighten on the beautiful morning the moving trucks arrive. I wipe away the tears and breathe to begin the move. It has been over a year since that day. There are moments when I feel the pull to run back “home.” The alien feeling loosens its grip with time as I adapt to the pace and beauty of my new surroundings. I miss the people that were part of my everyday and long for my go-to places. I accept and cherish that my boys are young and our world is small for now; the urgency I felt upon moving here to build new friendships is quieted by a peace that lives in the virtue of patience. In stronger moments I feel gratitude and hope. I draw strength from the nature that surrounds us. Einstein told “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” I have come to love the morning light on the farms as I drive my son to school. And the holiday lights of Main Street. There is snow on the beach in winter. The Bay Street Theatre is a comforting site as I drive over the bridge into town. I feel the transformative impact of nature and know what it means for our boys to grow up in a place like this. We walk the trail at the wildlife refuge across the street, swim in the lakes, (still not my favorite thing to do) and catch fish off the dry dock at Trout Pond. I think of my breathless blue beginning and wonder… did I resist those first gusts of air, wanting to remain in that safe cocoon-like world? It has taken me years to realize that I have always reached for the air, pulled it in with every necessary loss. It was within the confines of my familiar world that I could practice for a breadth of life wider and deeper than my anxious heart would at first allow. I know it is love in all its forms that pushes me to do, to try. On most mornings, I sit in presence at my light-filled counter, sipping hot coffee. I look across to a memo board with an invitation from a new friend for a fitness class. There is one word on the card. EXHALE.