Friday, May 16, 2008
The Aqua Mustang 17 - VERMONT DECISION
She does most of the talking now that we are dating. Sort of dating. One night, shortly before I leave for my summer in Vermont, we are in a still little known, wonderfully seedy, Italian garden restaurant on lower Sixth Avenue, to which I first took a tall, passionate, rich girl 26 years ago when I was 24, in 1961, and drank huge amounts of Italian white wine, and was about to board a freighter to get to my real girlfriend Vannie in Rome. It is different now in that I am not drinking now. This woman, whom I think of as a girl, this Gillian, seems outside time, as does my entire life this year.
In this garden restaurant the subject of my father’s death comes up – how he died three years back in unbearable pain, his entire chest an open wound, dying in a fifth rate hospital in Naples, Florida, where a staff fearful of lawsuits withheld morphine, and none of the family, none except me, the black sheep, and my angry then wife in a failing marriage, came to sit by him. I am reminded right now of how often I talk with people and tune out what they have to say, for Gillian is suddenly giving a very precise, very linear Buddhist explanation of what happens in death, a numbered-item-by-item outline of a version, exactly what happens and exactly what it means, and this time her talking bothers me too much for me to tune it out, though usually she does not bother me no matter how much she talks, usually I like her talk, and I have a certain childish feeling of maybe having the upper hand because, since she does most of the talking, she knows much less about me than I know of her.
One day in September, hints of autumn in the air, one day in September after I am back from Vermont and New Hampshire with the aqua Mustang, I leave my car in its hard won parking space between the union houses and I take my bicycle down in the elevator of my small building and ride up to the Modern Art Museum again. I chain the bike again, with one detached wheel again, to the usual post just west of the museum, and as usual Gillian is right there being an appealing sidewalk sales person with blonde hair and healthy skin and eyes that I think speak of sex – there with these African fetish figures that it turns out she buys by weight at some harbor warehouse. Like ordinary people we talk about the weather. Autumn in the air. And soon the autumn foliage. And I mention that my birthday is coming up. We hug, but in the meetings we go to everybody always hugs, just the way everybody passes around phone numbers. And she says something special must be done for my birthday, saying it in a way I almost am ready to think she would say it if we were lovers, which we are not. And talk of the fall foliage puts me in mind of Vermont. Just a little change of color in Central Park now, but in northern New England it is nearing the peak of the foliage season, as it always does up there at the same time as my birthday, which is September 23rd.
Another figure from long ago, step brother to my friend in Rutland, also lives in Vermont now – Jason Bacon, whom I have known since we were in the 3rd grade in Connecticut. By chance we both wound up in Indiana just after college, Yale, Princeton, and just after that both did Ft. Benning only a month apart in basic training before he went to Germany and I went to Atlanta. When two years later we were sharing an apartment, the first for both of us in New York, we were going to start a magazine, and then both moved away from it, he making certain decisions that led do his current state, retired before 50 with investment banking money, spending part of the year in a big house in London, and part in a big house near the genteel college town of Middlebury, Vermont, and in Vermont he also has an extra house – he would later call it a “camp” – on Lake Champlain. We met there one day in the summer when I came over from Rutland to go with him to try out his new Boston Whaler. We didn’t talk about my investigations into my dark family past, which was linked close to his own family past that he maybe really believed was not so dark as what I had seen – which included his father smacking his stepmother in a practiced way to cause sharp pain. I said something about our alcoholic families and Jason said he did not know what I was talking about. Jason said I could make use of the lake house almost any time I wanted.
Up on 53rd Street yet again, on the sidewalk with the fetish figures, Gillian and I are talking about fall foliage, which both of us know but have rarely seen for many years, and I mention that in a few days it will be my birthday, and she says – as if we are very close – that we must do something really special for my birthday, and I say let’s go to Vermont, where I have this amazing place to stay and where the foliage is nearing its peak. I don’t say lets go to New Hampshire, but she knows my unfolding New Hampshire horror stories. I say let’s go to Vermont and she turns her eyes right on me and says, like the girl I take her to be, without the darkness I know because of those meetings, “Fred, what a super idea!”