The Mountain. {Part 16}

Author’s note: This story, at its essence, is about a mountain and the people who loved it. It is inspired by our experiences with the legal system, which are a matter of public record. However, I have fictionalized the details of this story  and the characters (except for my family), both for narrative convenience and for privacy reasons.  Also, I am not an attorney. If you are, and if you read this story and note that I have used the words “district court” when I should have said “appellate court,” well — perhaps, you should read a John Grisham novel instead. My point in telling this fictionalized account is not to discuss the finer points of the law, but to relate some of the life lessons learned by two ordinary people who were trying to achieve a modest dream and found themselves at the mercy of our nation’s legal system.

To read the previous installments, click here.

The trial for our long-running dispute with our mountain neighbors was a milestone in our lives that will remain deeply etched in my psyche forever. We began our journey to put down stakes on family property in 2005 and, five years later, our dream and our financial future rested in the hands of a judge. If we prevailed, we dreamed a finished road and a vacation cabin were in our near future. If we lost, we believed we would lose everything since the plaintiffs were seeking more in damages and legal fees than our net worth. When the trial concluded in early October 2010, the judge indicated it would be weeks before he would rule due to a busy court schedule. We drove home knowing our lives hung in the balance and we’d just been asked to sit on our hands for who knew how long.

As soon as we returned home from the trial, the lethargy and grief I had been trying to manage since my mother’s death returned with greater intensity. Friends suggested I was depressed, but I resisted that conclusion. Well, I mean I knew that I was depressed. But I thought a blue mood was understandable given the circumstances and figured I just needed to work my way through it. I sought the help of a licensed and highly recommended counselor and I spent a good bit of time looking inward and sorting through emotions that I had buried for expediency’s sake.  (One can’t exactly be a competent provider when she’s depressed, after all.)

Early into my inward journey, I woke up one morning and concluded I was going to change my life. If you read this essay, you already know the story of my desire to end two decades of commuting and to rebuild a saner life.  Mr. Mom sensed this conclusion had been a long time coming and knew I had reached my breaking point. He vowed to support me in whatever way he could and, by the end of the week, I decided I was going to leave my job.

A couple of years before my mother died, Mr. Mom and I had dreamed of pulling up stakes and moving to Colorado — back to his home town of Pueblo which was so close to our mountain. I had explored job opportunities a couple of times and found Colorado a particularly difficult market. There weren’t any good jobs in my industry in areas with affordable real estate. In locations where there were good jobs, housing prices were astronomical. Not long before my mother died, I was recruited by an employer more than three hours north of Pueblo.  I gave the organization one half-hearted interview, then pulled out of the search immediately afterwards. Mr. Mom and I concluded our future included vacationing in Colorado, but not residing there.

So while Mr. Mom spent the fall and winter of 2010 trying to bury himself in distractions while we waited on a verdict, I poured myself into a job search. By Thanksgiving, I had identified three promising opportunities – two in the Midwest and one on the East Coast. Fortunately, all three employers seemed very interested in me and the holiday season was made busier with interviewing.

By January of 2011, our anxiety had built to a fever pitch. I had become a finalist in all three searches and more than three months had passed since our trial concluded with no verdict from the court. Despite record cold temperatures that winter, I was running a hundred miles a month trying to keep my stress at a reasonable level. Mr. Mom was housebound and stir-crazy — then the blizzard of 2011 hit and shut down much of our state for nearly two weeks.

During one of the many snow days when we were all stuck at home together, I got the phone call I had been hoping for.  My number one pick of prospective employers offered me the job I had pursued with vigor. I realized that in not much more time than it took my mother to die, I had decided to change my life and had taken the first big step toward making it happen. We would soon be moving and my days of commuting 30,000 miles a year were over!

As winter turned to spring, I focused on preparing our dream house in “Mayberry” to sell, conducting Internet searches for a home to buy in our new town, and saying goodbye to colleagues I’d worked with for almost 15 years and friends I’d known a lifetime.  Mr. Mom poured himself into coaching tennis and packing – anything to keep his mind off the court case as we continued to wait for a verdict.

In the same way I have no explanation for why I agreed to host a dinner party when my mother was critically ill, I inexplicably agreed to quit my old job on a Friday and start my new one the following Monday. As always, in hindsight, I realize I was crazy to tackle such a monumental transition without any time off, especially on the heels of my mother’s death and a very stressful trial. But on a Sunday morning in early April, Mr. Mom helped me pack my Honda to the brim with clothing, toiletries and the contents of my office, then I kissed my family goodbye and headed east. I felt exactly like the 23-year-old girl who had done the same thing after graduating from college in 1986, when I loaded up my car and drove myself to Boston in search of a job. I had butterflies in my stomach, I was a bit melancholy driving away from my family and my hometown and everything I knew, but I was filled with hope and a tingly sensation that things were going to change for the better.

April and May were a blur. I poured myself into my new job and lived alone in our new house, which was woefully empty because the moving trucks and my family weren’t arriving until the school year concluded. Despite a busy schedule and plenty of distraction, I suffered from a nagging anxiety while continuing to wait on a verdict. It had been seven months since the conclusion to our trial – and still no word had come down from the judge.

Then one night, while deep into the final edit of a document my boss needed early the next morning, I heard my phone buzz with a text. I was so focused on editing, I almost ignored it. But I glanced at my watch and realized it was late. As a mother and wife,  I had learned not to ignore late-night texts.

I picked up my phone and saw the following message from Mr. Mom:

The judge ruled today. We lost the case. Call me.

To be continued . . .

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Comments

  1. I sit here trying to convince myself you are not gleaning even the teensiest bit of satisfaction out of leaving us swinging in the breeze this way at the end of each installment. Because that couldn’t possibly be true, amIright Joan Marie?

    And now I am wondering. Are you the kind of gal who sets dessert out on the table from the get-go so everybody has to/gets to look at it while they’re eating their vegetables? Just idly curious, that’s all…

  2. what!!? omg!

  3. You know, the cliff-hanger thing is a technique I learned from Pioneer Woman (in the Black Heels to Tractor Wheels series). I realized when you are writing a serialized story, there’s no point in ending on a dull moment. Why not make it exciting and leave people wanting more? But it’s harder than it looks — figuring out the pacing. And then recapping just enough at the beginning of each new installment so that readers aren’t confused has been tricky too. Who knew I would exercise my storytelling muscles so much in this endeavor?

  4. Maridel says:

    This is a beautifully written installment in your saga, J-M. You cover A LOT of territory without creating the cursory dryness of summarization.Every sentence stays vital and personal and the entire piece reads like it is pouring straight from your heart (with some of your trademark common sense thrown in….).

  5. I told Middlest we couldn’t go anywhere until I sat down to read my favourite book. I’m on chapter 16 you know. How I wish for a happy ending….

  6. SEVEN MONTHS!?

    I’m so aggravated for you reading this. So much change and uncertainty and ohmygosh, it’s a wonder you survived it all.

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