Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How I spent my summer vacation

…pulled out of the driveway at 5am on a foggy weekday morning, hoping to catch the mid-morning ferry from Cape Cod to Nantucket, not realizing until we arrived at the ferry port with minutes to spare that AJ had left her bag with everything in it under the stairs.

An auspicious start.

In Nantucket we had a mini Peace Corps reunion. Four of us from the inaugural group of Zambian volunteers, half of our group, were there. I hadn’t seen some of them for more than ten years.

Also there was Chris’s lovely wife Helen, who he met and married in the tiny Zambian village of Chabilikila, and their three children. It was amazing to see those kids, especially Torrence, the oldest.

I was with Chris in his village on the night he received word that Torrence had, after a difficult pregnancy, been born without complications in Lusaka, the Zambian capital. The memory of that night is branded into my brain. It figures prominently in the book so I won’t say much about it here except to say this world is strange.

We stayed up till five in the morning talking about that night, about that strangeness, about nothing in particular – whose Bemba was best (Ros), who walked barefoot the most (Chris), who got in the most fights (uh, hmm, forgot) – and after a while it was clear how all of our stories paled next to Helen’s. The rest of us are living lives that, for all their surprises, we can see reflected in the people around us. She left the rural village and everything she knew while just a teenager, and now works evening shifts at a nearby Stop-n-Shop at which fabulously wealthy and over-tanned polo-clad white folk buy imported foodstuff while gabbing into their cell phones.

What are her dormmates at Nkrumah boarding school doing now?

And I have to pause here for a moment and bow my head to a man who had to endure last month what no person should ever have to endure. May time heal your wound as much as such a wound can be healed. May this fragile planet journeying reveal to you places of solace and understanding. May you find home. You are a good man and do not deserve such a loss. No one does and any who would think it ever justified should be sent to the wars they perpetuate. Anything I can ever do, drop me a line.

Back to the trip: hugs, photos, tearful goodbyes, a fast ferry back to the mainland, a long ride up 95 to Maine with a stop in Boston. A whirlwind journey through many chapters of my past, ending, as whirlwinds often do, with a flying animal and a skull fracture.

The flying animal would be Otis. The fractured skull would be mine. The scene of the collusion was a friend’s backyard near Portland, Maine. I’m hazy on the details. I was sitting on my butt with an empty mind, chucking acorns into a bucket, when Otis decided, unasked, to demonstrate his tackling technique. Which is quite good, though I think he comes in a little high.

It felt like I imagine getting blindsided by LT feels. My ears rang like church bells. My implant flew smack into the tool shed. The world detached and hovered like a spinning Frisbee, and I do believe, for a few moments there I … I…well, I had visions, friend. Of the boundary between space and time. Of the trillion indestructible plastic bags of our culture looming up in a great wall. Of every dream that ever was turned to dust. Dust that clouded the shining truth. But oh what lovely dust! Jesus, what a fucking shot!

“You did what?” the ER Doc said. “Your dog hit you?”
“And broke your head?”
“Excuse me then, while I step outside the curtain…and laugh into my fist until tears reach my eyes.”

What followed were not easy days. Sunlight was my enemy. My balance was that of a bobblehead. The news was full of people who should know better prepping for a war at the North Pole and drowning dogs for fun.

But the vacation must go on! And so of course, two days later, Otis badly split his paw on a seashell up a beautiful Maine inlet, and after a day of bleeding all over and an unsuccessful attempt at a backyard repair, got six stitches and a plastic collar. He’s now limping around on three legs with a doleful look that neatly mirrors mine. Our cozy living room is an ICU.

“For our next vacation,” I told AJ, “we’re just going to get in the car and sit in the driveway and pretend we went somewhere.”
“And you’ll wear a helmet,” she said.
“Deal,” I agreed.

Now AJ is writing about a guy whose legal name, no lie, is LordPharaoh ImHotepAmonRa. I’m laying low until the headaches fade a bit more, but also prepping for a magic ceremony of my own devising, in which I will call on the ancestral spirits to eradicate these unnecessary injuries. Yo, spirits, let’s work it. Also, I’ll ask them if they can get me a lower rate on my Mastercard bill. To all the people who I knew back in the day and have read the NYTimes piece and have written an email, I just want to say thank you. Really, it’s been a pleasure to get back in touch with you. Also, beware of airborne dogs.


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