It’s late on a Sunday evening, and these are my morning pages, left till the end of this traveling day. Thunderstorms this evening: bolt lightening creasing across the sky, and claps of thunder so loud they stop the heart for a moment. Such a spectacular welcome.
Last night at this time I was contorting myself in an airplane seat — we were in the row right in front of the exit row so our seats didn’t recline, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to get my body comfortable enough to let itself fall asleep. I read and read, my eyes drooped, I yawned and the words on the pages blurred, but when I turned off the light and closed my eyes, my body held itself hostage. An old move. All I could do was adjust, adjust, adjust, adjust, but nothing worked, so I showed up at Logan a mess of sleep-deprivation and rage. Another old knowledge. Used to be, that’s how I’d arrive at Logan every time — returning to the East Coast after a visit home to Omaha while I was still in school, having spent a holiday or term break or several months living under my stepfather’s world order: no one ever got enough sleep, and the job of the female bodies in the house was to light around in a state of heightened anxiety and panic that was only released when he actually proposed to rape one of or when he exploded with rage. Then something in us could relax — we didn’t have to anticipate the worst anymore; it was already happening.
Anyway. I’m on vacation now, and I didn’t mean to get into all of that. In this case, some twenty-plus years later, waiting on in the muggy early morning thickness outside Logan for the shuttle to the rental car center, I felt my tension starting to slip out of my body. Sure, I was overtired. Sure, I was angry that the stewardess had woken me up to put my tray table up (and seat backs, she said by rote to those of us in our aisle, though we hadn’t had the luxury of even being able to lean back the 10 or 15° they allocate in coach these days) just when I’d finally fallen asleep. I was in Boston again, in that tension-strangled city that still had, for me, been a site of outlet and possibility back when I was in school (even though it was also a site of an assault so — heartbreaking, I guess, that it’s one of the few I actually have no memory of, even though I was well into my 20s when it happened).
Why am I talking about all this? Don’t you know: coming to the east coast is always coming into the overheated body of my past — the place where I hit bottom, tore my self free, and began the long work of choosing, day by day, to keep on living even though I couldn’t understand how or why I was going to make that happen. This was the place I earned I could live without family while also expecting myself to know how to build one. This was the place where I started swimming out from underwater and into the turbulent terrain of adulthood, having been given no tools except for the ability to flirt, lie, and act so well like everything was fine that nearly everyone I came into contact with me believe dit. And those who didn’t, well — they did their best to hold me anyway.
I wanted to talk about vacation, how happy I am to be back here, back in Maine, back at the ocean I still think of, in some place in my body, as home, the first ocean I ever met. And I am happy to be back here. No matter that being in New England also layers me thick with nostalgia and regret. On 95 up from Boston (and after the requisite first stop at Dunkin Donuts), we caught one of the college radio stations at the low end of the dial — the early morning dj played Patty Griffin’s “Every Little Bit” and one more time I was driving alone through a heavy Maine night, 29 years old, newly married and facing the possibility of parenthood, laid low by a crush on a woman much younger than me which had wrenched me open with exhilaration and despair. Of course I told my then-wife about my crush. I wanted to tell her everything — “liberty is the right not to lie,” remember?
How do you, if you live long enough to be able to look back at all the selves you’ve been, find a way to forgive yourself for being, though exactly who you needed to be in order to survive, an almost complete asshole?
I sang in the car this morning, my body remembering the words, filling my mouth with the lyrics before my conscious mind could remember them. I tried to turn the volume all the way up, to fill the car with bass and guitar and the tear of Girffith’s voice, but I’m not driving, and my sweetheart says, that’s too loud for me. Oh, right — I’m not driving alone, all the windows down, singing as so loud that my throat hurts, then reaching down to slam the rewind button so I can hear it again, again, again, hoarding myself, trying to get something I don’t — didn’t — have words for out of my body.
We are settled in here for two weeks on the Maine coast — vacation like I’ve never had before in my life: not for family, not for work, but for self and relationship and relax. We walk the beach, looking for sand dollars and abandoned hermit crab shells. How can I help it — I look out at the waves, remember sitting on the shale at Two Lights with notebook and water bottle, trying to earn the right to be there in the middle of a weekday while my then wife sat at a desk, “consulting,” whatever that meant. I was meant to be freelancing, figuring out what it meant to be a writer. And I did write, some — then stopped, mesmerized by the waves, the thick greyblue, layering in sheets of pressure and energy up from the heartbeat of the earth to roll onto this coastline, endlessly.
I said recently to my ex-wife, I’m sorry I was such an asshole. She sort of laughed, said I was being hard on myself. We haven’t had yet the sort of lay-it-all-out argument we maybe need to have to let us say things like that to each other. But I can write more about that another time.
There are cardinals in Maine now — I can’t get used to it. Cardinals didn’t live here during the thirteen years I lived in New England. Cardinals belonged to the midwest, and were, for me, a harbinger of home. Cardinals — the males so bright red they look like flames searched up at the ttreetops, ends of branches, on powerless and telephone poles — were my companions when I was a girl. I learned to sing their songs, and talked with them on the way to and from grade school. They stayed in Nebraska when I left.
But now I come back to Maine, and find cardinals at the feeder in the yard across the street, find cardinal song pulsing through my back brain as I walk up from the beach. Cardinal song and waves all swimming together at the same time, how can that be? I know there’s environmental reason for this, something probably to do with global warming, but I can’t help also thinking it’s some sort of sign — something about letting this place of freedom and heartbreak be home anyway, to trust the place in my body that falls open when the plane touches down at BOS or PWN, that says, You made it back. You still get to be free.