Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast, and carried off an infant Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their child borne out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow the same direction.

I woke my sons at five in the morning on Monday. They were already packed and had their clothes laid out. David came out to hug them and our older son asked if he should put away his saxophone, which lay on its case on the living room floor. This activity woke up the dog. Our younger son hugged the dog, the dog wanted to be fed, we left David and the dog. The newspaper hadn’t been delivered yet.

It was still dark, of course. Stoplights along the route had been changed to blinking red lights. There was almost no traffic on the surface roads, and only a little on the highway. It took us twenty-five minutes to get to the airport, even with all those blinking lights. I pulled into a space in the short-term parking garage, and the boys shouldered their backpacks and rolled their duffels to the elevator, into the terminal, onto the moving walkway, into an elevator, and up to the security checkpoint.

Our older son held their passports and boarding passes. We hugged and kissed goodbye, and they passed through the doors onto the security line. Occasionally I could see one or the other boy lit by a spotlight, visible through the snaking line of passengers. I waved once to each of them. Then I couldn't see them anymore. I read the newspaper on my phone until I received the texts “Made it through” and “Love you.”

That was it. I was home by 6:30 am. I ate breakfast and read the paper. Eventually I was alerted that the boys had landed in Boston. Eventually I learned that they had taken off again and landed in Nantucket. Late last night our younger son called to tell me that he felt very far away from me. I said all the things you say to that.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


But it so happened just then, that it was high time for the Captain to mind his own eye. The prodigious strain upon the mainsail had parted the weather-sheet, and the tremendous boom was now flying from side to side, completely sweeping the after part of the deck. The poor fellow whom Queequeg had handled so roughly, was swept overboard; all hands were in a panic; and to attempt snatching at the boom to stay it, seemed madness.

My family went whitewater rafting down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. To do that we took a small plane into the middle of the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. We weren’t roughing it. My parents had made this trip a few years earlier with an outfitter that ran supply boats down and set up tents for you, cooked for you, and cleaned up afterward. When my parents had done it, just the two of them, they had had the most marvelous time.

There were no grandchildren. My youngest sister, Julia, was fourteen. My middle sister was unattached. David and I were married a year, I think, and I was the fattest I have ever been, which felt terrible, especially when I wore the wetsuit. My parents wanted us all to be together on the river, so on the first day we went down to the put-in, met the other people on our trip, and arranged to be in the same raft, which was guided by a woman I’ll call Eileen.

It was just at the open of the season, and the river ran high and cold: 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or something like it. When we hit the first real rapid, Eileen couldn’t get us to turn fast enough, and instead of shooting through the space between a large submerged rock and the shore, we were thrown up against that rock and pinned there by the force of the water. When that happened, Julia and Eileen were thrown out of the boat, and the rest of us watched them floating rapidly down the river, Julia looking back at us, too scared to scream.

Meanwhile we were trapped in the boat, guideless. Downriver from the rapid, a guide from another outfit pulled his boat over to the riverbank, secured it and then jumped into the water. As we watched, he walked up the river to us, the current cresting above his waist, against his chest. When he reached us, he hauled himself into the boat, and directed us down into the calmer shallows. Julia and Eileen had been picked up by another boat further down.

We regrouped. No one wanted to suggest that Eileen was incompetent—and in fact, perhaps she wasn’t, perhaps this happened, from time to time, to all of the guides—so we went back out with her again. The famous rapid on the next part of the river is called Velvet Falls. To get through it, apparently, you have to enter the falls, a nasty drop that was that day about as deep as the raft was long, on one specific line. We failed to do this successfully, and as we went over I could hear Eileen say, “Oh, shit.”

