Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
October 5, 2011
As soon as we pulled up the driveway, I knew I’d made a huge mistake.
The one-story, ranch-style house had been painted mint green and there was an oversized pre-fab storage shed in the yard that made it look like more like a trailer than the house I grew up in. It wasn’t just bad. It was embarrassing.
“Why would you want to go back there, anyway?” my dad had asked when I told him Ryan and I planned to drive through Connecticut on our way back from Vermont to New York City.
“Hello? I grew up there. We lived there for what, 20 or 30 years?” I felt myself getting defensive, which is always a sign that I’m probably making a bad choice. “I thought maybe Ryan would want to see where I spent my childhood.”
My parents left Connecticut 10 years ago, ironically, on Sept. 10, 2001. The night before they moved to Steamboat, they stayed in New York with family. When the Towers came down the next morning, they were oblivious, driving west toward a new life. They never looked back.
Of course I’d been the one who’d left first, as soon as I graduated high school. I knew when I was 8 years old that I wanted to live in Colorado after a family ski trip to Snowmass, and that was it.
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I applied to only four schools for college: University of Denver, University of Colorado, Colorado State University and University of Northern Colorado. I might not have known what I wanted to do with my life, but I sure as hell knew where I wanted to do it.
I’d left the East Coast long before anyone else in my family did, and I never looked back, either – at least not until last week.
Ryan and I flew back East for Ryan Voss and Lizy Mauk’s wedding up in Lake George, N.Y. I figured it was an opportunity to show my new husband around my old ‘hood and planned a little road trip that had us drive something like 12 hours in three days. It was a bit much.
After all, he’d survived his first tour back East in April for his first bar mitzvah and was able to navigate the streets of Boston in the Crown Victoria sedan my mom had rented on Priceline. I figured if he could handle that, he could handle anything.
After the wedding, we made the one-hour drive east from Lake George to Manchester, Vt., and on up to Stratton Mountain, where my parents had a second home when I was growing up. This was where I’d had my best memories, and the place that instilled in me a love for the mountains that was strong enough that my whole adult life would revolve around it (only in a place with better weather and more snow).
Our Vermont house hadn’t changed much. The new owners put a hot tub in the back, a fire pit in the yard, and nailed an antique sled to the big tree by the driveway. It looked well lived-in and well-used. The only problem was the day we drove up there, the mountain was in a fog bank, it was raining, cold, and Ryan couldn’t really see much of anything.
I still did the whole, “This is where we walked to go up to the mountain and this is the base and that’s where the gondola is,” but there was really nothing to see.
Ryan was good. He said things like, “Cool, honey,” and “Wow, that must have been nice,” even though I knew he’d probably have been much happier taking a nap. Instead of saying something that might hurt my feelings he said, “I’d like to come back here when we have more time. I’m not a good rusher.”
Then it was on to Connecticut, where I had to use iPhone maps to remember how to get from the highway to our old house. There were glimpses of familiar, like remembering something you said or did in a dream. But for the most part the familiar was far away, in the distance, like the murmur of a voice or a picture that’s just slightly out of focus.
I just kept saying “this is so weird” over and over again.
When we finally pulled up my old driveway, I had butterflies in my stomach, like I was seeing an old friend and wasn’t sure how it would go. When I saw the house, it was like realizing that person was never really my friend but just someone I knew a long time ago that no longer had any significance in my life.
Embarking on a marriage is a crazy thing because it’s such a profound milestone and a distinct beginning, a fresh start. It sort of forces you to examine your life in a way maybe you never had before, to contemplate how you got here and who you were before you met this person who is now your husband.
“What’s the matter, babe?” Ryan asked as we pulled onto I-84 in downtown Hartford. He could see I was pensive, and more quiet than usual.
“It’s like I never really even had a home,” I said. But after we talked for a while I realized how lucky I am that I had the freedom and the opportunity to leave, to travel, to explore and to discover. That’s when it all began to make sense. From the time I was 8 years old I knew I wanted to live in Aspen. Never before have I felt more blessed to call it home.
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