This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5 (#33 post). It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.
Eberhard and I met at my mom’s house and walked down to the train for the beer festival. Eberhard napped in the train; the way the afternoon sun came through lent itself to that. We talked about buying a used car, he looked them up on his phone. Then as he napped, there was a brief snore once or twice but no one noticed. Eberhard had on the sweater he wore for beer festivals, from his dad or something, old buttons, worn in. I envied him that sweater—and then I bought one of my own that would become the same, I thought. Started washing my face like him in the morning, in the hand sink with cold water and a grunt, the hand towel, good as a shower if not better.
By the time the fall came and we had to leave for the UK I was fattening up from all the German bread, beer, and sausages. In my mom’s dining area on the sofa I slouched and Eberhard held his stomach and smiled, pointed to mine, gave a thumbs up, clapped his gut, nodded.
He helped us buy a used car, a black Opal “kombi” (hatchback) we drove from southern Germany to Amsterdam via stop-over in France, then on to Newcastle on an overnight ferry, counter clockwise around Scotland the month of November, the same pattern around Ireland, December…and by New Year’s we’d driven from Wales to Chester, just a few stops the month of January around England.
Mom flew up from Germany to meet us in Ireland for Christmas, and we rented an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, cooked a ham but couldn’t eat half of it (or see any sense in taking it with us further), so I tossed it in the bushes off the lower grounds, in hopes it would get eaten.
And with Christmas over and just a month left before we’d return to Germany we only had time to kill, the end of December in Ireland: to Waterford for a few days near the ferry at Wexford, cutting back over, east to Wales.
But there was no cheer left in the town of Waterford with the crystal museum closed for the week, the gloom of late December rains, all of it slate gray, misty-cool…I’d resolved to cleaning my body out from alcohol that January, having indulged throughout Scotland (arguably for months prior to that in Germany, too), but still forged out each night from our hotel in search of a convenience store for a couple bottles of beer to take back to the room: Dawn sometimes taking conference calls for work, the kids diddling their devices. Sitting at the hotel bar with the TV playing the world dart championship finals, drinking a lager, feeling I’d reached new depths.
On the early morning drive out to Wexford to the ferry terminal we finally got some sun, though the crossing was forecast rough with high seas, storms blowing in—and once in Wales the town names were all a smorgasbord of Scrabble tiles, the only vowel a Y—to the Golden Lion inn, some town near “Fishguard,” the winds kicking up and the power flickering, though with its old stone walls there was no sound of it indoors, and the darkened bar and restaurant were full of partygoers, that pre-New Year’s energy.
On New Year’s day I took a walk from our friend Alex’s house, now resigned to a dry January, the trees that lined the road that quiet morning “calligraphic” in their twisted scrawls, their need to persist though leafless and knobby, arthritic, their renowned pain.
We took the M54 from Chester down through Wolverhampton, past Birmingham south, to our flat in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, finally settling in for more than a week, the first time in two months, to unpack and pretend we could really unwind for a while.
And two weeks in Stratford, early January: the quiet of no tourists, a town getting back to normal after the holidays, all those resolutions to change, to live right, this year. We had our first meal that New Year’s and I said, maybe I should start this resolution thing tomorrow but Dawn said no, it’s today—and I had a water, and went back to the flat, and then a hot bath.
So I settled into sobriety and early morning walks, January: some blood red, dramatic skies, flocks of geese, the comfort in late afternoon baths, heady books—curries from a jar, candles in the morning and the drone of ambient tunes on my iPod, writing by hand, poignant moments of belief, the satisfaction to follow, solely mine.
The town was intensely “Shakespeare,” you couldn’t separate the man from the place, 500 years after his birth. There was the small room where he grew up, a display with all the words and phrases he gave us—and actors reciting lines and monologues, all this love of the language.
We took the kids to a production of Peter Pan at the Royal Shakespeare Company, a version told through the eyes of Wendy, the older sister to the boys from the story. And for the first time I saw themes in the story I never had before, oddly identifying with Captain Hook’s desire for youth through Peter—and realized we’d driven right past the author’s birthplace in Scotland, JM Barry, and learned the inspiration for his writing was born out of sorrow from his own youth, his mother’s love diverted from him to the loss of Barry’s brother, a pain she couldn’t overcome, that left its own pain on him, and found its expression in Peter Pan.
Outside the theater there was a treasure hunt for kids, to find various elements of the production on display around the vast theater stairwells and halls, and I ventured through them with Charlotte, her printout list of what to find, with clues, and a prize at the end…and there was a child’s desk, a replica from that era, so small: with an ink jar and quill, some old, leather-bound books, and I was reminded for the first time of an old friend from school I had who died, from the 4th grade, Michael Crausely: and after he was gone, his desk in the center of the room like that, empty…and me opening the lid, wanting to take something to remind myself of him, but couldn’t. Then thinking later over dinner as Lily and Charlotte talked and I couldn’t entirely focus on what they were saying, how they were the same age as Michael was then, and how lucky we are, how hard it is to remember how good we have it. How much I needed to write to preserve these times, they felt like something you’d try to contain in your hands they were so precious, but you knew you couldn’t.
We left England by Dover to France at the end of the month, now out of the Schengen the required 90 days for our visa, spent a final night in France at a hotel, shared a bottle of sparkling wine, a small room with a view looking down over our car—and as we drove back into Germany I put the same CD on we started with, Bob Dylan, and thought I’m going to have a really hard time leaving this car behind, I’d come to identify with it, which is dangerous in cars, dangerous in most things: you put too much expectation on them.
We’d be coming back to Europe some day to see my mom again for Christmas or something, and Eberhard would lend us the car, and we’d drive up to France by way of Kaiserslautern—and all we could do then is think back about that year we road tripped around the UK. It would become our old sweater, those memories, worn in, with holes, fitting differently on each of us.