I pull up to my friend’s river cottage for three days away by myself. The drive starts out rotten, but the further I get off the highway and away from the congestion, the easier my breathing gets and the more relaxed I become. I’ve been feeling burdened lately just having to live through Jack’s 14th birthday and also facing some major decisions for our family that involve time, money, and perseverance, all of which seem in short supply these days. The idea behind my time away is to help me get a handle on my writing and to give Tim and Margaret a break from me. I’m hoping this solo writer’s retreat won’t end with our having to buy a new car like the last one. Considering I rake in $100 a week right now at my day job, I don’t think our finances can handle any more writing retreats like that one.
I’m nervous about being on a river. I don’t know what to expect, as I’ve had some trauma being near water since Jack’s accident. Our family used to love to be outdoors and did a lot of hiking near creeks and rivers, but if this river looks anything like a creek, I don’t know if I can handle it.
Stepping into the cottage, I see the view out the big back windows. Beautiful, calm water for as far as I can see. A sloping green lawn reaches down to a tiny sandy beach, maybe 8 feet wide, and the Potomac River laps soundlessly onto the sand. There are no woods, rushing water, or sheer drop offs here. It looks more like the ocean than a river, and I am not afraid.
I take off my shoes and head out into the grass, greeted by a small yellow lab. When I look up, I see a man, maybe a decade older than I am, sitting on a metal glider, enjoying a cigar. I pet the dog and then walk over to meet the man, who lives in town but comes to his cottage on “The Rivah” each evening to relax.
If this were a horror movie, I’d tell him I’m staying here alone to write a book, then he’d come back a few hours later, maniacal Jack Nicholson smile on his face, to do me in.
If this were a novel, the dog, smelling Shadow on me, would keep coming over from his lawn to mine, until the man invited me over for a beer and then, well, you know. We’d find out his wife has left him and I was recently widowed (sorry, Tim) and the healing power of the river and the bald eagle family overhead would bring us together.
But this is neither a horror movie nor a novel, so I go inside and watch a Duck Dynasty Marathon, wondering if I’m good enough and strong enough to write a book. I wonder if breaking into my friend’s unopened box of Thin Mints is poor form. I wonder if the words “Sharing Size” on my bag of M&M’s represent a command or merely a suggestion. I fall asleep on the couch.
I write on and off the next day few days and fantasize about our family having a small place like this to spend quiet Christmases or go crabbing in the summer. I realize I am only picturing three of us, not Jack. Would it work, or would it be too quiet for Margaret? Would we always have to invite a friend along? I don’t know. I don’t know how any of this will work, our future in a fictional riverside cottage or elsewhere, but in this brief moment, it doesn’t feel horrible to think about.
And that is something.
Love and Peace to you this Friday. I’m off to celebrate the life of my grandma, who lived into her 90’s and passed away peacefully while I was at the river house. I’m picturing her having a joyful reunion with her son Charles and her great-grandson Jack today.