writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

I know I've seen this place before

I took a ten p.m. flight on Saturday night, SFO to BWI, a red-eye on a too-filled day that included a birthday party for the boy (the zombie chases, the sword fights, the pile of kids in the back room, the sudden silence when the house was empty again). On the plane, I tried to read. I tried to sleep. I sat in the dark, gave up on my own mind, and watched a truly crappy sitcom right before the plane began its descent. Then – Baltimore! My mother! Breakfast! A nap! The talk talk talk, though I am in a contemplative, not that talky place right now. And a delicious dinner at The Black Olive in Fells Point. Last night by 10:00 p.m., I was fried. Tonight, not so much. So until I am ready to drop off or take half a sleeping pill, here I am.

When you are in the middle of an experience, it is hard to reflect on that experience. All I can offer for both you and me is a simple inventory of today’s trip to the Eastern Shore, with the implied intensity of family history behind it. My mother and I traced a route that went north to ultimately go south. It took us to our old neighborhood on the Elk River, where the Little House still stands (tear that sucker down, I say, for the memories, for its role in life and death). My grandfather’s place and her old house have been transformed into two-story monstrosities, but down the road and beyond the concrete sidewalk, the beach remains the same. We stopped by a farm stand on our way to Chestertown (okra, corn, tomatoes), had lunch in town, visited Kevin’s grave, and dropped in on a friend of my mother’s, who gave us a tour of the local bed and breakfast where she works. We walked the mile-long Duck Inn trail at
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, sometimes strolling among pines, sometimes through wetlands, along with biting flies, blue skies, and occasional osprey. We skipped oyster shells into Chester River, the shells flattened and smoothed by water and time. Then it was a drive down a winding country road framed by greens of various denominations, from trees to corn to soybeans, for another river view. We were back in Baltimore for dinner by 5:30.

So many memories packed into this day. I’ve been brought to tears a few times, though the tears were more about sweetness than sadness. They were a relief, an acknowledgement of meaning, a realization that it is best to let your history have its own life, give it the respect it is due, be fair and honest about the dead and absent. See things as clearly as you can and thank the Fates that you are here, now, a survivor who lives without malice, with wisdom provided from events you do not care to experience again.

Good night.

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The title of this post comes from the Lyle Lovett song Baltimore. It’s a beautiful, sad song that does not reflect how I feel about Baltimore or my trip -- I am so happy to be here -- but I like how various themes of this post overlap in that line.

Image: Duck Inn trail, taken by me.
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