NYC Transplant Tina Traster Talks New York City Living, Marriage, and the Fear of Sleeping Alone in the Suburbs
Love means never having to sleep alone in suburbia
Illustration by Tim Nihoff
At 26, I was married, living without a trace of domesticity. My British husband and I trekked across the globe. Traveling was our oxygen, our marital glue. This became patently obvious when, on the cusp of our divorce, I flipped through worn photo albums filled with Bedouins and Buddhist temples instead of barbecues and babies.
This marriage-made-in-frequent-flyer-heaven wasn’t short. Our rootless, peripatetic life lasted a decade. When he wasn’t traveling for pleasure he was scouting for diamonds in Bombay, Antwerp, and Russia. He was rarely home. I was busy too, reporting for newspapers, living in Manhattan, more single than married.
The seven-year itch hit me like a case of the shingles. I wanted furniture, a dog, a baby. I wanted to eat dinner with him, not by myself watching Michael and Hope’s quotidian life on thirtysomething. I begged him to curtail his traveling. He wouldn’t.
As we became unglued there were spasmodic efforts to save the marriage.
“Let’s buy a house in New Jersey,” he said.
Nothing could have frightened me more than moving out to suburbia with a man who was never home. While I loved old houses, and could imagine what it would be like to putter around in a plant-filled conservatory on a Sunday morning, I was too young and jaded to picture myself in the isolation of a commuter town.
His suggestion made me think about how his brother, also a jet-setting diamond dealer, left for a business trip five days after his wife gave birth to their first son. She and her baby looked so small in their big house.
What would life look like out there? Eating alone in Red Lobster? Going by myself to movies at the mall? Wandering aimlessly in my backyard, muttering to myself? Even if we were to consider bringing the essential suburban accessory — children — I was not tempted.
Moving to suburbia was not going to save the marriage. Although I admit that, once in a blue moon (or less frequently), I’d close my eyes and imagine myself living inside one of those grand turn-of-the-century farmhouses with a stone wall, the kind you see close to the road in older suburbs.
What I needed to complete that dream was true love: forever-love.
He showed up unexpectedly on a late July afternoon in 2000. He was familiar and new, an old friend from childhood and college days; a boy who’d grown into a man with a complicated past, blue jeans without holes, and much shorter hair. He moved into my Upper West Side apartment. On a trip to Simon Pearce he said, “You know, when we get married, we should register here.” That was his marriage proposal, and I accepted.
This was really my first and only marriage. The relationship was filled with crossword puzzles, meals at our table, and a warm body next to me every night. We traveled to upstate mountain towns for lazy weekends. I could see us sitting on the wraparound porch of the pale yellow house in that town we had passed through.
Constant trips to the country set off brooding for wide-plank floors and the sweet perfume of burning wood. But every time my husband suggested we leave the city, vestigial fears rose up and got me around the throat. The most visceral fear was sleeping alone at night in a house, which my husband pointed out wouldn’t be necessary because he would be there with me.
I grew up in a two-family in Brooklyn. The ground floors had bars to deter intruders. My father kept a gun in his night table. I last lived in a house when I was 17. I felt safe in Manhattan apartments, hermetically sealed boxes guarded by an army of doormen.
In the 10 years I’ve been with my husband, we have never spent a night apart. I’m at ease when I lay my head on my pillow in our darkened, 150-year-old farmhouse on a desolate road in the Hudson Valley. Sometimes we listen to the rain, sometimes to silence. I yank him closer when we hear a coyote’s blood-curdling yelp. But I’m never too afraid because I know he’s there next to me.