My Haven on the Hill

By Dani Shapiro
Photograph: Stella Swan

I moved from New York City to a small town in rural Connecticut when my son, Jacob, was three. My husband and I were refugees not only from urban life but also from a hard time in the life of our small family.
Jacob had been seriously ill for a couple of years. He had made a miraculous recovery by the time of our move, and if you’d asked, I would have told you we were all just fine, thanks. But I realize now—seven years later—that I was numb, fearful, agitated. Waiting, constantly worrying.
We found a house on a hill surrounded by old trees and crumbling stone walls. The first time we drove up the long driveway, it was late afternoon and the classic New England saltbox was bathed in a golden light. Here, I thought. Here is home. I had been a suburban kid and a city woman—this country thing was foreign to me, but it felt right. I had grown, over the previous few years, to listen to my instincts. And now they were telling me this radical shift was just what we needed.
What exactly did I think it would bring us? Some peace of mind for my husband and me, certainly. Room for Jacob to run and play. More space and time to recover the innocence that, as a family, had been taken away from us. But most of all, what the house ended up giving us was something I hadn’t known I needed: silence. In the quiet of the country, within the simple rooms—with wide-plank floorboards and fireplaces and windows that overlooked meadows stretching as far as the eye could see—I found that I could spend hours on end in a kind of silence that made me feel as if I were touching something beyond myself. I stopped holding my breath. I began to heal. The anxiety, the terror and the trauma slowly evaporated.
Here I was able to become more deeply, more authentically myself. Perhaps this could have happened in some other place—but it simply never had. Not in the suburban house of my childhood, which was a tense and lonely place, a place in which I tried to grow up as quickly as possible so I could leave. Not in a series of urban apartments where I ordered take out food and perched more than lived. The gray house on the hill fulfilled the promise it made to me that first day in the driveway. Put down your roots, the old trees seemed to be saying. You can stop and rest.
Dani Shapiro’s new memoir, Devotion, has just been published.

First Published Tue, 2010-02-02 09:42

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