Table of Contents
ALSO BY MEGHAN O'ROURKE
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc
New York 2011
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Copyright Â© 2011 by Meghan O'Rourke
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions. Published simultaneously in Canada
The Long Goodbye
has appeared in different form in
The New Yorker
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The long goodbye / Meghan O'Rourke.
eISBN : 978-1-101-48655-9
1. O'Rourke, Meghan. 2. Poets, Americanâ21st centuryâBiography. I. Title.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication.
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“O Gilgamesh, where are you wandering?
You cannot find the life you seek:
When the gods created mankind,
For mankind they established death,
Life they kept for themselves.
You, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,
Keep enjoying yourself, day and night!
Every day make merry,
Dance and play day and night!”
â¢THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH,
TRANSLATED BY ANDREW GEORGE
Â The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.
for my brothers and father,
in memory of Barbara Kelly O'Rourke
When I was a girl we visited a town on the banks of the Batten-kill every summer. The cold river cut through a valley in the Green Mountains of Vermont and here the pioneers had stopped and settled, razing the land to make way for corn and cows and building a church and a covered bridge and barns.
We went in June and stayed till September in a cabin owned by friends. At noon we swam in the chill of the river and at dusk we walked through the fields across Route 7 to pick ears of corn under the massing gray clouds. The rows of corn were taller than my brother and I, and I was sure that one day we would be kidnapped by goblins and forced to save ourselves before becoming benevolent rulers of whatever magic kingdom we'd been transported to. We read books on the porch all afternoon. As night fell my father built a pyramid of charcoal on the grill and lit it and my mother cut vegetables and he opened a bottle of wine and she sat and talked with him while the coals burned down to a fine gray shine. I could hear the sounds of their voices filtered through the screen windows and into the sentences of my book like a prayer. My brother sat on the other side of the couch drawing or reading or singing nonsense songs and sometimes I kicked him to make him sit farther away from me.
We were a family.
I was a child of atheists, but I had an intuition of God. The days seemed created for our worship. There was grass and flowers and clouds. And then there were the words for these things: mare's tails and a mackerel sky, daylilies and lady's slippers and lilacs and hyacinth. There were words even for the weeds: goldenrod and ragweed and Queen Anne's lace. You could feed yourself on the grandeur of the sounds.
I liked to lie on the grass beside the house before dinner, as the sun faded, and watch the twilight overtake the clouds. In the dusk you could see the white clouds move. The first time, I cried out to my mother that I could detect the earth turning. “I don't think so,” she said. “That's the wind blowing the clouds.” I knew she must be wrong. Lying there on the ground gave me a tickling feeling, as if I might fly up into the sky or sink down into the earth itself.
Each day was holy and lazy and boring. In the mornings I got up and read on the couch in my sleeping bag. The sun would rise and the cloud tips would show over the pines and I would go downstairs with my book to fix a bowl of Raisin Bran. I pretended it was bran mash because I wanted to be a horse. It seemed to me better to be an animal than a human. In those minutes I'd still have the imprint of my mother or my father kissing me good night before turning the light off and I liked to be alone with that feeling of protection in the new day. I liked that protection.
Sometimes, if it wasn't too damp with dew, I called the dog and took a tennis ball and set off up the dirt road to explore. The cabin was on the side of a mountain and there were paths cut into the woods that you could walk. On these paths I would throw the ball far into the underbrush for Finn to chase. I wanted to find out how good a tracker he was. He wouldn't return until he had found the ball. One day I threw the ball so far into a thicket that he didn't come back. At first I could hear him snuffling around and then I could not. I called and called for him and finally turned for home. I thought of him in the anonymous woods searching and refusing to face me until he had done what I had asked of him. He might never come back. My stomach got heavy.
When I got home, I confessed to my mother, feeling ashamed. We took the car to look for him but couldn't find him. “He'll come back,” she said, but I knew she was trying to comfort me.
Later, as we sat reading, we heard a crashing in the woods by the house. Out came Finn from the goldenrod, mud-draggled, adorned in prickers, tail high, tennis ball in his mouth. He dropped it, wagging his tail:
. Like a woolen blanket, responsibility settled over me, thick and confining. What I loved wasn't as safe as I thought it was.
Some afternoons we just messed around in the big field by the cabin. I would run into the shoulder-high grasses and Finn would follow me, darting off to sniff at things, turning back to make sure I was OK. One day, as we were out in the field, Finn began circling wildly, paying me no attention. It was some excitement native to his being. The circles got tighter and smaller and then he stopped stock-still, one foot drawn up.
I thought he had gone crazy with epilepsy like our old dog, Puck. I started to cry. (I always thought I was tough, with my tomboyish clothes and bare feet, until something went wrong.) Then three wild turkeys rose ruffling up into the sky. He barked and jumped. When they were high in the air he calmed at last. Finn! I yelled, and swatted him hard behind the ears. I went back to the cabin, dragging him by the chain collar.
I told my mother what had happened.
“I think he might be going crazy like Puck.”