|Calvary (M.A. Reilly, South Dakota, 2010)|
Pat, Tina, Robert and I spent part of a summer on the road, leaving Brooklyn and New Jersey well behind and making our way up the Maine coast and back to Boston. We had no real destination in mind. I can't recall whose small car we road in that summer, but do remember it was a tight fit what with all of us, our stuff, and a tent--and now and then someone we met along the way.
There's something to be said for traveling without an agenda. Without a destination.
We had just a handful of dollars that gave out as we hit Boston and we spent the night trying to sleep on Revere Beach. The neon lights of the bars along the boulevard made that a difficult task. We traveled that summer with just the barest of acknowledgements that somewhere at the long end of August we would be returning to college--a different one for each of us and though we would stay in touch our lives would wind in unpredictable ways. For me, it marked that last summer hurrah as I finished college early and the year after would find me bartending at a local hot spot with my shiny art and lit degree in hand and living with a new roommate in an apartment that cost me $115 a month including the utilities.
It was in that apartment, a 3rd floor walk up, that my brother would leave a note taped to the door letting me know my mom's youngest brother had died. He wrote that they had tried to ring me several times (this was in the days before cell phones), but I was out more than home. We finally did connect and even now, decades later, I still see her hollow expression at the loss of her last brother. She had six siblings and now only she and an older sister remained.
After the crowds at the wake had thinned, we sat together and I softly recited Emily Dickinson's The Bustle in the House, thinking about the many years she had read to me. It was a prayer of sorts. A poor offering to the woman who had taken in a scared friend of mine when she had an abortion at 15 and couldn't go home. Roe v. Wade was still so new. I remember asking her how she reconciled her very Catholic stance on abortion with Steph's needs and she said sometimes you learn to be conflicted and act anyway.
I knew my mom had been so mad at me when I left home. She came back from Europe to find me packed and gone.
"You're just 18," she would later say.
The distance between us that evening at the wake felt large, looming, unbridgeable. I had broken something, I thought. I wanted her back, not knowing she had not left--I had. It is impossible to understand a mother's love. I know now she forgave all my trespasses--she forgave them without me having to ask.
A few months later would find me at another funeral--one my parents would attend too--a service on a cold March day with just a handful of people in attendance. A friend, Joann, had died in a wreck. Her car hydroplaned on a highway crossing the median and hitting an oncoming car. A few weeks before her boyfriend had broken her jaw. The day she died she had been fleeing him again. It was rush hour and the pregnant woman in the other car--the car Joann's car had crashed into, died too.
Joann's best friend, my roommate, would not attend the service. She was too sad, she said and certainly too drugged to get there.
This was a time of such wreckage, a time that reshaped what I might have been, what I was becoming.
I know that now.
After college I drifted, unsure. No picket fence. A careless woman with careless friends.
Two years after Joann's death would find me married and teaching high school--a poor attempt at respectability. I was teaching Gatsby to my last period 10th graders and the words on the page resonated. It's that moment when Daisy and Nick are speaking and Daisy says:
"I am careful."
"No, you're not"
"Well, other people are," she said lightly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."
"Suppose you meet somebody just as careless as yourself?"
"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people" (p. 63).
I wish I could write by then I had it together, but I know now that I traded uncertainty for security. Oddly, teaching high school English for a decade helped me to become less careless, more attentive, empathetic.
And a decade of analysis helped me to become more (other)wise.
I think about those days now and then and realize that it's easy to lose your way.
Perhaps, even necessary.
I try to remember that, to bear that, when I look at my son.