High time for the sex scene, I think, as I drive the aqua Mustang north from Lake Champlain and head to what they call Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which is dangerously close to the New Hampshire border – danger Gillian understands, for it is past if separate horrors in Waspdom that brought us close at the start and she is with me now in this car I had been driving alone, rarely leaving – afraid to leave? – while on the hunt. In the summer I made two trips over from Vermont, and saw people from the past, including one who knew what had happened in ways I had only sensed. Neither of us by now has any illusions about the past. Where we had met was a place where illusions could not stand, and anger was a virtue, and where it became nearly impossible to shock.
Her hand is on my knee as I drive and I am less in the car than still inside visual images of her in bed and bath this morning at the borrowed lake house that, translated into Wasp, is a camp. The occasional neighbors we see, still here from the summer, are dressed from head to toe by L.L. Bean – the feet always in those strange boots in which the foot part is rubber, not leather – the invention of which, the Bean catalogs, with their dowdy models, praise as a milestone in history.
And we are so far from world adventures in this carefully shabby and insubstantial house, in a musty little bedroom that has a cuckoo clock, or in an old bathtub that has legs. “Don’t look right at me now,” she said. “I don’t want you to see me getting fat.” But I look, and she’s so alluring to me, pink from the bath, not my idea of getting fat. And I did not have my eyes shut earlier, when there was wetness before the bath and she blew on me gently.
A sex scene, and in the car it is mixed up with a million other scenes from past and present, for this too is part of the hunt for what happened way back then, the hunt still on, whether I knew it or not – the hunt for what happened back then and also for where and who I am now in this time of roaming the places of the past – now that I admit I am mainly a visual person – not a writer – scenes outside the car and inside too and at every time period since visual images first began to be indelible, which was before I was two years old – these pictures in my head as real as what I see inside and outside the car I am driving – in this new time of stepping into places without clear precedents or reference e points despite all the roaming I had done. And these images are now accompanied by songs, this car with its tape deck – songs, many of which I had never heard before, as important seeming now as the visual images – catching up on what had happened while I had been away. Not knowing I needed songs – certainly never singing – catching up now on what I’d missed, though it's filtering through others, Judy Collins doing Suzanne, for I had never heard of Leonard Cohen, who had arrived when I in the Balkans – or it is a fairly cornball Anglo-accented baritone named Roger Whittaker doing the very non-Anglo songs of Cat Stevens, who had arrived when I was south of the Congo.
We head into the Northeast Kingdom – this part of Vermont not far from the White Mountains but a place our family and friends never went. It is a rival place, as bare bones as New Hampshire. We go via the last real outpost before the Northeast Kingdom, St. Johnsbury, Vermont, hardly bare bones, built on hills including a hill that is a village green, a place that seems to represent the upside of 19th century New England, a place of culture while a few miles away New Hampshire people were merely trying to live by their wits. It is new to me. Our people did their big weekly shopping on the New Hampshire side in a mill town called Littleton, which has no shade trees, much less a green, much less anything like St. Johnsbury’s Athenaeum, its own art museum – not far from a brick boarding school campus and close to its own museum of natural history, which is full of its own fossils and Indian artifacts and impaled bugs. And after St. Johnsbury, the only store is a very small, crowded one that sells everything, from cheap warm coats and kerosene lamps to canned hash – survival things. I ask about Lake Willoughby, which I know is here somewhere, and am told it does not freeze until February if it ever goes – this black lake, surrounded by rock formations that look like the work of Druids on Cocaine. This might be the gates of hell.
And going higher and higher, leaving the lake behind and below us, seeing what is here and in the distance as dry leaves blow away – higher and higher till the hills and mountains, which we see as we stand outside the car and turn 360 degrees – hills and mountains into infinity in all directions, and I say this is the top of the world – another reason for one of those hugs that may still mean nothing but I am unguarded enough to think that now, post nakedness and wetness, they do. “It’s the top of the world” is what I say, and what I shall write in the guest book at the dowdy lake house, the camp, I have borrowed, and again I will not be sure what are my words and what are someone else’s, some alien appearing from the past to filter words through me.