I’m re-reading Beth Ann Fennelly’s Great with Child, Letters to a Young Mother, a book given to me by a dear friend shortly after I became pregnant. I read most of it in a tent in the woods, in a lawn chair by the crackling fire way up in Island Pond, Vermont, where we camped when I was 14-weeks pregnant. The book is a collection of letters Fennelly writes to a friend who is pregnant with her first child.
Back then, I was focused on the passages about pregnancy, so much so that I hadn’t remembered how much Fennelly writes about her almost-three-year-old. The evolution of language, the toddler’s amusing-exasperating ways, and the struggle to balance writing and mothering. I love that it’s written in letters, the confiding tone.
“The [wedding] dress doesn’t fit because it can’t close over my back–my rib cage expanded as my lungs shifted to make room for the baby. Somehow the rib cage not fitting seems fitting. Claire expanded my world from the inside out. Why shouldn’t the twin streams of my breathing shift in their riverbeds? Why shouldn’t my ribs cage the memory of holding my breath over that cathedral I filled with the other?”
I used to wish I was from the Midwest, where people speak in gentler tones and kindly turns of phrase. When I was young, I thought it would be fun to be in TV commercials and wished we lived in California, preferably Hollywood. After spending a week in the waves on Block Island, I thought it would be romantic to live in an isolated community out in the middle of the sea. I was always dreaming of somewhere else.
Even now, I imagine different places, different lives. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you want to follow the path into the woods, turn to page 61. If you want to venture into the cave, turn to page 21.
And that’s as far as I got this morning when I began this post, before the day spooled out in ten different directions. Certain items on my list resist being checked-off, mainly those that require sustained attention, like writing my friend T a letter for her 40th birthday, which was a month and a half ago. Determined to finish and mail it, I wrote the letter in scraps of time throughout the day.
I started to write about our road trip, the one we’d always dreamed of as little girls. We played her dad’s 60s records, Joe Cocker, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and imagined driving out to California in a VW bus. As it turned out, we chugged along in her ’86 Volvo over the course of a month from New Mexico through Arizona to southern Cali, camped in Joshua Tree. In San Diego a friend took us across the border to Rosarita and Tijuana. Then we headed up through Cali. L.A., the Pacific Coast Highway, the Redwood Forest, Yosemite, Death Valley. Then we cut back in to Las Vegas, Zion National Park in Utah, past Shiprock and back home to Santa Fe.
I know, I’m listing all the places and skipping the stories. But anyway, I was writing memories to her like, remember when we drove away with the book of CDs on the roof of the car in Joshua Tree and lost all our music? Think about that for a minute. A month on the road, desolate highway stretches with no radio signal–and when I say signal I mean antenna. We had one cassette tape, a 70s disco mix from college, and damn if disco doesn’t still make me think of winding our way around the sharp curves of Pacific Coast Highway at night.
And then I wrote, remember how we read Barbara Kingsolver out loud in the tent at night by flashlight or in the car on those afternoons the road seemed to go on forever? We read Small Wonder, and I want to say we had The Bean Trees along with us, too. Or maybe I’m just remembering The Bean Trees because we both loved it so much as teenagers. Either way, I’d forgotten all about Kingsolver and reading aloud to each other until I began writing her that letter. That’s the funny–and magical–thing about writing. You can have an idea about what you’re going to say, an idea about what you think you remember, but when you set pen to paper, you will surprise yourself every time.
I love camping. Sleeping under the stars. Waking with the dawn and the dew. My guy can pitch a tent with one hand tied behind his back and start a fire without a match. I can cook anything over an open fire, even an apple pie.
This photo is from four or five years back, our anniversary. September in Acadia, camped out on the fjord.