Ghosts in My Driving Shoes

Glass men's dress shoe with laces

Got my driving shoes on.  Five-hundred miles coming back from Pemaquid to Ithaca for the umpteenth time, and, as always, it’s all ghosts.  It’s from over fifty years ago, the first time, my domineering, doubtful Dad brooding over the steering wheel, driving us home after our introduction to the cabin, but we were all simply smitten, enthralled by Maine’s ethereal, primordial coastal expanse, and the mystery of a cabin in the woods.  

The next summer, it’s my first time in a boat alone on a large ominous body of water.  Later that visit we’re in the neighbors’ camp, watching mankind’s first steps on the moon on a tiny black and white TV— those newfound friends— gruff, plain parents and their sweet, kind daughters.  Toward the end of that summer it’s a first real kiss in the shadows of the dark, deep woods up there.  

It’s all those awful car rides back along Route 1, to our tumultuous unhappy childhood adolescent Lexington home, a finish to the peaceful vacation breaks wishing we could stay in Maine forever, driving back to a questionable home-life; I still feel those wishful childhood recollections, ad infinitum… 

And then, a few years further on beyond adolescence, it’s a more wistful driving home, past ghosts of tangled tortured young adult relationships in a more solid seeming hometown Lexington, past a first night of love in neighboring Belmont, past the Cambridge bicycle shops where I’d worked and we’d all cycling exuberantly, past all the harbor towns to moor the family boat on long sails where I had tried to get help sorting high-school angst, colleges, and careers with a Captain Bligh father.  

I moved away from that home, along that same route, along the road I would later take as a newlywed over and over again, to folks from Boston to Albany, eventually to care for a mother-in-law who died awfully, most unfairly.  More ghosts emerge on that route, driving past landmarks, time-markers, of trips between Cornell graduate work and Boston family, to show off our newborn son to his grandparents, much too long a drive for such a fragile newcomer, so he sometimes cried inconsolably in the car as we sang, coaxed, and crooned him over and over again, to finally go to sleep.  Then of course he had to grow up and move away.

But those mid-life, married drives got longer.  Many seemed interminable, filled with arguments, attempts to discern what went wrong between us two, and what we really wanted, which it seemed maybe was just not each other.  But we drove that family route so dutifully and regularly, all those years of poignant ghosts.

Today decades later now it’s a very different drive.  A ride made up of focused conversations and quieter meditations, along that thousand-mile round trip between our Danby ridgetop home south of Ithaca and the new Pemaquid home away—a ride that Leslie and I, this wholly different brand-new we, have now made umpteen times.  At long last alongside a true life’s partner, a love dropped into our lap out of nowhere, with no urgency, no contrived plan, and such a thunderbolt that I knew it was time to learn to get it right.  

On these fresh drives we sometimes talked to find peace in a complex relationship with my brilliant, difficult mother, while Mom rebuilt the Maine cabin to an aerie perch on the rocks, now left to our good stewardship; and we often talked directly to each other’s hearts, securing goodness in our late-start marriage; conscious, intentional attempts to be wholly aware of each other, as we began to build the core of our new life together. 

After all these, so many ghosts.  Not Ibsen’s by any heritable agonized stretch, but also not Casper the vapid ghost.  I am left enthralled by these nebulous recollections— of paths taken, and others missed.  The whole ride, to Maine and everywhere else.  All those hurts, all the happiness, and all the sweet old haunts.  Arching over these ghosts is an attempt— above the privilege-bought arrogant items and mundane trivial objects— to forge endeavors and relationships that inform and enrich our being here, connected to the places and the people and the moment now.  My driving shoes for that purpose are surely well worn.

~ Jonathan Zisk; 2022

Several months later, I made the second shoe from this pair as the original was destined for a trip to Bulgaria to exhibit in an International Biennale.

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