We were thrown from the raft and submerged. The water, even through the wetsuit, was cold enough to make my heart contract and my breathing accelerate. On the other hand, I wasn’t caught under the falls, and nothing hurt. I generally feel pretty comfortable in the water, and I put my feet up, as we had been told to, in a V and headed down the river, where I caught a paddle and was pulled into another boat. Eventually everyone was found, and hauled into one of the boats. The following day, Eileen was reassigned to running the supplies, and we were transferred to the raft piloted by the General, a short, knowledgeable man who showed us how to read the water, let my sister Julia ruin his flies by hooking them on bushes, played guitar at the campfires, and loaned my unattached middle sister his sweater.

In camp a couple nights later I tripped and managed to drive a stick into the spot between two toes, which hurt, and raised concerns about infection; I had to keep it elevated, and, sitting by the campfire, grew fatter. By the time Dave and I got to San Francisco, my pants were tight, I had to wear sandals over a bandage, my foot throbbed, and I looked, and felt, ridiculous.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Hiding his canoe, still afloat, among these thickets, with its prow seaward, he sat down in the stern, paddle low in hand; and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains; and throwing himself at full length upon the deck, grappled a ring-bolt there, and swore not to let go, though hacked in pieces.

In June and July, 1991, between our sophomore and junior years in college, a friend and I sublet a loft apartment in Little Italy for the summer. She worked at an internship near Times Square, and I worked at an internship near Union Square, and in the evening we came home on the N/R and cooked free pasta we’d gotten from my boyfriend, who had leftover boxes from the Friday night dinners he organized at our college, and ate raw whole carrots.

The building was at the corner of Mulberry and Broome. To get to the third-floor apartment you climbed a long set of stairs that rose to a landing, and then, when you expected it to turn, continued on up in the same direction. Night after night, we ate our little meal and watched Perfect Strangers reruns on the tiny television. I had previously hated that show, but that summer it revealed its hidden charms. We weren’t watching it ironically: We enjoyed it, and I remember laughing at the jokes.

There were limited seating options in the loft, so we took turns sitting on the day bed and lying in the hammock. The hammock was better, because, since it was so difficult to get in and out of the thing, whoever was in the hammock would be served by the person who was not in it. The phone, with its lengthy cord, would be brought to her, the remains of her carrots would be taken away, floss would be delivered, etc.

We did almost nothing. We did nothing inside the apartment, because the apartment was unrelentingly hot. We left the lights off. We took cold baths in the dirty tub. There was a ceiling fan, but it was very loud, and eventually you couldn’t stand the sound anymore and had to turn it off, until the heat became ridiculous and you had to turn it on again. My boyfriend came to visit and I thought, Why do people think hot summer nights are sexy? No one wants to be touched.  I don’t remember him visiting the apartment again.

We didn’t take out the garbage for a month, and when we did it was as heavy as a person, and left a wet stain where we dragged it, together, down the stairs. 

We also rarely left the apartment.  Once we went to South Street Seaport for a free outdoor concert, and were asked to dance by strange men, and refused to dance with them. Once we went downstairs to a bar in our building and drank with a friend who was in from out of town. We went up to Central Park for a concert and were rained on. We went to the Angelika and watched French films in the air-conditioning. I had a shiny rough silk jacket I liked to wear, and walking home from the Angelika one night a guy shouted, “Nice jacket!” as he and his friends passed us.  Once I took a taxi back from something because it was late and I was by myself.  Once I saw my uncle on the subway platform but he didn’t recognize me and that made me doubt that I had seen him. On the weekends we generally went home to our parents. 

My friend’s work took her to a public library where she was supposed to do research, so she brought back the newest romance novels, and we talked about writing a romance novel together. How hard could it be? There was a place nearby that sold cheeseburgers in pita bread and we loved eating those, sometimes, for a change. The loft’s owner made pastels she sold to artists and I liked to open the drawers and look at them. I mean, we cloistered ourselves. We didn’t really drink, we didn’t take drugs, we didn’t make friends, we didn’t fall in or out of love. We didn’t do anything but hang out with each other in the heat.  The story of that summer is almost not a story, except that it ended, and everything in it—the place, the time, the friend, the friendship, the boyfriend—is changed, or gone, or both.