Would You Go Home with a Stranger?
A Radical Former Soap Star Sets the Author Free. Maybe.
by KATIE KILKENNY
There’s a place down Route 10, past Bailey’s Turkey Farm, hemmed by the shadow of Smarts Mountain, where the town of Lyme unfolds like a paper panorama in a pop-up book. Colonial-era houses painted in Puritan white border a lonely central Common. Past the Common, Route 10 pulls northward and encounters a crossroads. There, a red barn with a peaked roof surveys Post Pond and Loch Lyme Lodge. In the barn, where the town’s children stage summer plays, Faith Catlin knew she had discovered The Beatles of the Upper Valley. Last Labor Day, a band called Carter Glass played a set here that unsettled her grip on the present. To Faith, the barn’s brittle doors open onto Hamburg and Liverpool in the sixties, to New York in the seventies, and to summers past in Lyme, New Hampshire.
Faith told me she would bring me to the barn if I caught a ride with a stranger down Route 10 to Lyme. Faith wanted it that way. (Back in ’72, when Faith moved to New York after college and a national tour acting in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, “there was a feeling that everyone helped each other.”) Early on a Saturday morning, Faith sends my number out to the Lyme Listserv to get me a free ride. A woman named Carola Lea answers her summons.
Faith’s voice carries. Carola can hear it echo even in an email dotted with ellipses, barking out information, ending with a question. She has envied that voice since they spent summers together as girls in Peru, Vermont. Those were quiet days when Faith, brat sister of Carola’s friend Kate, would listen to her. The days before Carola’s car accident reduced her voice to a mumble. As she drives, Carola’s small face, lined with whorls like a thumbprint, does most of the speaking for her.
“Faith’s always giving me friendly trouble about my voice. Hers is so strong. Now and then she can’t hear me so she’ll yell at me to speak up.” Carola chuckles and pauses as she remembers those days: unlike Faith, those memories seem to drain her of the present energy to speak. “Often, I’ll ring a bell.” A bell, I ask? “I used to ring it to the horses to tell them it was time to eat. Faith suggested I bring it to town meetings when I want to speak.”
Faith is delighted when Carola drops me off at her house in Lyme. “If the timing is right,” she says, “you just have to grab the scene.” In the ’70s, Faith starred in 122 episodes of a soap called Ryan’s Hope. Now, she’s a therapist, a resort manager, a writer. But she still talks like an actress unmoored from her set, and she still has the look of the ingénue about her. On a face etched deep with lines, her cheeks hold the soft curve of her adolescence, framed by her short hair, which is dyed a golden shade of ochre.
Faith wants me to read something. She hands me a poetry collection by a Dartmouth professor, Cynthia Huntington, called Heavenly Bodies. The poem she wants me to look at is called “Shot Up in the Sexual Revolution: The True Adventures of Suzy Creamcheese.”
Still, sex then was a taking, like spoils of war, a victory
over all those straight fucks back home, marooned
in the dismal suburbs that birthed us squalling and red
and watched us flee in ungrateful cars down night highways.
I imagine Faith leaving Lyme—anyone leaving Lyme—in a convertible, driving down Route 10, screaming with Zeppelin and Queen and the Stones. The mountains would grow wide and dark like the walls of a womb, and she would be shooting out towards the light and noise. She wouldn’t escape Lyme so much as venture out to bring the life outside back home. To the straight fucks watching the Common from their doorsteps.
Faith has scrawled a few of the poem’s stanzas into her sparkly green diary, which is emblazoned with a Lyme, NH bumper sticker and lies on her coffee table. She opens it for me, searching for the play she’s writing for herself based on Carter Glass’s cover choices, Zeppelin and Queen and the Stones; also, Petula Clark, Johnny Rivers. That’s how my relationship with Faith begins: as a cover song.
She drives me down Route 10 in her tan Subaru to visit the barn where she first encountered the boy band. It’s nestled into the slope of Pinnacle Mountain on the property of Loch Lyme Lodge, an inn with twenty-one guest cabins dating back to 1917. Faith leads me to an amphitheater carved out of the beach of Post Pond. A single canoe slices the water. Faith admits that the moment at the barn—the four boys onstage, dressed like figures in a honey-tinted vintage photo—was fleeting. “Cobalt’s wearing tight jeans and a cowboy shirt and bare feet,” Faith says of the lead singer, her John Lennon. “Angus, the Irish guy, has this beautiful jet-black hair.” Caleb, the banjo player, wears a dark leather coat despite the heat, and Titien, the drummer, prefers plain black tees. “Only when they stop playing do you see they’re just kids,” Faith says. “They never want to talk with me,” she adds.
