We were living in Germany but didn’t have a visa and had to leave for three months, had to leave the Schengen and most of Western Europe: so we decided on the UK because they spoke English there and we could drive most of the way; we bought a used German car with a good stereo, and though it was sad and stressful the day we left my mom’s for the drive up to Amsterdam, I nabbed her copy of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde that got us halfway to France, where we turned off the A7 at Saarbrücken, Kaiserslautern, the edge of the Palatine Forest, Pfälzerwald.
And crossing the North Sea from Holland to Newcastle the moon was full and the water still, and I knew we’d never do this again but immediately I wanted to: and when it was time to get off the boat in the morning none of us felt like it; at Customs there was confusion about our paperwork and my occupation (why Dawn was employed but I wasn’t), so I just wrote in the box “Professional,” and they waved us through.
We crossed into Scotland but it looked the same as England — then the bridge outside of Edinburgh they call the Firth of Forth — past Dundee to Arbroath, where we’d stay a few nights but the flat was actually outside of town a good distance along a series of unnamed country roads, with red-feathered pheasants the Scots imported from China that were slow and couldn’t fly really (easy to shoot), littered along the roadsides like leaves, in piles.
And though it rained like hell it was our first place, the first of about nine we’d stay the month of November: from Arbroath through the Cairngorms and Highlands north to Inverness, for Halloween: and further north to the Orkneys then back south again to Oban on the west, returning to Edinburgh, then exiting west from a farmhouse on an old estate, where we’d spend Thanksgiving.
Dawn toiled over what to do, to keep the kids engaged: she made reservations, inquiries, worked all the while too, though all I really wanted to do was lay around, drink/write, occasionally cook, sleep, see how far to the edge of myself I could go, and what would happen when I got there.
The sun set faster than you’d think it would when we got to Inverness and they didn’t care about Halloween as much as our kids did and so we left town crestfallen, the kids feeling gypped: and resolved to go to McDonald’s with our grocery sacks empty, some in costumes like they’d been stabbed or bleeding, and looked to be drinking: and as we drove from town to town and stopped, unpacked and packed up again, it felt hard and foreign because it was: and the kids were old and wise enough they started to question our judgment, and by the time we got to Ireland we realized our bank card had been skimmed, that the car needed serviced, Charlotte had started sleep-walking…and we had a breakdown outside of Galway on the beach in the rain, everyone shouting and crying and no one really hearing each other, Dawn suggesting maybe come January I take some time off from drinking…and I left the Scotch tasting glass I nicked from an Inverness bar in the apartment along with a Bond DVD that wasn’t as good as we remembered it and we carried on south to either Killarney or Kilkenny, the names were starting to blur…and realized we weren’t far from where they’d filmed the last Star Wars movie, we could go there for the afternoon, the weather didn’t look half bad, for December.
We sat in a dark bar that didn’t look open with the wind going and the daylight falling with fish and chips and mac and cheese and the same goddamned Irish beer: but in the distance the light glittered on the sea, with dramatic shorelines we imagined from the end of the film, perhaps the cast had come here even, there wasn’t much else to do or see, it seemed.
And we drove back before night fell to the house we rented that reminded us of our own place back home, with the same colors in the kitchen and two stories, with much-needed separation between us and the kids, a wood-burning stove with peat to burn, for aroma. Soon mom would be coming from Germany, for Christmas. We’d get her at the airport, stay a night in Cork, then drive to the countryside for a few nights — and on to Waterford and Wales, to our friend Alex’s in Chester for New Year’s — then a final month in England before we returned to Germany: and what it would feel like, then: how I’d play Blonde on Blonde as we pulled back into town, and we’d have three more months still.
In a way it’s easier to see and remember that fall, to write about it now that I’m no longer in it: memories take on a patina with time and exposure and discolor; perhaps we even see them more clearly, or it’s the film they acquire that becomes more appealing than the actual subject. And you could say that about life, or anything: you really only notice the leaves when they change color, and fall.