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Leaving Home in Search of the American Dream Only to be Forced to Turn Around and Go Back

At times heartbreaking, the memoir is also a comforting tale about the importance of family, making sense of shifting gender roles, and believing in others.

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The benefit for him is that he's gotten to know his son a lot better than he otherwise would have, and that's been an awesome experience. I think -- and this is not a male or female thing but a personal thing -- that I had been really looking forward to a period of time after my child was born to just be a mom. And I still never had that. The way things are set up in this country, with us all trying to manage our careers and home lives, working so hard, it's hard to just be present for your child.

My marriage has really grown because of this, but there were some bumpy spots where we had to find the spark between us even though the gender roles were shifted. There's such deep care between us that we were able to talk about it and work it out.

BS: Your relationship with your animals was a huge part of your story. Can you talk a little bit about why you highlighted those relationships and how your animals are an indispensable, vital part of your family?

CS: I've never felt that you can remove animals from the equation. My animals are a part of my family, as I think they are for most people. You have very intimate moments with your animals. If you think about it, your animals come in when you're going to the bathroom. They're often in the room when you make love. They get into bed with you. They see you in all kinds of fragile moments. You may not show your kids that you're having a fight with your spouse, but your animals are there witnessing it. They see everything, and their presence is somehow this grounding force, constantly in your life. How many times have you felt yourself raise your voice and your cat looks a little shocked? And you realize you shouldn't do that. I'm not just impacting the person I'm yelling at. I'm affecting this totally innocent creature. I think we all need to be sensitive to that.

I have always been disturbed when I read a book and an animal disappears from the narrative. A couple gets a divorce, and then their dog disappears. The dog was just jumping into the car with them! But then all of a sudden, I don't know what happened to the dog. How does that happen? There's a casualness as if this other being doesn't matter. When you start being insensitive or cruel to animals, or not noticing that they are equal in their desire to be in the world with us, and their desires to have their needs met, and their feelings are as valid as ours, I feel you're ignoring part of yourself.

BS: You write about the way that the landscape across America has been changed by what many people call "progress," the stores and strip malls that have overtaken open spaces. What do you make of the way people simultaneously mourn the loss of nature and patronize big box stores and fast food chains?

CS: If I'm honest, I have lived within that contradiction myself. It was impossible, coming back across the country, not to eat McDonald's. We went and bought a couch at Ikea, which was, when I think about it, totally absurd; we're still paying that couch off.

But, I don't live that way anymore. At all. I think about it much more now. Driving across this country seeing so many beautiful places ruined just broke my heart. This is what we've done. I don't know what this means for the future.

 
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