It took me a while to get up there this time – close to two months since the last time and since I heard the news. Up there once last year, 1985, and twice this past August, 1986, and once in late September – and now it was late November. My fourth trip – two times from Vermont and two times up from the city – after going most of my adulthood with no trips to the White Mountains, the family place, the place of the awninged formal houses and the lawns with white benches and marble bird baths, the panorama of the Franconia range always in view – the place against which they judged all other places – as in how they used to say that the Franconia area, which was mostly deteriorating and rustic, was just like Switzerland, where everything was spruced up, saying it in tones that made clear Switzerland was no competition – and I had continued all these years to hold it as the world’s most beautiful place, though like most of them in the family I hardly ever went there – finding it easier to get to Laos or Angola or Brunei or Egypt than to get to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
The last trip came on the spur of the moment. I was locking my bicycle to a post just down from the Museum of Modern Art, which these days I visited more days than not. And I heard a very cultivated, Anglofied but stilll quite pleasant woman’s voice saying “That’s a neat bike, Fred” – and I realized it was this blonde woman, Gillian, whom I knew from meetings – where she listened intently, like a little girl listening, while she played with her long hair, lifted it up, let it flow down. This to me very appealing looking thirtyish woman I had seen but did not know. And now here she was on the sidewalk in front of the Folk Art museum, just down from the Modern, and she had a big hand-lettered sign that said "OUT OF AFRICA" (which was also the title of a current movie) – and she was surrounded on the sidewalk by wooden West African fetish figures she was selling. And when I came out of the museum – I had needed a fresh look at Mattisse’s child being forced into a piano lesson by a gray matriarch while he looks at a warm, bronze nude woman – when I came out we connected again and it seemed we had more or less decided on the spot to drive up to Vermont in a week, which would be the time of my birthday, and also the peak, up there, of the folliage season.
Despite my resolve to stay in Vermont, we hit New Hampshire and it was a trip into the past in more ways than I had expected. She was out of the WASP world too – a sexually convoluted version on the fringe of celebrity and incest – and this was just when everything in my life had been turned upside down – these family people had become devious, vicious and dangerous figures in a landscape that at one moment had seemed in memory soft and nurturing, like the memory I held or created of the family, and in the next moment had seemed deadly – full of traps – sharp spears and spikes rigged up everywhere – no shelter in sight
And all of this change that was taking place seemed to coicide with what she too was undergoing. We had met in a place where people dealt with such changes. And now this change, and the fury and the new hope, were concentrated in sexual energy.
While we traversed all my old scenes in the White Mountains, I would from time to time call in to my answering machine in Chelsea. And on it now were calls from my Aunt Alice from right up here over in Littleton, saying she had something to tell me but not saying what. I did not return the calls – not until after our return and the failure of the tryst to extend into Chelsea – a sudden rift – sudden bitterness, and, yes, abandonment coming from all directions – this chaos that was familiar, that was deep in those old landscapes that I knew again now –
And when I did call from Chelsea it was Aunt Alice saying "It’s really Lauryn’s fault – she’s too good looking, too appealing, she brings it on herself."