Sunday, May 09, 2010

Not Far Enough

I would have a party. I wanted to dance. I borrowed records from Roy and my sisters and began taping strings of my favorite dance songs. Taping and stringing songs together was something I’d learned from watching Geoffrey for years. Making such tapes was his main art form – tape covers he made from color coded construction paper, typing the lists of songs on his Selectric, titling each “album,” each having a fast and a slow side. Each song segued into the next precisely, timed to the split second. He’d sit on the bed where the stereo was set up, his earphones on, the bed not made, he often naked, his finger hovering on the pause switch, listening for the instant when he want the next song – cued up – to begin, then – pow – hit the switch. If the segue came out wrong, he’d do it over until it was right.

I didn’t go to so much trouble. I wanted a few hours of great dance music, no bad songs to sit through. As I sat on the floor, adding The Harder They Come to Twist and Shout I tried not to think of Geoffrey and how well he would do this and was I living my own life or still trying to do things that he would like. “Put on the Ramones!” Esther, my little sister, yelled from the bathroom – that felt new and my own. Geoffrey didn’t listen to the Ramones.

My sisters both came in for the party. Esther had turned into a teenager with black-rimmed eyes and multiple earrings who made us laugh with stories of drinking and parties. Basil – in purple cotton baggy pants -- helped me to roll joints for the party. She had brought copper rings, one for each of us. We would each have a matching ring, our sister rings. I wore mine, proud to have a relationship this important. Even if I couldn’t find friends to fill what felt like an immense hole, at least I had my two sisters.

And after the party I would go hitchhiking in Nova Scotia. Surely, that would be far away enough to really feel like I was in wide open space. I was reading Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” where she described moment after moment of herself and what she sees in the water and grasses around her house. I wanted to write like that and took the subway one day as far north as it would go to Van Cortlandt park and walked – in the long flowing apple-green skirt that I loved. No one else was there. I could feel the woods and the earth there. A junked car lay abandoned and a young man approached, glowering in a black tee-shirt. A few steps away I realized it was a woman. She passed without speaking.

I came home and wrote about the walk, calling the piece Small Runaway. Nova Scotia, I thought, would be a bigger runaway. I would hitchhike like I had when I was 16, and I would camp, which I’d never done alone. Basil would lend me a tent she said. She’d done a lot of camping.

But first the party. I invited everyone I could think of – people from the old job, the lesbians, the carpenters, the different men I tried to sleep with, Geoffrey’s sister who was in town. I put out bowls of blueberries and bowls of joints, and I wore the white cotton dress that looked like a slip. I moved the glass-topped table to make a dance floor.

I did dance. Almost all the party. I saw the Brooklyn guy sitting by himself. I saw Cynthia the copyeditor sitting by herself. Charles from the office roared in at midnight with a woman bearing flowers and bottles of liquor.

I danced alone and with my sisters, the music loud, past midnight. I felt beautiful, but no man came to join me.

Basil showed me how to put up her tent in her living room in Boston. Hiking boots, pack, sleeping bag. She lent me a little cook stove and told me lentils were good for camping trips because they cooked fast. So I took a bag of brown lentils. Basil spoke with assurance about everything she did.

The first night in Nova Scotia I put up the tent in someone’s field, which is how I’d imagined things – putting up the tent wherever I felt like it. But I hadn’t realized this meant not having a bathroom. The next night I gave in and accepted a campsite. The tent fell on me while I slept.

I got a ride with a man who gave me his card and said if I needed a place to stay on my way back to call him and his wife. I found my way out to raw landscape, what I had been imagining but I could only look at it for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to do with it. I slept in a church that night, on a pew, frightened but least inside. The lentils tasted awful.

At the far end of Novia Scotia I saw you could take a boat to Northumberland. I wanted so much to buy a ticket and keep going, go further, not stop, never stop, but I didn’t have the money. I turned back, reluctant. I could never go as far as I wanted. I called the man who’d given me his card. “Sure,” he said. “You can stay here though my wife and I are leaving for the weekend.” He picked me up, drove me to their simple two-story home and a warm bed. In the morning I was left alone. I stayed for two days. I ate all their food, returning to the fridge then the freezer all day long and left them a thank-you note on the counter.

I found my way back to Halifax and the ferry to Portland. The plan was to hitch a few hours inland and Bill would come pick me up. He was staying a few weeks with his parents in their Maine cabin.

One man drove me off the main road to a clearing in the woods. He said he wanted to show me the land he was buying. He wore a suit and was older than me. We stood on the edge of the cleared land, pretending this was normal. I played along, pretending the land was interesting, wanting to keep his focus on the charade of show me real estate, not thinking about what was at stake, just knowing I had to keep the conversation going.

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