In my first Blog entry I talked a little about Big Sur and my readjustment back into my life here following a trip back to London. I find that simple things and encounters inspire me to write. As a writer, I always carry a pen and a notebook. On one of my trips back to London and Dublin, I sat in the departures lounge at London City Airport waiting for the first of my flights that would eventually get me back to San Francisco. I scribbled the following essay. I’ve tweaked it a bit, but I don’t want to do much more revision. It was so spontaneous. I hope you like it.
I miss men in suits. I miss the fine Italian wool that speaks of sophistication, refinement, and self-respect. Suits that subtly suggest the importance of the wearer. I miss the men in suits who sit tall, their inner thoughts muted by confidentiality.
If I close my eyes my memory glides my hands from the slightly padded shoulders that launch the bespoke suit. I follow the lines of the tailor’s gift. My hands confidently caress the sleeves and lapels that grace the single-breasted jacket. My fingers skip from jacket to crisp pressed trousers, and I remember my first true love. I inhale his scent. We kiss and I taste the sweet promise of our future. I feel his delight in me and we shed the suit in our excitement.
* * *
In Italy, France, Switzerland and Spain, off the rack suits carry the names of style. The suit bears witness to a man’s physique – to his state of mind. The suit can frame the elegant, the athletic, and the young. The suit genuflects to the mighty, and forgives the less attractive man. It lends stature to the man who has been destined to be short. It disguises the man who suppresses and neglects his possible physical potential.
* * *
The man sitting opposite me in the departure lounge engages my curiosity and my imagination. He is unaware of me looking at him. He is Italian, or Swiss – I’ve got no idea really, so I’ll determine him to be what I want him to be. I make him Swiss, from Geneva – Genève. His silk and cashmere suit elongates his form. His suit is black with penciled charcoal-grey pin stripes. This man has striking cheek bones. His nose is long and slim. His pert lips are raised slightly upward towards the tip of his nose.
This man is Vogue. He fingers the keyboard of his Sony Vaio with the slightness of hand that on the plane will turn the pages of the 8 Euros a copy Esquire, GQ, and of course, The Financial Times. He wears cologne, Chanel pour Homme, perhaps. Chic suited men do not wear aftershave.
A woman waits for the man. She waits for his arrival in Geneva, or Paris, or Milan or Barcelona. She doesn’t visit airports unless it is to fly first class to her modeling jobs. She’s blond, of course. She tosses her shoulder-length hair from side to side – the silken strands separate mid-sway – the slow motion move of the shampoo models on TV. There is a mirror wherever she goes, and she glances surreptitiously at her sculpted form. Her eyes sparkle the first frost-kissed grass of winter. Tonight, this man and woman will rendezvous between her modeling engagements, and his meetings where suited men balance the world’s financial markets. The candles in the penthouse suite dance promise around the champagne and roses.
In the arrivals lounge in San Francisco my husband waits for me. He is wearing Levi 501’s. He wonders how I will be upon my return from a 7 week reunion in a city of suits. He wonders just how fine a thread must be to bind us.
We watch the movie I saved on the TiVo, and I ask my 24-year-old daughter how it will end. Is it happily ever after? My daughter gives nothing away. She’s watched this movie before. I keep on asking. I want her to give in and tell me. I want her to betray an ending, our ending. I want to know if we have stories we can share. Does she remember men in suits? Has she resolved her identity issues, come to terms with the cultural differences she experienced growing up with men in jeans? Did we do the right thing when we traded suits in Europe for the laid-back lifestyle of Silicon Valley? Does she miss what I miss of the life we left behind in London, or the promise of Geneva, Paris, Milan, or Barcelona?
She has had enough of my prodding. It’s an American movie, Mummy. We smile. We hug. Of course it should end happily ever after. I’ve traded suits for jeans, and I am loved and cherished by the man in Levi 501’s.
The man in the suit closes his Sony Vaio. He stands up. He stretches. He glances at his wristwatch. He smiles at me. A glass of champagne? That would be lovely. After all, there is still time to dream before departure.
This next essay is based on a longer essay I wrote some time ago. The orignal essay “Jacqueline’s Swing” is available if you’d like to read it. Inspired by Katherine Gries, and her short form essay “Not Like You,” I have just written this next piece focussing on a few elements that stood out for me about Jacqueline’s story. I hope this is detail without the detail, if you know what I mean. I wrote this essay an hour or so ago. Obviously, it is a shitty first draft. Please feel free to comment on it.
