Friday, September 23, 2005


I saw a man coming out of the bank today who looked like Simon. The work-roughened, impish Englishman, in America so long that Carolyn complained of him losing his accent. She didn't want an ordinary slack-vowelled, urring husband.

But this man was going gray. Then I thought -- presumably Simon is too.

There's a picture of us out on their land. They were caretakers of a shore property, church retreat land, while Carolyn studied midwifery. Who has ever heard of the Connecticut coast? But it has one, hard-ribbed like Maine's. It was probably beautiful, once. Snow inlaid in coal-black rock.

Pictures of me carrying Tori, maybe a year old. A picture of me with my arm around Carolyn. I'm clad in a sweeping black white-flecked wool greatcoat. (The only expensive piece of clothing I have ever bought. I never bother with a coat, in Oregon. A jacket to keep off the rain is plenty. But when that first New Haven winter settled in I discovered that, yes, I would need a coat.) Carolyn is leaning into me, grinning.

Again. Martha and I were caretakers of the provost's mansion -- we lived behind it in the carriage house. Downstairs was a little kitchen and a bathroom. Upstairs was a single room, but a big one. Certainly big enough for a young married couple and a baby. Try as I may, though, I can't make the house fit together. The upstairs is far too big for the downstairs. Was a there a garage on the first floor, then? If so I must never have entered it. Perhaps the old carriages were there -- maybe they're still there, waiting for horses.

All I remember of New Haven is wanting. Wanting more and more, and it was exciting, at first -- it made me giddy -- I was in the big leagues, now -- but there was always more to want, and the dream changed slowly, imperceptibly into nightmare.

There was a strip bar in a mall, up the freeway a couple of miles. One of the dancers was Tina, a young Danish woman, red-haired, sensible, calm, and cheerful. Her English was nearly perfect, which of course gave her away instantly as a foreigner. She would sit with me at the bar.

They all used to laugh at how entranced I was by them.

"I don't know why I do this to myself," I remarked.

Tina looked at me with a sort of concerned affection. The matter seemed simple enough, to her. "Sometimes, it is nice to be teased," she said.

It is. And sometimes it is not. Quiet, middling drunk, I would wait for the bus to take me back into town. I would grade papers on the bus. Sometimes even in the bar. I can grade papers anywhere. The minute I start reading, all my attention is there. I catch the intentness of the writer, it pulls at me. I walk with them, watching the expression on their faces as they try to make the meaning come. I can see it, often, before they can. I can nudge, cajole, even scold. My calling too, maybe, was to be a midwife of sorts.

But all that has washed away in the rain of time. Old, half-forgotten unhappiness. The restlessness, constantly wanting, wanting, wanting, and no one to tell me how not to let it carry me away -- it comes back to me now in bright but unreal colors, a finger-painting of someone else's life.

A flickering phrase from the radio -- the Pretenders -- that passionate voice rising. "I saw a picture of you..."

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