The following week, after my episode of getting lost, I drove back to Texas. My temp job in Minneapolis had ended. The months away from Texas had allowed me to escape the day-to-day tension of my marriage without calling it an official separation. Now it was time to deal more directly with my relationship.
Traveling solo was a treat for me, although it worried some of my friends and family. I refer to these cross-country trips as my “Soul-o” quests because they gave me time to disconnect from everything but God and the road ahead. I purposely drove on lesser-traveled highways, stopped when I felt like it, and took time to photograph nature along the way.
During the four-month hiatus in Minneapolis, my husband and I had seen each other twice, once at a friend’s funeral, and on one other occasion when I drove up to see him at our lake home. Let’s just say that these visits had not gone well. Now we would both be back in Texas.
As I walked up to the door of our home, I could feel my anxiety heighten. It was a relief that he wasn’t at home. I placed my bags in the guest bedroom, which I knew would cause more conflict; however, I wasn’t going to fake intimacy that wasn’t there. I sat down in the living room and prayed for guidance.
When he walked through the door a few minutes later, it was clear that the immense wall between us still stood. My attempts to engage in constructive friendly dialogue were met with indignation. Once more, we went round and round in a never-ending whirlpool of relationship sludge. Although real connection within our marriage had probably never existed on a deep enough level – at least not for me, I had believed if I could love enough for both of us, we’d be okay. But now, I was finally seeing the futility of this one-sided partnership and my tolerance was growing anorexically thin for dealing with his hostility. “Marriage isn’t supposed to be happy,” he had told me. “That’s unrealistic.”
The evening continued in awkward silence. Finally, I went to bed, locking the door behind me. I had to face reality. I couldn’t fix this marriage – fix us – at least not this way. But while I couldn’t save us, I could still save me. I fell into a restless sleep, hoping that tomorrow would be better.
The next morning, after I heard him leave the house, I sat up in bed and retrieved the local newspaper from the drawer of my nightstand. I read the rental ad I had circled the night before and dialed the number:
800 sf historic home on 10 acres. $900/m. 997-3001
While this decision to leave was right for me, I knew it wouldn’t solve all of the collateral damage. Having spent so many years in a loveless marriage had taken its toll; I was depressed and harbored little hope of ever being happy and whole again. How had I lost my way? Could I ever find my way back…well…to me? It was going to take some time.
The owner of the rental property, George Kolb, answered the phone and was eager to talk about it. He explained that he had purchased the property two years ago as a renovation project. The home had been part of a German homestead, built in the 1800’s. A developer had purchased the entire 463-acre ranch, divided it into parcels of 5 to15 acres for future homes, and called it Cool Water Ranch. George had purchased one of the only two parcels with any structures on them and spent the last year renovating the house. Even though the rent was more than I wanted to pay, the property and George’s passion for restoring this historic building intrigued me. We agreed to meet at the property at 6:00 o’clock that evening.
Later that evening, I followed the directions George had provided me and drove the nine miles northeast of Fredericksburg’s city limits. “Fred-burg,” as the locals call it, has a population of 12,000 – except on weekends when the tourists from San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin invaded the vintage shops on Main Street. After turning off the county road, there was another 2 miles of twists and turns on a skinny road without any shoulders. The road ended near the gate to someone else’s property, and I turned into the entrance to Cool Water Ranch. The location was remote, which was a highlight after living in a gated community where everyone in the neighborhood knew your business.
The rental property was at the end of a cul-de-sac. I pulled up to the narrow gravel driveway and caught my first glimpse of the small stone house with its silver metal roof. Almost immediately, a sense of calm came over me. On one side of the home were remnants of a stone wall that had been part of the original outdoor kitchen. The original red machine shed was situated among a grove of shady live oak trees about 100 yards south of the home. Although the front yard was graced with only one sparsely-limbed tree, the expansive mown pasture in front of the porch offered a panoramic view of the surrounding hills. There were only four homes currently built in this new development, none of which could be seen from this property.
On one end of the covered front porch was a double wooden swing made from an old horse buggy seat and hanging by thick metal linked chains. I could already visualize myself sitting there reading a good book or contemplating life while looking out at nature.
George had retained the home’s historic charm on the inside as well. The interior walls exposed the same cut limestone as on the outside. Wide-planked wood flooring ran throughout the four rooms – a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom with a stackable washer and dryer in the closet. Even without any furniture, the home felt perfect. It exuded the peace and quiet I was yearning for.
Walking back outside, George offered me a seat on one of the two folding chairs he had brought with him. He shared more about his business of restoring historic properties. He loved “bringing them back to life”. The before-and-after photos of his renovation project revealed a remarkable transformation. The property was currently listed for sale, but since the market was down, he was willing to lease it for a year.
I was definitely interested in the property, but I explained to George that my present situation made it difficult for me to contract for more than a few months at a time. He asked me questions about my work and marital status, and I felt comfortable enough to share some of the necessary details with him. He seemed satisfied that I was gainfully employed and a person of outstanding character (I’m just assuming the latter part), and he surprised me by lowering the monthly rent by $100. That sealed the deal. We signed a month-to-month rental contract, and George placed the front door key in my hand.
Since neither of us seemed anxious to leave right away, we sat on the porch looking out over the hills and discussed more details about his restoration projects. His passion for his work was apparent. After sitting in silence for a few minutes, a flock of wild turkeys timidly emerged from the thicket of cedar trees about 100 yards from us. One by one, they formed a single line and headed slowly across the pasture. According to George, they were making their daily trek to the watering hole. According to me, they were a sign that I had made the right decision – that this little house would be my healing place.
On the drive back to the house in town, I grew increasingly anxious about facing my husband and telling him of my decision to move out. As difficult as this step was, I knew I needed time away from the tension of our relationship. Unless both of us were willing to pursue counseling, it seemed futile to continue on the present path. Turning the corner onto our street, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when his truck wasn’t there. It didn’t take much time to pack up enough belongings for the night: a pillow, a portable foam mattress, bedding, a towel, and cooler with a few snacks and bottled water. I left him a note and told him we would talk tomorrow. After driving back the nine miles to the Little House, I arrived there just as the sun was beginning to set. I unlocked the front door, walked through the kitchen, and stepped into the empty living room. Almost instantly, I was overwhelmed with emotions – immense sadness, fear, and, surprisingly, a deep sense of gratitude. With no furniture to sit on, I knelt down and sat crossed-legged on the wood floor. Bowing my head, I began sobbing into my hands. Years of built-up anguish poured out of me. But from my mouth also came the barely audible whisper, “Thank you, God. Thank you,” over and over and over again…until the sun had completely set behind the hills.