I remember the weather.
The abundance of rain on the day I said, “I do,” and the distressing lack of it eight years later when I said, “I can’t anymore.”
We were married in a hurricane and divorced in a drought.
Our love stretched from London to New York, the cities from which we long-distance dated for the first part of our relationship. We were in our twenties, still carving individual shapes within the world, aware of our negative spaces and keen to fill them. Opposites were attractive then, and we found ours in each other. Where I was dark—the roots, he was light—the fruit. Where I thought, he felt. Where I doubted, he believed. Where I stepped carefully, he ran ahead. We gave to one another an opposite but equally necessary element for growth: my rain for his sunshine, his sunshine for my rain. Our collision was natural and inevitable and our dependence on each other grew.
When I was 25 and he was 28, we got married—so young!—just as Hurricane Danny blasted the coast of New Hampshire. We said yes to forever in a tiny white church at the base of the White Mountains. I moved from my beloved New York to London and oh, we were ablaze with the endlessness of our shared future, only dreamable by hearts as young and full as ours. We started a company together, traveled Europe together, made a perfect baby girl together. We laughed all the time; we barely argued. We were good together. Too good. But our hearts were hungry, and hunger is not relative. Hunger doesn’t care how well you travel together, or how little you argue. Hunger folds in on itself and before you know it, you’re in a shape you didn’t carve, malnourished and moving to Los Angeles.
We arrived in California at the peak of the worst drought on record, and we bought a little house the next year, an El Nino year that promised relief in the form of rain. But the rain never came, just the sun. Day after day after day. We went to the beach on Christmas, left our winter coats and umbrellas untouched in closets. After years of gray, rainy days in London, this should have been a welcome change, but in truth, the dryness made me nervous. There was nothing to shield us from the sun and I was exposed.
Los Angeles is pretty good at hiding itself, even in full sunlight. It is a giant city of echoes. A sprawling urban chameleon, artificial and authentic all at once. Our beaches should be coastal dunes rich with flowering plants and shrubs, but we turned them into something flat and sandy because we wanted tourists to love us and we had tons of extra sand to dump on them anyway. Palm trees were never supposed to be here, but we liked how they looked in the French Riviera so we planted them up and down the boulevards. Now we can’t figure out what to do with this parasitic flora that is everywhere, taking and taking and giving nothing in return: no wood, no fruit, and next to no shade. We stole water from the Owens Valley, fundamentally changing its DNA, because we didn’t have enough water to support all the people who were moving here. We played god and swapped identities and now even that stolen water is threatening to run out.
A city of ten million people needs a lot of water.
I became obsessed with figuring out the truth of this place at the same time I started questioning my own. What is the real Los Angeles supposed to be? Is something wrong with my marriage, or is something wrong with me? Water-guzzling grassy lawns, tropical landscaping, started to piss me off. Those lawns aren’t honest, they’re just imitation; they need water we don’t have to grow. We were in a record-breaking drought, our snowpack was at 7% of what it should be, and why was I so unhappy in my marriage? Los Angeles can’t afford to pretend anymore that it’s not a desert. It is a desert. A desert in a drought. And I was dying of thirst.
I needed a refuge from the fear that we’d moved to a place that was breaking down, which meant it was not a safe place for me to break down. So I started running. I went into the city’s forests and its mountains, places we haven’t changed into something else. Places that remain exactly as intended. I ran miles and miles on as many trails as I could. I was a raw nerve in running shoes, alone in mountains that are six million years old. They aren’t going anywhere—anytime soon, at least—and that was the steadiness I needed so I could fall apart.
What I was sensing in Los Angeles on the outside—nature changed in untenable ways; a place imitating itself and other places—was happening on the inside, too. I was a microcosm of the macro. That’s why I was obsessed with it, why it made me so damn mad. I went into the woods as often as I could to feel something honest. Where Los Angeles pointed out all the ways I wasn’t being true to myself, running in the mountains felt like coming home.
I guess I needed both to see the truth about us.
Our love had reached its maximum distance. It was real—is still real—but the strength of it could only take us so far. We had to look at this love honestly and recognize that we could not go further with what we had. If we were to stay together, we would have to stay right where we were, the same. Or we could allow our love to set us free, from the end of our rich and scenic road together and into the space we both needed to be our true selves, which would mean apart. The thought took my breath away, but I knew I couldn’t stay in the marriage. Nature is forever seeking itself out, and I was turning into someone else to make this work.
The green lawns, the flat sandy beaches, the palm trees, Los Angeles, and me.
On a hot dry evening, I told my husband I couldn’t stay married to him. Grief ripped through me like a thunderstorm that had been building for years. A storm we had unknowingly seeded on the day we were married. I had no back-up plan; I had no plan. But I knew what I was saying was true: together, we could only be versions of ourselves.
The next month it started raining. Not enough to pull California out of drought, but relief anyway. I drove up the coast to one of my favorite places to run, Montaña de Oro. On the trails, I passed three women around my mother’s age. We said hello and they, having seen me from a distance earlier, asked how far I was running that day.
“I’ve got 12 miles planned,” I said.
“Wow! You’re on a mission, what brings you out here?”
I hesitated, not knowing how to explain that I’d just ended my marriage without knowing why, that I was so devastated I could barely breathe, and that running in mountains was the only thing that felt right.
“A broken heart,” I said.
“Oh, honey … You’ll find a lot of broken hearts out here. And you know what? This is the best place for them to be,” one of the women replied with a confidence that left no room for doubt. I was in the company of women whose hearts had also been found and fixed in these mountains. And I would be okay, too.
A year and a half later, my then-ex told me he was gay. “I know,” I whispered, not as a statement of fact but as one of recognition. It came from somewhere deep inside. It felt the way it does to run through deep wilderness that is too big and too powerful to be changed by me. I have no choice but to accept those humbling but beautiful things.
Nature always returns to itself.
Nature always brings us home, even if that means two instead of one.