Writer Alissa Nutting braved culture shock and left her glitter shadow behind for the man she loved.
The night I met my future husband at a conference, he suggested I marry him and move to Grinnell, Iowa. I laughed so hard! Not at the immediately-marrying-a-stranger part—I’m from Las Vegas, where it’s weird if you don’t have a drive-through wedding with someone you just met. But Iowa? “I’ll never go there,” I told him. I mean, I’d seen the movie Children of the Corn. I actually find cornfields very puzzling even when they aren’t teeming with homicidal youngsters. Why grow fields and fields of a plant you can’t even smoke?
But he kept sending me various lumberjack-themed Midwestern photos of himself outfitted in Carhartt hats and insulated bib overalls. Living in the land of the striptease, I found this to be a new, appealing pleasure—his eyes giving me a flirty, soft-core gaze while his body was cloaked in layers of jackets and vests. "You sure wear a lot of clothes in Iowa!" I remarked. I booked a ticket to visit and tried to picture the two of us as a mismatched version of the American Gothic painting, my sparkling acrylic nails clutching his flannel-clad bicep.
Getting off the plane, I instantly knew I was a long way from home. The deer were not animatronic. There were no illuminated musical fountains, and there were no intoxicated people publicly urinating into said fountains. I walked down an entire street without anyone handing me an ad for an escort service. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was possibly wearing too much glitter eye shadow.
In Iowa, it helps if you look like you go to church. Which is a look I can’t pull off. I think terrible thoughts all day long, a fact I try to conceal with too-enthusiastic smiles. I always seem to have just polished off a box of wine, at minimum. In Vegas, this just makes me one of the crowd; everyone appears to be wasted and on vacation because most people are. But Iowans took one glance at me and grew concerned: Are you lost? Did you lose something? They were curious: What was I trying to find in this place where I didn’t belong?
I’d come searching for love, and I found it. Mr. Sexy Wool Cap turned out to be everything I’d hoped. But the rural town where he lived (and, due to his child custody arrangements, needed to stay) troubled me. One winter afternoon, I opened the door to find 90 crows sitting in the bare trees, and all the birds turned to stare at me in unison. The moment my brain registered that, no, this was not a Cirque du Soleil performance, I let out a scream and ran back inside. "Real birds in the backyard seem hungry for my organs!" I texted him. Also: The nearest mall (or even Target) was over an hour away at that time. Also: The only food-delivery place in town (pizza) stopped taking orders at 8 p.m.
I figured ours needed to be a long-distance relationship. But the commute was exhausting and expensive; huge chunks of each week—and each paycheck—felt wasted on transit. When a job opportunity arose in Iowa, I surprised myself by wanting to take it. Ultimately, getting to end and begin each day in bed with the person I love feels too lucky to pass up. I’ll always miss the convenience and year-round warm weather of Las Vegas. But to win big, I had to come to Iowa.