At a concert for the youth group at Lyme Congregational Church, she organized a group of nine- and ten-year-old girls to send them a flurry of love letters in between sets. On the backs of neon flyers advertising Small Group Discussions and a Marinated Pork Tenderloin Dinner, the girls wrote crayon-traced communiqués like “We think you’re cool.”
“You’re cool, too!” the band wrote the girls.
“It was all very appropriate stuff,” Faith said, “It being Lyme. So I gave my number and wrote, ‘Call me!’ I taught those girls how to be fans.”
Faith fantasizes she’s Carter Glass’s manager. She sends them reminders on Facebook to practice. But the parents of the band members book the gigs she arranges, and when they see her at concerts, they grumble. “Oh, hi, Faith."
Time slips away from us and she drives me back to her house and guides me to the edge of the Common, where Lyme opens southwards. Then she tells me I’ll hitchhike home. “Everyone did it in the seventies,” she says, “You didn’t even think about it.” At the point where the highway curves out of town and the Country Store advertises Vermont Cheese, Maple Products, and Home-Smoked Bacon to travelers, we wait. Faith jumps up and down, her thumb extended in the air as if testing the direction of the wind. She’s wearing a green workman’s shirt and hiking boots. I can’t help but think that Faith—lined, lean, her gender almost ambiguous in the day’s dull, gray light—could look homeless. Cars breeze by, the air grows chilly, and the gloom of the lonely town and the prospect of no ride settle over me. As Faith persists, I think of the four cars in her driveway. I think of her refusal to let me call my friends back in Hanover to come pick me up.
A silver Scion sedan sidles up to the curb. “Look, it’s Sharon!” Faith says. “She’ll give you a ride for sure.” When the window rolls down, a round-faced woman in a baseball cap who tells us she’s Sharon’s sister asks us where we want to go. Faith does the talking. I clamber in, ready to watch Lyme dissolve as we head down Route 10. When I climb out in Hanover, I tell her, “Thank you so much, Sharon.”
“I’m Margaret,” she corrects me, before rolling up her window.
* * *
One Wednesday morning, Faith takes the first sip of her morning coffee—black, with a drop of milk—not sure who she’ll be today. Days off in the Upper Valley require new roles to play—otherwise, the mountains begin to close in. “You have to get a lot going when you’re up here. You can’t just do one thing,” she often says.
The Lyme Listserv buzzes with the news that school’s out at Dartmouth for a day of “community gathering” in the aftermath of a protest at which a small group of protestors stormed a gathering for prospective students to report statistics of unreported sexual assault, unpunished rape, racism, and homophobia. Faith is already a fan. Protesters should be treated like rock stars, she thinks. Instead, they received death threats.
So Dartmouth is going to host teach-ins. For Faith, that phrase brings back the Sit-In at Marsh Chapel in October 1968. Suddenly she knows who she’ll be. She’ll join the students like she did the New England Resistance, a thousand strong, who sheltered an AWOL army private named Ray Kroll in the Boston University chapel. For five days and nights, they took charge of their education because the administration of the entire country had given them an assignment they didn’t like—Vietnam. Everyone was invited. In the box reserved for sermon titles outside the chapel, someone arranged the letters to say “The death of God is dead.” They listened to rock bands—the acoustics inside the wood-paneled chapel were unreal—and sang “We Shall Overcome” and maybe did a few drugs, or a lot of drugs.
When Faith leaves me a voicemail at 9:58 a.m. to let me know she’s coming—hitching a ride, of course—her eager voice reminds me of my mother’s stories of protest at Dartmouth. Whenever she sees another Dartmouth alum promoting big-business interest on CNBC, she’ll paint a picture of the shanties on the Green. To keep her faith in the place. In the middle of a crisp November in 1986, four crude plywood shacks with roofs of rusted tin rose up amongst the leaves in protest of the College’s $64 million in South African holdings. Spray paint titled two “Mandela Hall” and “Biko Memorial Hall.” When December arrived and a chill slipped through the cracks in the plywood, the protesters lit fires in oil barrels to keep warm. Their flames, and a single spotlight, cast shadows on the library, and the campus began to imagine a barren existence thousands of miles away in the Southern Hemisphere. At 3:35 a.m. on January 21st that year, twelve students disembarked from a U-Haul flatbed and shattered that dream with sledgehammers, leaving all but one shanty as splintered plywood scattered across the snow. My mother was Class of ’84, though, so these stories are all imagined, gleaned from conversations with an engineering student who remained on campus.
