Glass men's dress shoe with laces

Got my driving shoes on.  Five-hundred miles back from Pemaquid to Ithaca for the umpteenth time, and it’s all ghosts.  It’s over fifty years ago, the first time, Dad brooding, driving us home after our introduction to the cabin, but we enthralled by Maine’s ethereal, primordial coastal expanse.  It’s my first time in the boat alone on large, ominous water.  It’s watching mankind’s first steps on the moon on a tiny black and white TV in our neighbors’ camp, with newfound friends their sweet daughters.  It’s a first real kiss in the shadows of the deep woods up there.  It’s car rides back down to our tumultuous, unhappy home at the end of a peaceful vacation break; it’s wishful childhood regret ad infinitum…

And then, years later, it’s a more wistful driving home, past tangled, tortured young adult struggles and relationships in hometown Lexington; past a first night of love in Belmont; past all the harbor towns along old Route 1, where we had moored the boat after long sails, where I had tried to sort out colleges and careers with my Captain Bligh father. 

I moved away, on that same route, along the road I had taken as a newlywed over and over again from Boston to Albany, caring for a mother-in-law who finally died awfully, most unfairly.  It unfolds, driving past landmarks, time-markers, on trips between Cornell and Boston to show off our newborn to his grandparents, too long a drive for such a newcomer, and so he sometimes cried inconsolably in the car as we sang, coaxed, and crooned him to finally go to sleep, and then of course he grew up and moved away.

Those mid-life drives got longer.  Many seemed interminable, filled with arguments, trying to figure out what went wrong between us, what we wanted, which it seemed was maybe not each other.  But we drove that family route regularly, all those years.

And decades later, now the current drive.  It’s made up of focused conversations or quieter meditations, along that thousand-mile round trip between Danby and Pemaquid that this different “we” have now made so often.  At last alongside a true life’s partner, a marriage that appeared out of nowhere, no urgency, no contrived plan, where I knew I had to learn to get it right.  On those drives we sometimes talked to find peace in an uneasy relationship with my brilliant, difficult mother, while she rebuilt the Maine place she would leave to our good stewardship; and we often talked directly to each other’s heart, trying to secure goodness in our late-start marriage, this conscious, intentional, attempt to be wholly aware in a relationship, as we began to build the core of our later life entirely together.

All these, so many ghosts.  Not Ibsen’s by any agonized stretch, but also not Casper the vapid ghost.  I am enthralled by such nebulous recollections of paths taken, and alternatives not.  The great ride— to Maine and all else.  All of the hurts, all the happiness, and all the sweet old haunts.  But arching over all these ghosts is an attempt— above the bought items and mundane objects— to forge endeavors and relationships that will truly, inherently, enrich our being here.  My driving shoes for that purpose are surely well worn.

~ Jonathan Zisk; 2022

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