Ah! My first writing retreat since becoming a mother five years prior. Alone in a cabin in the woods for four days with nothing but my notebook and pens, laptop, and books. Creaking trees outside. No television, no internet, no cell phone service, no mail delivery. No neighbors in sight. I would use this quiet time to cogitate, meditate, create—no interruptions, no chaos, no needs other than those of my own stomach and an occasional wash under my arms. Just my own unfettered thoughts and ideas to run amok without time restrictions or crises.
I wasn’t going to blow it this time, as I had the year before when a friend had lent me her house for two nights near an out-of-town teaching gig, and I’d been so guilt-wracked that I gave myself the shingles. I’d learned my lesson. Why did I not think I deserved this and that the boys wouldn’t burn the house down without me around? Scratch that. If the house burned down, it wouldn’t help if I were there, although they’d probably forget about the safety ladders.
This time I wasn’t looking back. I’d loaded our freezer, prepared a giant pot of stew, stocked the toilet paper, filled my own gas tank, and driven away.
After unloading my essentials—tea, chocolate, a Gerard Butler DVD—I phoned the Man I Married from the cabin’s old landline phone, complete with a tangled cord, that allowed local calls only. I used a long-distance calling card to call him so he’d have the phone number, in order to reach me in case of dismemberment or spinal cord injury. Other than that, he knew where to find the Band-aids, aspirin, and whiskey, and I didn’t need to know.
“Hey, baby!” he greeted me and took down the number, which involved a great deal of effort for him to locate pen and paper. “Guess what? I found a piece of property!”
“Yeah, remember you suggested maybe I should think about getting some land of my own?”
Good grief, that had been my postcoital idea, hadn’t it? “You mean an acre?”
“Yeah, well, I found five acres. It’s a lot more money than I think you were thinking, but—”
“Wait, where? When? What? I left two hours ago!” It’s not that I expected them to wait by the window like doleful Basset hounds while I was gone, but I try on more pairs of jeans than that before I choose one.
“We went out looking at land after you left. We looked at a couple of lots, and I really like one of them. There’s even a little creek. I know you like water. I couldn’t get to all of it, because it’s a little boggy, but—”
“It’s August. If it’s boggy with a little creek now, that means the land is a lake by October and the little creek is the Mississippi. And, wait, I suggested you could think about an acre sometime. My side of the mattress is barely cold, and you’re playing Ted Turner?”
Forget meditate. Turns out what I’d do was fulminate.
I tossed and turned all night, thinking not about my memoir, but about how we were going to afford to purchase acreage that required the ingenuity of Hollanders, and how to draw up divorce papers to make sure I wasn’t saddled with it in the settlement.
Two Years Later:
Ah! A week-long writing retreat. As I kissed MIM goodbye, I said, “If you want to buy it while I’m gone, I don’t want to know about it.”
“Doesn’t matter what. Just buy it and tell me about it over the dinner you make the night I get home.”
“A red Harley with a sidecar?”
“A German shepherd puppy?”
But we both knew I meant the piece of property he was now eyeing: the only parcel in a two-year search that I hadn’t seen with him. He’d even driven me back to the acreage he’d considered while I was out-of-town two summers earlier. We’d seen 43 pieces of property in two years—wetlands with no-build clauses; needle-ridden river banks; cliffs; toxic gas stations; a church with upside down stairs, its walls held up by a shower curtain; barns in the path of mudslides; lots with no water source, now or ever, other than rain barrels; parcels invisible during high tide; former post offices; former laundromats; former ice cream parlors; current meth labs. We’d looked at buildings in every part of the western half of our state, from a half-shuttered town near the Canadian border, down to the Oregon border, near a spot Lewis & Clark dubbed Dismal Niche.
What did he plan to do with this land? Ask him next week and you’ll get a new answer. So far: orchard, winery, tasting room, distillery, something about tapping trees no one in history had ever thought to tap before (um, maybe there’s a reason?).
He kept mentioning the use of these properties for a writing retreat for me. I kept countering that the writing retreat would be me standing in our suburban driveway, waving goodbye to him and the Little Monkey when they drove off to spend the weekend peeing in the woods.
This writing residency had no cell service a year ago but now sadly did. “Not to bother you or anything or talk about any property purchases,” he said on the phone to me midweek, “but where’s the checkbook?”
A Month Later:
I stood in the driveway and waved goodbye. LM stuck his hand out the car window, a forlorn whiff in his wave, as if he were being driven to juvie.
I still hadn’t gone with MIM to see the two acres of undeveloped property he’d purchased while I was gone. I’d requested my name not be on the deed so I would have nothing to do with it, but we were assured by the real estate agent (who could buy a bottle of ketchup off her cut on this sale) that this would just make more of a headache later, so I’d signed on the dotted line with one hand, a double, eight-olive martini in the other.
Here’s what I knew about the scrubland: to describe it, we could use the word “slope,” not “precipice.”
No water, no electricity, though these could be hooked up later.
No sewer or septic. Ever. Forbidden until the end of time.
It was on an island only accessible by ferry, so it would take them quite some time to get back home.
No cell phone reception: Ah, my dream property!