When I return Faith’s call, she tells me, “Hope to see you there.” At the assembly that precedes the teach-ins, I catch a glimpse of her hair, flashing burnt gold, as the college president begins to speak. Faith is front and center. “Lots of people have been asking me why, why today. It’s because we believe that the level of emotion — what had become a pressure cooker — was very close to exploding,” the president remarks. Faith’s thin lips purse into a line somewhere between a grin and a grimace. “The healing has begun!” she would say later, mimicking the speech. Her nose is poised high in the air, as if detecting a familiar scent.
When the FBI agents, Boston police and federal marshals stormed Boston University’s Marsh Chapel at 5:30 a.m. in ’68 to reclaim the sweet-faced soldier, it was like the principal had tracked the students down without a hall pass. They had been waiting for discipline, almost welcomed it. The protesters lay still, as if sleeping, so the armed men had to move their prostrate bodies into pews to get to Ray. “Stay limp,” a Resistance leader reminded them, “this is their way.” Within fifteen minutes, the agents took the 19-year-old boy, who had spent 8 months in Vietnam before he decided he couldn’t kill any more. The Resistance felt strangely relieved when Ray was gone, as if they had taken a test in their own beliefs and aced it. This is our way, their heavy limbs told the authorities.
“We overthrew the administration. We made our own rules, and we taught ourselves,” Faith says.
Faith weaves through flocks of students as the crowd disperses for lunch. She’s a student of anthropology now, searching for the Resistance culture amongst a foreign people. She lands on a boy holding a sign that reads “Dean Johnson, Please Don’t Thank Those Who Break College Policy.” The boy, a sophomore named Jon, tells a local filmmaker he’s just trying to make sure people realize that the protesters should be punished.
When Faith slips in front of the camera to question the student, she plays news announcer with conviction. She appraises Jon’s art, the signs that are strewn across the grass, crayon-colored and brash. “I saw that one of your signs said, ‘I Paid $50,000 to Attend School Here.’ Are you paying $50,000?” she asks.
“I’m not sure what you’re suggesting. My parents pay… if you think I pay all…”
“No, no, I just think it’s a poignant question. But I think you should say ‘my parents paid.’
“I can assure you I worked very hard to pay for Dartmouth. I worked over the summer at a fast-food restaurant. You may demean me for working a minimum wage job just because I don’t make as much as you do. Just because I don’t make seventy or eighty thousand dollars a year…”
“Not at all, I’m impressed.”
“I don’t appreciate your line of questioning, ma’am.”
“Do you feel you have a consumer approach to education?” Faith asks.
“I wouldn’t view education… I’m a little confused by your wording.”
I glance at a sign by the boy’s feet, which reads, “Dartmouth Student Handbook: Students are Prohibited from Unauthorized Entry into a College Building” in sloppy lettering. I begin to think he’s a little confused by his own wording. The wind blows the sign down the hill before Dartmouth Hall, and in an unexpected bout of compassion, I chase it and return it to the pile with the rest of the highlighter-colored signs.
Faith gives Jon low marks on syntax. “He was using such sexual language,” she told me. “Like ‘The protesters violently forced their way in there, they infiltrated the show, I heard someone was thrown to the ground.’” According to Faith, her generation adopted sex into their rebel’s education as a lesson in understanding and love—even the Marsh Chapel vigil wasn’t fully liberated because she didn’t see anyone making love. That Jon adopts sexual language to describe violence troubles her. He must have no sense of play, that spirit that fueled the drugs and sex, not as meaningless revolts, but as studies freed from administration.
As we walk towards lunch after the gathering at Dartmouth Hall, Faith gauges the temperature of campus. In her day, students wanted to be seen protesting. Now students appear more concerned with upholding squeaky-clean, homogenous images of their institution on the Internet.
“Your generation is very heavy. Maybe it’s the economy.” Faith still has hope for the teach-ins that afternoon.
But as I look across the Green that is endlessly lush despite the spring drought towards the lounging students, I’m not so sure. I suddenly want those shanties to spring up again, like weeds the yard crews can’t kill. But even if they do, when the rain does come, it would hammer down like sledgehammers.
I weigh my projections against Faith’s, remembering that mine are not memories but imaginings. Perhaps Faith is right. We are heavy.
* * *
“You have very good timing,” Faith tells me when I arrive to help her clean out her barn at Loch Lyme Lodge. “I love the synchronicity of it, when two people’s needs come together. Whenever I feel lonely and need a project, I think someone else could also use me and we might make a combination.”
