Finding the beauty
When I first arrived in Colorado, sans Dan, I looked for a smallish temporary place that wouldn’t feel too cramped when he and Miss L were visiting, but was in a price range I could afford as the lone breadwinner supporting me & Miss G till he got here too.
I definitely lucked out when I found our townhome: recently remodeled, decent-looking laminate wood flooring, 2 bedrooms upstairs, full basement downstairs with washer & dryer hookups. Affordable, even in a stupidly competitive rental market. The smaller upstairs bedroom would work as my office, and we could set the girls up in the basement so they could have their own private teenager hideout, replete with twinkly Christmas lights in the rafters.
Just a few miles from what would be Miss G’s new school, the property backed up against the train tracks so we’d have a place we could walk dogs off-leash. Head one way, and you could loop back around through the neighboring office building complex then follow the trail back to where you started; head the other and you could hop across pylons over the drainage ditch and end up behind the parking lot.
The friendly-feeling tree next to our front walkway bloomed with delicious-smelling white buds in spring, and in summer spilled the just-right amount of dappled shade over our tiny front porch and through my office window.
Perfect. At least, perfect for the year or so we planned on staying.
But one year stretched into two. And then longer.
By Year 3, many of our favorite things about the townhome had changed in all the wrong ways. Friendly neighbors left and were replaced by less hopeful folks who were more beat down. We nicknamed the family who moved in across from us The Shouters: so loud and angry we had to start closing the windows at night, also shutting out the cool evening breeze and the rustle of cheerful leaves.
But with Miss G graduating so soon, it didn’t make sense to move. We committed to one more year, committed to getting Miss G out of high school before leaving the townhome.
Feeling positive in any way about our living situation in Year 4 was next to impossible, even for Dan. The teen basement hangout, once quasi-cool, could no longer pretend it was anything but a cluttered furniture graveyard. Rent and utilities increased exponentially along with traffic, the resident turnover rate, and the shadiness of said residents. The one guy we really liked in the front office left for a new job. Our favorite Indian restaurant up the street told us they were moving to a new location.
When we first moved in, the drainage ditch running alongside the railroad tracks was overgrown with nodding, willow-like saplings, branches from either side reaching across to form an arching canopy. I took my niece on walks through what I dubbed the Fairy Tunnel: a lush, tangled cocoon incongruously charming amid an otherwise uninspired suburban setting.
Our final spring, management clearcut all the magic out right along with the greenery, leaving only cold, factual concrete behind. Walking the dogs along the newly exposed train tracks suddenly felt too stark, too naked, too dull with trudging the same repetitive landscape morning and evening.
And finally, the death blow this past summer: they cut down the lovely tree outside my office window.
Life always tells you when it’s time to move on: find a new job, find a new relationship, find a new place to live. If you’re paying attention, you notice that all the positive things that once drew you to that job/relationship/place fall away one by one, and negatives spring up in their place like grouchy weeds.
It gets all too easy to complain when there’s a lot to complain about. Screaming neighbors. Rent spikes. Feeling crowded and cramped by four walls, choked out by suburban congestion. Mourning the loss of a favorite tree.
Our weekend dog walks together became a time Dan & I complained to each other a lot– about frustrations with our living situation, about mutually unsatisfying jobs. And we worried a lot on those walks, too– concerns over kids, financial stress, life’s great uncertainties.
During those walks, even on my sulkiest and most mud-colored glasses days, sometimes I saw little sparkles here and there. Bits of glass that caught the sun just so. A marble or two. Some beads from someone’s broken necklace. A couple particularly bright pennies.
I started collecting them, adding one at a time to a little glass jar to remind myself that you can always find beauty, if you look hard enough and you’re lucky and the sun’s at the right angle. Even if it’s so much easier to mourn the once-good things that have fallen away, even if it’s so much easier to bitch about everything that’s wrong.
Because those grey, endless tracks were also where we hashed out our plans for the future. Where we celebrated new jobs starting up, talked about what’s next for us. Where I could stretch out cricks from long hours hunched over my computer, exhale work stress, and inhale fresh air. I’m sure every single good idea I’ve had in the last 4 years can be traced back to a train-track-side dog walk, including dreaming up each one of these blog posts.
There was plenty of ugly. Yet Dan gleaned a rock or two from those tracks that he deemed worthy of joining his collection; one he carved into a heart for me. And we laid the groundwork there, among the weathered ties, for the imagined future that we’re living and loving right now.
One night, just a couple months before we turned in our keys and left the townhome and our train tracks for good, someone banged on our door in the wee hours of the night. Dan answered, bleary-eyed, while I wondered what new neighbor-related stupidity was up now. A few moments later, he came back upstairs.
“Who the hell was that?” I asked.
“The Shouters,” he said. “They’re moving out, and they said they wanted me to have these.” He opened his hand to show me a few bright drops of polished lapis lazuli.
Beauty is where you find it, delivered by the most unlikely messengers at the most unexpected times. No matter how grim the landscape, always keep an eye out for glimpses of beauty along the way. And when you find it, hold tight.
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