Previously: Sexy pictures, weird poetry, how watching “Hook” made me so insane to meet this man that he had to book a flight to meet me at JFK Airport, only a few days later. I drove there and stood in an empty terminal, pacing like a wild animal. Suddenly I stalled as a crowd of people descended upon me…
Within minutes, no…seconds, I saw a tall, grinning man with a backpack coming towards me. My mind had not the time nor the capacity to process that this was him. After dozens upon dozens of shared photos, no story tells the real story like moving, functioning, three-dimensional facial movements and expressions. Tousled hair. Smell. A smile that lights up a whole airport, and I’m telling you, this smiling man could be seen from space. He was neon. I think I can even speak objectively.
Suddenly, he was right before me. “Hey, jean jacket,” he said as he threw his backpack onto the terminal floor and embraced me. I think. I would probably pay $1,000,000 to see the security tape of our meeting at JFK Airport. I think I remember his smell, probably best of all. He smelled like California. He still does. And he was so tan then. And loose. Like he had no tension in any of his parts and was only standing up to be polite. We rode the elevator downstairs to baggage claim. We were giddy. We giggled. I was loose too, and I was only standing for show. If it wasn’t JFK Airport sometime around 10:00 pm, we probably would have been rolling on the floor as if we were in soaring fields of New England. Baggage eventually came. People there were probably staring at us. Somehow we found ourselves on the monorail. I was holding onto a pole to steady myself and he was hugging me from behind. I looked at our reflection out the monorail’s end window and thought that we looked like a couple who had known each other for years, for decades. As if we were reunited after too long apart.
Sometimes I wonder if that was, in fact, the case.
We missed our monorail stop. At least three times. We kept going round and round the JFK Airport loop. Giddy, exhausted, exhilarated. Eventually I got a little motion sick and we got off the monorail. We walked to the side and sank down in the now emptied airport. I took a picture of him and he took one of me:
For years I have been struck by the expression on my face in that photo. It adds at least ten years onto how I looked at that point in my life. I always interpreted it that I look like I know a secret, a really good secret, but it was going to hurt like hell to ever do anything with that secret.
Before we got in my car, I sank my head on the roof of the car and looked up at the sky. He did the same across the car from me. I confess now that I didn’t do it because I was exhausted or because I wanted to look at the sky. I did it because everyone looks beautiful under moonlight, with eyes upcast, and I wanted him to know I was worth the 3,000 mile trip. Emotionally and physically. He told me I was smaller than he expected in real life and I knew what he meant. Our email selves were jumping and clawing out of the computer screens at each other, and we must have seemed larger than life.
Into the car, with no maps, no directions, no GPS. Neither of us from the area. So I just…drove. I imagined I was going the wrong way, but neither of us cared. I played him a lot of my soulful mix cds, probably a few that had been made for that very occasion. (Not probably. Definitely.) We drove and drove, for who knows how long. I don’t have a bad sense of direction, but I have a terrible sense of New York City direction. It’s a gift, really. We found ourselves in a lovely beach town, with one of the prettiest beaches I’d ever seen. So I quickly parked and we nearly fell out of the car and onto the sand. It was a wild summer night. It was after midnight, now officially July 2nd. That was the day my father passed away in 1984 and I thought it symbolic somehow. We had our first kiss on that random beach against the water. I wish I could tell you it was like movie magic, but no, first kisses are sometimes awkward. And I think he tried to take my shirt off and I was all, “What??” Again, we were smashed-drunk by then. On life. We looked into the dunes and a dark shadow of a plant or rock made my drunk self say, “That looks like a bantha!”
Yes, I know my Star Wars. I think it was a pivotal moment for him, but this is my story to tell so I cannot say how much. I could tell, though…
After getting back in the car, my headlights lit on a sign that said, “Westhampton Beach” and we both shouted, “Holy sh*t!! We’re in the Hamptons! WTF? How did we get into the Hamptons?” It was so quiet and we now noticed all of the ritzy shops downtown. We found a gas station to get a map and directions, and drove straight until western Massachusetts. Straight until dawn. We were hungry and dazed and eventually found ourselves at a Friendly’s that I remember nothing about, except that we ate at a Friendly’s. I had never been to western Mass before. Years later when we somehow wound up living there, I would pass every Friendly’s in our area, and there are a lot, and ask, “That’s the one, right?!?”
For those in the western Mass know, it’s in Holyoke.
We heard “Bell Bottom Blues” a few times during our early morning car rides around Massachusetts..
After breakfast, we drove straight to Cassidy’s mom’s house in Conway, Mass. After an all-nighter, a house with beds was an astounding relief. Only..the house was locked, of course, and we couldn’t figure out how to get in. We did have one crappy, working cell phone between us but I can’t remember if we called neighbor, Pixie, or just drove over to her farm. She was more than happy to help us get into the house. I adore and know her now and she attended our wedding, so I think I can be open enough to ask, “Umm…what did you think about the young girl, in maroon pants and a torn jean jacket, sleepless and delirious, showing up with your good friend’s son to stay in your good friend’s house, knowing full well we had just met??”