Faith enlists my free labor to help install a trundle bed on the porch of Butternut Cabin, but she’s still trying to understand what sort of combination she and I make. To everyone who calls her cell that day, she says she’s with the Dartmouth student. But Faith has already begun to place me in an entirely different camp. She remembers my refusal to pay $35 for a ticket to the White River Junction Film Festival Opening Gala a few weeks previously.
“I thought you were rich as you went to prep school!!!!!” she emailed me. “You're not rich?”
Faith gazes at the silver car I’ve borrowed from the college to drive to Lyme, glad I’ve managed to get the college to fund my writing. The Dartmouth car is a start, but Faith wants me to dig deeper. “I always suspect there’s endless money at Dartmouth.” She adopts the conspiratorial voice she uses to imitate Dartmouth administrators. “If only one could access it.”
Riding in her truck on the way to the Lodge, I hear about her last Dartmouth student, the one who commandeered some of the college’s capital to take control of her education. Her name was Callie, “a sixth-generation cracker” from Gainesville, Florida, and Faith’s son Sam’s ex-girlfriend. A studio art major who painted in emotive color and a poet who stood on tables in the dining hall to perform her words, Callie had a lot of feeling—too much, she felt sometimes. Once, noticing a boy her age dressed in fatigues at the airport, she’d started to cry. To calm her, her father told her, “He’s one of the warriors in our society and you’re one of the poets, and we need you both.”
The poet decided that if she wasn’t meant to fight and die for her country, she would perform what it looked like to the Dartmouth student body, who didn’t seem to take note that the US was waging a war in Iraq. One day in November of 2002, Callie and a group of her Greenpeace buddies dropped to the floor and on to the tops of tables in the dining commons. They wore black clothing pinned with the latest figures of casualties. It was a Die-In. She feigned death for an hour. She lay there until someone reported the protestors as a fire hazard. “Come take out the trash,” the student demanded.
Callie gleaned Dartmouth’s money to rally elsewhere. She and a busload of her friends Greenpeaced out of campus for a rally in New York on college funding. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of her father’s words, wishing Callie had brought the New York rally back home to Hanover, that she had spoken its verse and rhythm so emphatically it would be remembered by students like me.
To move the trundle to Butternut, we add 8th-grade volunteer Ryan and 17-year-old Dylan, who rake leaves on the grounds, to our crew. “I’m not jumping into the Dumpster again,” Ryan tells Faith. Fortunately, the trundle is hidden in a corner of the barn beneath two stained mattresses. When Dylan sees it, he turns to me and groans. The trundle consists of two iron frames, coated with flaking paint that is the turquoise of a public pool’s dry bed in the off-season. The box spring on the primary piece is unhinged. It flaps in the air as we lift it.
Faith says, “That’s the great thing about Loch Lyme Lodge. I can just store all the stuff I’m not ready to let go of yet.”
“Ryan, we need that red cushion from the Dumpster for the trundle,” Faith says. Ryan moans. He climbs the sides of the Dumpster at the front of the barn and peers inside. It is filled with furniture, but gives off the odor of once-sweet food now decaying.
“Dumpster Diving!” Ryan’s father says from the laundry lines at the side of the barn.
The cushion is yet another of Faith’s relics that has almost been lost to the trash. She and her friends dubbed it the Red Tampon because it’s the color of blood, oblong, and thick. But Faith doesn’t tell Ryan that. “I surprise myself with my own restraint,” she whispers. We throw sheets and blue corduroy cushions in the bed of the truck to cover its stains.
When we reach Butternut Cabin, flecks of dirt fall from the folds in the sheets. “I forgot, we had manure in the truck yesterday,” Faith says. A few of the sheets will go back to the laundry room for cleaning, but most we simply brush off. The trundle’s turquoise frame dovetails into the back recess of the porch. We slap a manure-streaked mattress on top of each component, pull sheets of discordant hues over them, and fit the Red Tampon on top.
“So seventies,” Dylan says when the assemblage is complete.
Faith disagrees. “No, I don’t think so, it’s more forties or fifties.” When we cover it with a flannel sheet of reds, blues, and yellows from the back seat of her car, she’s satisfied.
“Now that’s seventies.”
* * *
When Faith comes to fulfill her managerial duties at Loch Lyme Lodge, she babysits the daughter of Jay and Amy, the innkeepers, a little girl named Juliet—one of the “groupies” Faith instructed at Lyme’s second Carter Glass concert—and steals slices of cake from the tents during the wedding season, and sips wine and shoots the breeze with Jay at a table in the reception room decorated with a vase of snappers. When Faith first arrived in Lyme, she struggled with its atmosphere of homogenous affluence. “I had to find my quirky, funky little world,” she says of the Lodge, “so I got drawn to the blue-collar community.” She means Jay and Amy. “My cousin and I often talk about escaping our class.”