The Most Beautiful Place on Earth
I’m blinded by the light as I approach my driveway. I barely see the sheriff’s deputies as they surround my car. I hear a scream and a heart deep wail and do not realize it is coming from me until my daughter wraps her arms around me. She tells me to breathe deeply and I do until the hammer inside my chest pounds a little less. I must keep on convincing myself that I am good in a crisis.
On our Ridge, overlooking the beach in Big Sur, the high-tide pounds the rocks and the surf redefines the ocean floor. It is the hottest day of summer. It is nine o’clock at night and there is no sign of an evening breeze. The air is heavy and dry. We fear for fire in the parched mountain meadows. The lethargic crickets have given up on their nightly mating hysteria, save a few whose legs clap to a slower beat.
The fat police man stands back and a younger softly spoken one approaches me. “Do you know where he might be hiding?” He asks. I choke back vomit in my throat. “I think so.” I tell him. “Where?” He waits while I answer. “I know the house. I can show it to you from the upstairs window.” “Can you direct us to it?” “No. I can point it out to you. It is across on the next mountain.” “Can you come with us while we search for him?” Another police man interrupts. “We need her to help identify the body. Can someone else show us where this house is?”
A neighbor comes over to my house and meets me and the friendly policeman. The neighbor gives me his car keys. I’ll need his car when I pick up the mother and bring her home. The neighbor goes on the hunt with the policeman.
“Is she okay?” I ask the policeman I follow down the stairs to the waiting car.” How can she be okay?” He almost yells at me. “She’s dead.” I know. I mean to ask him if her body is intact. Is she mashed to a pulp? What am I to expect? There is no point explaining this to this man who looks like he could have young children of his own. His job must be painful tonight.
My 20-year-old daughter wants to come with me. I say no. I tell her someone needs to be by the phone. No one will call. No one knows what has happened.
It’s a day or so yet before the full moon. Luminescent waves ride to shore. On any other night this scene would be beautiful. Tonight the brightest light is the search-light mounted on a bare metal tripod. It lights up the mountainside giving meaning to the phrase cold light of day.
Tucked into the side of the single-lane dirt road half way up the mountain is the mother’s car. She sits half in and half out of the passenger seat. Her friend with whom she has spent the day sits rocking her own two-year old in her arms. The mother whimpers until she sees me. I kneel beside the open door and cradle the heavy sobbing woman who cannot speak English but chants “Jacqueline, our Jacqueline,” over and over. Eventually I cry too – only a little this time. I’m good in a crisis. My turn will come later.
Latex-gloved, white-masked and overall-clad men descend the mountain guided by the search and rescue team. Two men carry a stretcher. They arrive at the over-turned red truck – the red truck driven by the father. The red truck abandoned by the father with the dead body of his eight year old daughter crushed beneath it. “Mam? It’s time.” Another white-masked man speaks softly to me. “Do you think you could take the mother away please? We need to bring the body up.” “Of course.” Horrific though I know it will be I want to stay and watch Jacqueline come back up the mountain. Perhaps I don’t believe she’s dead. I scoop the wailing mother into my arms and with the help of a policeman, lead her up to the car I will drive her in the quarter of a mile up to our home.
Mother, father and daughter, Jacqueline, lived on my property. Mother and father were my caretakers, and I took care of Jacqueline, our sort-of shared daughter, much of the time.
It is the day after the accident. The father will not be found for another couple of days when after much persuasion from a few of us who locate him will convince him to turn himself in to the police.
On this day after the accident I sit on a rock waiting by the Sherriff’s car on the edge of the mountain where the truck went over. The sheriff has descended the mountain side to an area strewn with empty beer bottles and a child’s clothes. When the sheriff returns with a sack of evidence and shorts and tee-shirts and underwear and a few toys – “yes” I say. They were her clothes. I washed those shorts last Saturday.
When his work is done, the sheriff sits with me for a while in silence. He is our local sheriff and he cares. “Funny,” I say to him, “Jacqueline and I always stopped at this point to look at the ocean on our walks to the beach, and she died here. She used to say to me each time we passed by “This is the most beautiful place on earth, huh?”