Proximity to Past Selves

Today I took Thea and Simon to Kent Falls. It’s a state park in the northwest corner of the state with an easy hike leading to an impressive series of waterfalls. The town of Kent is popular with New Yorkers for summer houses and is home to a boarding school. The downtown is high-end-quaint. I love Kent, with its carefully restored stone walls and barns and clapboard colonials, its farm to table restaurant, one-room (but state-of-the-art) library, microbrewery and antique stores. 

When I was a kid, my family took a road trip to the falls. My high school best friend and I used to love driving north through Connecticut’s northwest corner, with its odd mishmash of thrift shops and roadside food stands and rusty swing bridges and chain retailers and mini golf courses. In just a few miles, we could feel very far away from our suburban town. On senior skip day, I went to these falls with my friends. As I drove up Route 7 with Thea and Simon, I tried to remember--surely there had been something rebellious happening? We’d (not me I know because I had a track workout to do when I got back) been drinking or smoking? But, I don’t think so. I think we ate a picnic and climbed on the rocks and went into the pools of cool water at the bottom of the falls. One summer in college, I took my friend Justin to visit the falls, relishing our drive past all those things that made me love that part of Connecticut, noticing for the first time--it must have been new--a megachurch. 

Today is overcast but warm and humid for mid-November. I’m feeling relief at the election results but also growing unease over the president’s refusal to accept them. I’m constantly aware of all the work I’m not doing and the possibility that soon, instead of hybrid school, my daughter will not be in school at all. My brother and his wife aren’t coming for Thanksgiving this year. Winter, and its attendant darkness and cold temperatures, feels like a looming threat to accompany all the other looming threats. 

The bare trees and warm air are part of this: eerie and comforting. Sad and welcome. 

Our hike was lovely: the trails more scenic and less technically challenging than I remembered. Thea and Simon ran and talked and laughed. I briefly became convinced that either a bear or a murderer was lurking in the woods and could not decide if my decision to scoop Simon up and walk quickly until the trail we were taking rejoined the main path was a case of wisely listening to intuition or of mental instability. While I could clearly see Route 7 through the trees, I googled “bear attack tips.”

But while I was uneasy, even a little frightened, it was comforting to feel uneasy. A relief, maybe, not to worry about a bear, but to feel sad and happy, younger and older at the same time. The park itself felt like the physical embodiment of nostalgia. 

Thea and Simon both fell asleep on the drive home, and I listened to songs from my phone in shuffle. Because I’ve bought very little new music in the last decade, I was listening to the same music I would have been on senior skip day, when my best friend and I played at road -ripping, when my college friend visited. 

I thought about why I’d taken Thea and Simon to the falls. The drive is pretty, the falls are pretty, we had an unseasonably warm day to kill. Nothing remarkable had happened to me at the falls, but it still felt like a remarkable place. On the drive there, on the hike, on the drive home while they slept in the back, I could be in close proximity to all those old selves, to the friends I laughed with until my cheeks hurt, the obsessing I did about someone or another I never quite dated but always thought I might, the hope on some level that some day I’d be an adult with my own car and power to decide how to spend a random Wednesday in November. 

On the drive home, I realized that it wasn’t just that I wanted to be in proximity to those selves. I also wanted Thea and Simon to be in proximity to those hopeful, self-conscious, distracted, selves