The Northwest Woods

Henry and I got lost on Easter Sunday trying to get to a beach party in the Northwest Woods: A large track of land owned once upon a time by one person and now, like so much of the land around here, in East Hampton, subdivided into places for the weekend rich to renovate, landscape, and decorate to their heart’s content.

I have a secret yen to participate in the above activities, but I have never so far in my life’s journey given into the temptation.

For years I’ve been consciously working on this issue. I’m optimistic that one day, before I am rolled into the crematoria, I will have a place with chairs and couches, proper window shades, and a magnificent rug and lamps and pictures that all have a certain harmony and forethought and I will be comfortable in that room. It seems far more complex than writing a book, or learning to stand on my hands in the middle of the room as I can stand on my head and on my forearms. The aforementioned takes practice, the other stuff takes a sense of entitlement I’ve never possessed.

Every place I’ve ever lived is bare, except for books, and pictures. Books are one thing, and pictures are easy, even before I married into a family of an artist and his friends, I had lots of pictures. Pictures and books don’t seem to be on my personal index.

Once upon a time, I had a friend who was the opposite of me in that regard and we were great friends for a long time. I thought of her as Henry and I were getting lost in the Northwest on Easter afternoon. I always got lost going to her house too. She had a nice big house of the kind even if I went to two shrinks twice a day for the rest of my life, I could never feel entitled to—not that I didn’t like going there. It was so comfortable. It was so pretty. It was so luxurious, but in a nice interesting way. Taste, style and an ability to spend money with impunity. I have a modicum of taste and style, what I lack is the impunity part. She knew that about me, and used to admonish me.

And I’m guessing that was what happened to our friendship. One of the things anyway.

Henry and I were driving along this incredibly long tree-lined country road, with no real demarcations, everyone gets lost in the Northwest. No place to buy milk or a newspaper, no mailbox, no signposts…

I was recognizing names of streets. Probably the name of the developer’s children. When I was growing up my friend Janie Davis lived on Janie Lane, a street named by her father in honor of her.

Houses come and go. When I was growing up, as we descended down the socioeconomic ladder we went from big house to townhouse, to apartments… practically nobody lived in apartments in my hometown.

Perhaps that’s why I love New York City so much, because everybody lives in apartments. And too, maybe my lack of attachment to things comes from that time.

Your house is where you are supposed to feel safe. A friendship is a sort of house too, when it’s good you feel safe within it. I didn’t like the big house we had to move out of and never felt safe there. And come to think of it, I often felt in great peril in that friendship.

I was turning left, I was turning right, a jolt of misery, as sharp as a kick in the stomach hit me. For my former friend and our last conversation. For the yard sale my mother had right before we moved out of the big house. My four poster bed went that day. Afterwards my beloved Aline, our housekeeper, told me she would have bought the bed had she known Miz Marcus was going to sell it. How come nobody told me my bed was going? Our silver tea service also went. I had to stop the car and heave a little.

Afterwards, I felt much better. Cheerful in fact! Henry just sat there as dogs do, looking straight ahead, ears up. Dogs are enormously comforting and I’m so grateful to have little Henry in my life.

I decided not to go to the party. I’d forgotten my hat anyway, and set forth without any wine or nibbles for the potluck, and so I wended my way home.

And didn’t get lost!

It was my first experience of competence in the damn Northwest.

Good old T.S. was right when he said, “People change and smile but the agony abides. Time the destroyer is time the preserver.”

Good old T.S. Eliot. I’m not reading him so much anymore.

Maybe because I read so much of him at one point, another few lines kept going through my head on my fifteen-minute escape down the long country road:

… Last season’s fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.

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