She was cool, though. I remember sitting next to her while she told us what it was like to live somewhere you felt that magical, community, “home” feeling. I listened intently, with what brain capacity I had left. And I never forgot it, especially after I found my own “home” feeling, only 25 minutes from this strange place we walked into after one long night.
We slept after we got in, pausing of course, to take in the beautiful New England home. Cassidy’s mom, Ruth, had left us a map and letter with great places to eat and go. It was perfection. Time no longer had value for us, so we alternatively slept, ate, slept, ate, took pictures, and…stared sleepily at each other. This is a special message for you, Mom, because I know what you thought happened in Ruth’s house FOR YEARS. And it didn’t. Not that I have to explain that to…all of you readers.
The house had pictures of their Doberman, Eva, as a puppy. She had bandages on her ears in one photo and when I asked Cassidy why, he explained that Dobermans aren’t born with clipped ears. They’re actually floppy-eared by nature. I was truly astounded to hear this and wondered why people didn’t leave the ears alone. I had never seen a floppy-eared Doberman. *This is important later.*
This is what our two days looked like:
At one point, and one point only, I looked up from our pillow nest on the floor and out the window and felt extreme sadness thinking about my recent ex-boyfriend. He was in my life before this and he’d be in my life again, and though this isn’t a story about him, if this were a movie, that extreme sadness moment would foreshadow something dark and sinister on the horizon.
Real life is just so…real. As happy and dazed and excited and giddy that I truly was, I was also a lot of other things. It was almost like I was living transparently in this fantasy, not solidly. I was floating. Somewhere inside I knew that I didn’t “know” him yet, at least not in the physical, daily sense. And I knew I had pain and fear. Everything comes to a head eventually.
The second night there, we had the energy and drive to go to Shelburne Falls, another charming town, on the advice of Ruth to try out a local restaurant or two. I think we had some sort of enchilada, burrito type of dish. Afterward we checked out the downtown area and the river, bridges and weird sinkholes. I didn’t have a tripod but I put my old camera on the bridge and played around with exposure to take pictures of the night:
Then we went back to Conway for our last night. We woke up the next morning, refreshed and ready to fulfill my life dream to see a moose. Cassidy googled, “Maine, moose, bed and breakfast” and stumbled upon the number of the Prodigal Inn & Gallery in Bethel, Maine. This seemed as random and wonderful as anything so Cassidy called them and was somehow able to secure a reservation for later that day, even though it was July 4th weekend. He asked the guy on the phone:
“What are the chances of seeing a moose during our stay?”
“Probably about as good as the chances of seeing deer where you are.”
We packed up everything and got in the car, ready for another adventure. We left early enough and drove up through Vermont and New Hampshire during daylight. We’d stop into convenience stores every now and then and get air and drinks and candy bars. I used to be able to eat tons of candy bars. It was the summer of caramel and peanut butter nestle crunch bars and I kept searching until I found them in Vermont. We stopped the car and sat on a hillside for awhile. It was the first time I heard his expression, “gassed up the car.” We talked a bit, about one of his ex-girlfriends and then we were off into New Hampshire.
Somewhere along the moose-sign filled roads, the eight minute live version of “Romeo and Juliet” by the Dire Straits came on. His eyes widened and he grabbed my hand and we talked about how much we desperately loved that version of that song. I had first gotten into it the summer of my sweet 16 when one of my best friends gave me a red dress and a mix tape for my birthday before I was going on two intense road trips. I listened to the tape in my walkman all through the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, and then weeks later through Canada. That tape changed my life. Or at least, it appeared during a life-changing time. The tape was filled with the first Tori Amos album I ever loved (Under The Pink) as well as “High Hopes” by Pink Floyd and “Romeo and Juliet,” of course. I put it on a mix cd during this trip because I hadn’t been to northern New England since I took those trips at 16. Eight long years.
The sun was getting lower as we traveled across the White Mountains to cross the New Hampshire/Maine border. Cassidy took this picture of me:
I am struck by my expression, and also that I have not let my hair get that short since then, and I might never again.
The sun set somewhere before or around Maine. We followed whatever directions we had to get to our destination in Bethel. We had no idea who or what we were going to find. I had never been to Maine before and had always wanted to visit. As we drove downtown, we could see fireworks and crowds of people. We knew all of the fanfare was for July 4th weekend, but we couldn’t help but think part of it was for us too. Who else drives into a small, Maine town to the sight of exquisite fireworks and crowds? We parked my car and stood on the great lawn of some huge Inn/Restaurant and watched the finale. We held hands. When it was over we got back into the car and drove a few miles or so to find our bed & breakfast.
As we rolled our suitcases up to the front porch of the Prodigal Inn, the door opened to reveal a cozy, lit parlor and two kind faces greeting us at the door.