Karen Rivers

travel, time

Karen Rivers

Here's some advice:  Read several books while on vacation. 


Reading will make you feel as though you've been gone for longer, much longer.  And further, infinitely far.  


For example, sitting on the back deck of the rented house in Manzanita, you read Shine Shine Shine.  And now you've been in Manzanita, the sun laying down a burn in two perfect ovals on your thighs, the mist-heavy wind whipping at you from the ocean with its chilled breath.  But you've also been to the moon, the earth falling away through the window, the cold hand of space buoying you up and away through fear and death and back to earth, bald and beautiful, a baby in your arms.


Sitting on the sand, which didn't look wet but still instantly soaked through your towel and shorts, the kids leapt over the breaking surf and shouted in shock as the water hit them, pulled them, and pushed them back in.  You pretended you weren't freezing and you read Remember Me Like This. And now you want to leash your kids, attach them to you, so that they are never gone, so they are never taken, and there you are and there is a dolphin swimming slow sick circles around a pool.  Your son is gone and you feel empty inside, devoid of life, and sick, always sick, and wait, no, not YOUR son. Not your dolphin.  A book, a book, another book.  


Finish it.


Open another one and there you are, awkwardly adolescent, somehow jumped into the cool kids circle at summer camp, your awkwardness lifting off you in sheets like a skin condition.  You scratch your arm.  A train goes by.  It's midnight.  Another one, it's 1:00 am.  You lie in the clean-smelling sheets of an attic room not unlike your own at home, the trains shaking the house so hard that pictures are moved to crookedness on the walls.  Finally, silence, or as silent as it can be with the river thundering by in the backyard, that river that swept your daughter to her knees and took her green Croc downstream, never to be seen again, although, not for lack of looking.  The whole rest of the trip, you kept one eye on the water expecting to see it floating by, punctuating the trip like a period at the end of a sentence.  Your shoe!  I found your shoe!  In the novel, the pretty girl marries the ugly boy who is rich from animating his dysfunctional childhood and you feel annoyed that girls are always pretty and boys are always buying that and keeping it for their very own, and anyway, it's time to start driving north again.


Stopping and starting.  


Waiting for your kids to finish their rickety ride on an ancient airplane ride that is held together with rusty springs and hope, your own novel unfurls a few lazy sentences in your head, glittering in the distance like a mirage.  You try and type the edges of the words into your phone at the same time as taking pictures of the kids, their laughing faces, the way the ride sways, pitching them up into the sky.   


This is vacation.  This is what it looks like when you're a reader.


Be a reader.


Go further.



When you get home, you click the app on your phone that holds the key to what you were thinking, the dirt under your feet sending up clouds of dust as you hiked to the top of Mt. Neakhanie, the beach dizzyingly far below you, the ideas you didn't want to leave there amongst the trees and shrubbery and falling-away paths.


This is what your phone says:

The way your eyes adjust after coming in from the sun.

The shine of the dog's fur; those particular colours.

Beach plastic.

Her legs are the exact same size and proportion as your arms.

Everyone has a gun but plastic bags come with warnings.  


You see that your kids have added some notes of their own:

Will the earthworm be eaten by the seagulls?

I'm on a different phone, silly.

Scaredy cat.


Nothing has to make any sense, after all.   That's the first rule.  



You sit down at home to write, your lower back pulling in a tight spasm from all that driving, all those days with your foot hovering between the gas and the brake, the Pacific Ocean looming on your right or your left, depending on if you're coming or going.  Why are there no guardrails?  This drive used to be less scary when you were in your twenties and your kids didn't yet exist and you were simply waiting to fall in love and for things to start.  Now it's different.  Your daughter wears a t-shirt that says "Love is For Suckahs".  Suddenly, you have a lot to lose.


At your desk, there is no ocean to fear and admire, there are no cliffs.  The words are right there for you to pull out of the air, out of yourself, syllable by syllable, like crabs emerging shyly from their sandy holes.  It's very quiet without the river.  There is no rickety ride, no laughing euporic kids demanding your attention.   There is nothing to take a photo of or to remember.  But still, your clothes smell faintly of sand and a stranger's detergent and you can't stop thinking about that trip to the moon. 

Write it down.  Write it all down. 

Do that, at least.

Just type.  

Listen, someone has to do it.

Start with a firefly and the long grasses that grow in the dunes along the shore.  

It's just a beginning.  

Don't worry, it will become something else soon enough.   Something bigger than what it looked like when you started, clicking the keys on your computer, conjuring up memories and characters, the people you are and the people you can only imagine being.