I knew I wanted to live in Telluride and marry Joe at exactly the same moment. We had been bathing in a stream in town park just after a long run on part of the Hardrock course that goes right through town. This was back when we had the time, stamina, and inclination to run all day long, and when I would not have thought twice about stripping down to only my underwear and hopping in an ice-cold stream to “get clean,” because Joe said it was a good idea. Nowadays, our runs are much shorter and rarely happen together, and I find his proclivity for “roughing it” less cute than I once did. But it was the summer of 2012, and everything about him impressed and intrigued me. I had just wrapped up an intense yoga teacher training in Costa Rica. Joe met me in Denver and we drove to Telluride, a place he had loved for a long time and was eager to share with me. We were both emerging from relationships—his, a longtime marriage that produced three beautiful children and little else; mine, a brief but complicated entanglement with a person who was troubled and abusive. In any event, I was standing with a towel wrapped around me, shivering from the nearly freezing water, my muscles already feeling fatigued, gazing up at Virginus Pass, down which we had just descended into town, and thinking I want to be here for the rest of my life with exactly this person. I remember that I turned to him as we were putting our clothes back on and said, “I want to live here.” He said, in a tone of complete and total confidence that is now so familiar to me: “We can do that.”
Now, here we are. Five years in a house we loved in Chapel Hill, two more babies, and a year spent in California later, we have landed in almost exactly the same spot where those words were uttered to one another. Although snow still covers much of the ground here, I know Spring is just around the corner, and much like the columbines ready to push their way up through the dirt, I feel like I am about to re-emerge as a version of myself that is warmer, brighter, and who I am meant to be.
This past year has tested me personally and tested my marriage in ways that I, quite stupidly, did not anticipate.
Upending our lives and moving to the Bay Area for Joe to take a big job with a startup in Silicon Valley, leaving a job that I mostly liked, moving away from friends and a large extended family that I dearly love, leaving three children I helped to raise and love very much, not to mention saying goodbye to a large and loving yoga community in which I was both teacher and student for the better part of a decade. I suppose it is was my generally optimistic nature and can-do-it attitude that blinded me from seeing early on that this would demand more of me—physically, emotionally, and even morally—than almost anything ever has before. So much of my identity seemed to vanish overnight and I became only wife to Joe Lea and mother to Jonah and Oliver. Those three are great, but I never wanted them to be what defined me and or to be my only connection to the outside world, not by a long shot.
Some people will say it’s a privilege or a luxury to not work (or, more precisely, to not have to work) and to “just be able to stay home with your kids.” I’m not really one of those people. Of course, it is a kind of privilege to not be forced to work a job you don’t really want to in order to make ends meet, that is obviously true and too many people, sadly, live this way for the duration of their entire life. But it’s a kind of uninteresting point that obscures the politics and complexity of work and labor within a family (regardless of one’s class or status), the fact that whether women stay home or work outside of the home is almost always a highly constrained choice in a way that it just isn’t for men, what one gives up when one does not earn one’s own money by way of participation in the labor market, and, most importantly, the centrality of work to our public life and persona. If we are lucky, work, regardless of whether it is collecting trash, cutting hair, or teaching Latin, gives our life purpose, meaning, and connection to a wider community. It’s a Marxian point that I have understood on a cognitive level for a long time now, but didn’t really understand until this last year. When work went away for me—both teaching at a university and teaching yoga—I was thrown into a deeply and darkly private world, where I felt left behind, by my husband, my friends, my colleagues, and, basically, everything and everyone. I was completely at sea, but drowning in the labor that care for young children requires, made exponentially harder by the fact that my partner is gone a lot of the time. I was so busy that I did not have much time or energy to process the fact that I was, for the first time ever in my entire life, depressed. Blek.
It’s a story that my friends are, no doubt, tired of hearing and not the one I wish to tell again here, except to say three things: 1) staying home with my kids is the hardest work I will ever do, and though I am grateful for the time with them, I remain deeply skeptical of the idea that the “choice” to stay home makes women or their children better, happier people, 2) the time, energy, and resources my children demand have all made me less interesting and cognitively sharp in equal measure, at least for the time-being, and I pray every day that I will return in relatively short order to the sharp-witted, dynamic person I at least think I used to be. I needn’t be beautiful anymore, but I will die if I remain this boring and tired, 3) when my life has felt like it was unraveling over the course of this past year, I found it very helpful to read and write. I’ve always done both, for as long as I can remember anyway, but this year these practices were my lifeboats. One ensured the survival of an inner-life, even if threadbare, and served to remind me of the fragility and messiness of human life, especially one that is shared in a marriage, while the other has signaled, both to myself and to others, that I still have a voice and occasional thoughts about the world. I’m ever-grateful for these practices.
Here in Telluride, it has always been impossible for me to not feel at home and inspired. As I look out onto the horizon of yet another big life change, bleary-eyed and distracted with all there is to do to get our family settled here, I cannot help but feel re-connected to some part of me and even to my husband, though he is gone most of the time. When my female feminist theory students used to ask me what to look for in a partner, I would often say, on the record, if you must marry, marry someone who will support your career and be willing to step back so you can step up, and who will never pressure you to take yourself out of the labor market to stay home with the kids. I still think that’s good advice. But life is about making hard choices, and we trade our principles for personal happiness all the time. It’s hard to say this to an undergrad and not feel like a jerk. So, off the record, I would say this: only marry if you find someone you can’t live without, someone who is willing to put everything on the line to make your dreams come true, whatever they may be. Joe and I have stolen as much from each other over the years as we have given to one another, that is a hard truth about any marriage. But I married someone I cannot live without, and he’s put it all on the line for us to end up here, in this extraordinary place. At 40, I’ve got a lot of regrets, about choices I made or chances I never took, for sure. But marrying the man I fell in love with in Telluride, the one who actually delivered on that promise made all those years ago, will never be one of them.