It was always depressing returning home from vacation. Our family trip to the Adirondacks in New York, from August 10-18, 2001, seemed an otherworldly escape. Many afternoons, I sat in a dark green Adirondack chair on the dock at Flower Lake, writing in my journal. We hiked in the mountains, canoed on the lakes and explored charming little towns. We relaxed, played Yahtzee and Chinese Checkers. We soaked in a Jacuzzi. It was my perfect dream life and I could have continued there through fall and winter.
In the months after we returned, I worked on creating a photo album of our Adirondacks holiday. I kept a detailed journal that I hoped to eventually use as inspiration for a short story. It’s now been nearly 18 years since we went on this holiday, and I’ve never yet written a short story set in the Adirondacks. 😦
I planned to keep busy in the fall, which would be no problem when my classes started soon after our return home. If I focused only on work – writing, learning French, reading up on France and the Bahamas, planning our trip to France, and staying out of stores – I hoped I would be okay.
One night after our return from the Adirondacks, Mike and I watched Connie Chung’s interview with Congressman Gary Condit on Prime Time. At that time, I believed he was guilty of killing Chandra Levey, an intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons who had disappeared on May 1, 2001; the married Congressman had been having an affair with her. In the interview, he gave what seemed evasive, canned answers to every question. Apparently public opinion was with me 10-2 that he killed Chanda Levey. He seemed so damned smug that a body would never be found and he would never be implicated. I hated to see people literally get away with murder – another O.J. Simpson, I was convinced. Of course, I, along with the media and everyone else, would be proven wrong in 2009, when an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Ingmar Guandique, would be arrested for Chandra Levey’s murder in Rock Creek Park.
At the end of August, I went to my first Creative Writing class with Laura Ellen Scott at George Mason University. Though I’d been an English major at the College of William and Mary in the late 70s, I’d never taken creative writing classes; most of my classes were in literature and literary analysis.
Our first assignment in the class was to do a rewrite of the Edgar Allen Poe short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” set in an unnamed Italian city at carnival time in an unspecified year. The Poe story was about a man taking fatal revenge on a friend who, he believed, had insulted him. Like several of Poe’s stories, and in keeping with the 19th-century fascination with the subject, the narrative revolved around a person being buried alive – in this case, by immurement, a form of imprisonment, usually for life, in which a person is placed within an enclosed space with no exits. Poe conveyed the story from the murderer’s perspective.
It was our class assignment to write a short story using Poe’s story as inspiration; mine was loosely based on the Gary Condit and Chandra Levey affair; in my story the main character was not a Congressman, but a spelunker. My rewrite was called, “Slow Dance with Stalagmites.” I finished the first draft on September 6 and then did a lot of revision. A while after we’d turned in the assignment, the teacher read my story aloud to the class as the best story she’d received.
Mike and I went to Cinema Arts to see the Italian film Bread & Tulips. It was so cute. I loved how the middle-aged woman, Rosalba (Licia Maglietta), escaped her less than devoted husband, Mimmo, and two sons and recreated herself in Venice, working in a florist shop and falling for an ex-con Icelandic waiter named Fernando who kept trying to hang himself. Of course, I myself loved to dream of escaping to Europe and living all alone, remaking myself anew. I would try to keep that dream alive when I got depressed.
At the pool on the Sunday after we returned, I lay in the sun reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. When I got home, I called my Mom, who had been in the hospital since Wednesday because her blood oxygen level was 69 when she went in for a checkup with her doctor. When I called, she’d just been released from the hospital. She’d been having trouble breathing since the hot weather and since she put some fingernail polish on before she went to Richmond with her friend Susan. Her normal blood oxygen level with her emphysema was 90, while normal for other people was 97. The nurses in the hospital were surprised that her doctor hadn’t put her on oxygen immediately upon seeing the 69 level. They kept her in for tests. When they sent her home, she had to stay on oxygen and she would likely have to be on it indefinitely. She was hoping she’d be better in the fall and be able to get off of it. At that time, she had to be on it 24 hours a day. She was hooked up to the machine on a 40-foot cord when she was in the house, and when she went out, she had to cart around the oxygen tank on a rolling cart. That meant Dad had to go with her to the grocery store, because she couldn’t push the shopping cart and pull her oxygen cart at the same time. That didn’t sound good at all.
Mom was upset that a waitress at a restaurant was very rude, presumably because she was carrying oxygen. I told her, “It may not have had anything to do with the oxygen. She may have just been plain rude!”
I told her I was starting class the next day and she said, “In what?” I said, “In writing… You just don’t want to remember what I’m taking, do you?” I didn’t know why she seemed threatened by my writing, unless she was afraid I was going write about her. She had never in my entire life encouraged my creativity, as she had with my sister and brother. It irked me; this was one of many reasons why we had such a strained relationship.
I met my ex-husband Bill in Richmond to pick up our 17-year-old daughter Sarah, where in the car, I reiterated to her that it was up to her to prove to me that she was mature enough to go away to college. I said one visit to the clinic during school could cost her that privilege. She was often going to the school clinic for stomach issues related to anxiety. She needed to learn to deal with her anxieties. So, we started our visit on a sour note.
I took Sarah shopping and broke my promise to myself not to get her any new clothes, by letting her use money from her account to buy herself jeans at Gap and some sweaters at Wet Seal. I felt bad for her because Bill made her pay every cent she’d earned all summer for car repairs. It seemed to me he should have split some of those costs, since he was guilty of putting a lot of wear and tear on that car. I felt sorry for her having to provide almost totally for herself, with virtually no help from her dad and stepmother.
Several weeks later, that September of 2001, we would suffer the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, an event that would forever change our lives. The story of Gary Condit and Chandra Levey was soon forgotten. Sarah would finish her senior year of high school and go away to college the following fall, dropping out after a year (she graduated much later, after a long slow process, at age 32). I lost my mother to emphysema several months later, in April 2002, and read the e.e. cummings poem, “if there are any heavens,” at her funeral; I’d discovered and fallen in love with this poem in the Adirondacks. I continued taking creative writing classes and started my first novel, which I finished, though never published, several years later. Finally, a chain of events occurred after the 9/11 attacks that led to a 7-year separation from my husband in 2007, in which I partially realized my dream of remaking myself in a foreign country, much like Rosalba in Bread & Tulips. My husband and I would get back together in 2014, after I’d lived and worked abroad in South Korea and Oman, and before I’d go to work in China and Japan.
Somehow this family vacation marked an end to innocence.
“ON RETURNING HOME” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about returning home from one particular destination or, alternately, from a long journey encompassing many stops. How do you linger over your wanderings and create something from them? How have you changed? Did the place live up to its hype, or was it disappointing? Feel free to address any aspect of your journey and how it influences you upon your return. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
For some ideas on this, you can check out the original post about this subject: on returning home.
Include the link in the comments below by Sunday, June 2 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Monday, June 3, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation on the first Monday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂
I am traveling from April 4 to May 10. If I cannot respond to or add your links due to wi-fi problems or time constraints, please feel free to add your links in both this post and my next scheduled post. If I can’t read them when you post them, I will get to them as soon as I can. Thanks for your understanding! 🙂
Thanks to all of you who wrote returning home posts following intentions you set for yourself. 🙂