Friday, July 6, 2007


There has been another very short trip over from Vermont in the summer as I continued to look for the past – and yet another in late September that entailed romance, nearly, in the present, and sex and betrayal and connection and disruption – so like, it seemed, what I was uncovering. But that was in early autumn. This other summer trip had been to see my Cousin Lawrence, whom I still considered my friend, he being in the theater and thus closer to my life than any of the others – and I went over from Vermont straight to his mother’s house, sort of like a company house, in the non-summer New Hampshire town of Littleton, an old mill town which was far more local than summer. Hardly summer at all.

I went to my Cousins Lawrence and Lauryn’s mother’s place on a steep hill just above the old movie theater – not an our-kind-of-people place at all – the place to which she had fled, my Aunt Alice – the one whom I had been close, and not only because she was the black sheep of her generation.

She had fled the city in the ‘sixties, taking Lauryn out of the Lycée and ballet school, running from the city with Lauryn and Lenny, because if she didn’t Lenny would be going to prison – which was not an our-kind-of-people thing either.

This was before I knew about the battered women’s shelter or knew about what had happened to Lauryn’s childhood. It was after Cousin Elizabeth said she wanted to die and then did die, but just before Cousin Anna’s suicide, right at the time Cousin Richard returned to serve what I knew would be a life sentence in his mother’s house in Tuxedo Park – and before Lawrence would send Lauryn to Florida to look after Lawrence’s strange twisted father-in-law, who was blind and usually drunk and always a rake and had just been left by his latest much younger wife, an alcoholic Playboy bunny. Lawrence knew already that this guy was after his pretty sister Lauryn. The last time this guy put the moves on Lauryn, I was told, it had made Lawrence furious. But now he sent her down there.

All I knew was that hanging over Lauryn was some sort of sexual thing in the past – Lenny doing something to Lauryn not long before he went into the army – ordered there by a New Hampshire judge in lieu of prison – and came back from the army to die fast on a motorcycle. When Mrs. Marsh was talking about the deep past I knew it had not stopped with those incidents she described. I did not have much information yet, but I could smell it.

A couple of years later I would think of what I had been feeling on these family house grounds, especially the grounds of the big summer houses, that August. I went to Easton, Pennsylvania, a dilapidated coal town where artists were getting big studios cheap in abandoned factories and warehouses – and I knew instantly I could not stay in Easton – did not know why, but found out later about the horrors hanging over the place, including the mass hangings of union people, the mass killings of the Wobblies. What I felt there in Easton before I had the information was much like what I felt in New Hampshire just as the information in New Hampshire started to come in.

On that brief trip to see Lawrence, before we left Aunt Alice’s house for dinner, I went out for a walk alone in late afternoon mountain light, turned around on the sidewalk, saw Aunt Alice was following me and looking at me as you would look at a lover. And I was remembering early childhood. I was in early childhood.

When I got back to the house some older, well-traveled distant cousins I liked had dropped by on their way to somewhere. Everyone but me was always dealing with near or distant family in this family I believed I had long ago escaped. Cousin Carolyn, with whom I think my father had been in love many years back, said just about the most thrilling thing that had happened to her was getting on an airplane in Tokyo ten years ago and reading a really funny in-flight magazine article about finding the perfect place write – and then realizing this great article was by her Cousin Fred. And Lawrence and his wife and his mother changed the subject fast, and later made fun of this older cousin for saying that I was at the center of something great. Then they asked me to spend time picking up Lawrence’s stepson from far-off Burlington and ferrying him to Littleton – which sounded like the first of the many tasks for which they could use me.

That was trip number two. Trip number three, in foliage season, was a kind of trysting venture with a deceptively girlie blonde woman I had met in one of the meetings I had been going to as part of this search. A 12-step program called ACOA, Adult Children of Alcoholics, which I quickly learned from people who did other programs (and yes, observing another program back when I stopped drinking) , was free from orthodox AA, Big Book and Alanon ideas to hold back blame and anger. Anger was encouraged, forgiveness came up only in the words, which I used to close a meeting once , “fuck forgiveness.” Everyone was out to find out what had happened. A let the chips fall where they may situation. And at this time I though I had stopped writing, and I was not quite in art school yet but spending my city days in galleries and museums – but always carrying a notebook, and always going to a Sunday morning meeting at a lecture hall at St. Vincent’s Hospital where people did not rant and scream – much as I liked that part in the regular meetings. Instead they moved into the past in writing that they would read to each other – writing on the spot. The person leading the meeting would put some questions on a blackboard, and everyone would write scenes in response, and it was here the important last veils, the lingering fog on my landscape – had so nearly completely lifted.

It was here that I realized the verbal family accounts could not hold up on paper. It was here that I learned how a story cannot be told verbally without the teller knowing exactly where it will go, whereas it is almost impossible to write a story – to really write it by plunging into the actual scenes and using written words to recreate these scenes – just about impossible to do this and keep the story, the way it is told in the family, intact.

And here I was in that old setting, the White Mountains, where all family stories, and my own stories that I had held together, stressed not only that this was the most beautiful place in the world but that also it was absolutely safe, even to the point of being a little silly in its sedate picture of itself – a place that was so safe and secure that it would always keep us apart from the lives and stories and places of people not in the family, of those regular people who were so out of reach.

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