Faith grew up in a pocket of patrician ease, tucked away in her working class hometown of Troy, New York, where she would never settle in. She was raised in a house with four pillars by a father who commanded a suite of interview rooms for himself as the head of student aid at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and by a mother who came from old money and was a “professional volunteer.” She became a day student at the Emma Willard School, situated high on a hill above the blue-collar town. When it came time to apply for college, Faith’s mother packed her on a train to Vassar, where she was a trustee. The head of the theater department met Faith at the platform and took her to a Molière play.
Between scenes, Faith began to believe his performance was all about her mother’s money: she went instead to Boston University, where her theater coterie would choose her for her work instead of her last name.
After an adolescence spent looking down on its Gothic revival structures, Faith only saw Troy after she left. “There were all these crumbling buildings with steps leading to nowhere,” she remembers. She wanted to descend those stairs, into the bones of the city.
* * *
Underneath her barn, a laundry room has been carved from a crawl space. Faith staffs the productions she stages above with a crew culled from the laundry staff, a selection of foreign students brought to the Lodge on J-1 visas each summer from Belarus, Jamaica, China, and other far-off countries whose children will go almost anywhere to escape. They furnish the barn as waiters and ushers, a “potpourri” as eclectic as the seating—lawn chairs, overstuffed couches, broken wicker furniture, seats torn out of cars.
Though Amy the innkeeper emphasizes to them that Lyme is a rural place, too often the students arrive expecting the American cities from the movies, where they can go clubbing. “They have these fantasies about the States,” Faith says. Lyme might be like the New York in black-and white of Manhattan or the comic-book color California strip malls of Pulp Fiction. Then they while their days away in the laundry room, where blankets and towels are stacked in fragrant reams of pastel and white to make over the cabins anew. Its only sounds are the whir of the machines and the ring of wind chimes hung out the open window.
Some say they’re going to New York for the weekend and never come back.
Faith and I are more captivated by the possibilities in fallen cities, the once-florid nooks in this country that have lost their former lives. Like Faith, I spent years of my childhood looking down on a blue-collar town threaded by railroads that was a skeleton of its Victorian prosperity. And like Faith, after attending prep school as a day student, I have yearned to climb the steps down into its spectral streets, even if they led to nowhere.
We pull up chairs at the lip of the barn, where the doors open up onto a view of Route 10 and Post Pond, and sip the tea from glasses pulled from the barn. She gives me a large glass from Red Lobster.
“It’s the kids’ favorite in the summer.” I doubt it’s been washed since the last. The tea is bitter and sugarless, just as Faith likes her coffee.
“This place could be anytime, really. The forties, the sixties, the seventies. That’s what I love about it,” Faith says.
“It could be anywhere,” I say, “like the motels they visit across America in Lolita.” I’ve always wanted to take a road trip like Humbert Humbert and his nymphet, wheeling around motels and living off fast food. “Minus the pedophilia, of course.”
I’m really thinking of the way Lolita feels when you read it. The sultry air sticks to your skin as you read, the condensation of the milkshakes the nymphet sucks up at roadside diners and her dips in the lake sweat from the words detailing that hot, dangerous summer in America. It’s the power of a dream of the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, the days when you could assume your preferred identity by writing it in the ledger of a motel.
* * *
One night I had a dream about Faith. Or at least, I think it was a dream about Faith. I’m on the edge of a cliff looking into the sea. It is azure, so I must be somewhere close to the equator. Little waves break quietly like bluebonnets exploding their seeds in meadows heated by the springtime sun. I wish to tread among the breaks, to feel the small eruptions against my back in the rock of the waves. But the cliff is too high up. I watch, as if that will be enough for now.
A flash of gold winks in my peripheral vision. I stare ahead into the blue, but the light shines askance as if the gold is a lighthouse’s lamp, glancing off my cornea. I turn my head in its direction.
To the left, I see my seat has been tilled into a farm. Old wooden fences prop up vines of grape and olive. A small blue house settles into the land amongst the gnarled, weedy plants; beyond, the earth drops. It is there that I see the glimmer again—a running figure. I stand up, feeling the weight of something in my hands. They are papers, fluttering. The bottoms are crumpled into my fists and the bodies fanned out as if they were my fingers. The gold smolders the air again and I recognize something—it is the ochre color of Faith’s hair. A pure metal reddened and browned by the earth. I begin to run after the traces of her.
As my legs carry me to the drop, where the ground falls in terraces cultivated through the centuries, I begin to recognize this place. It is the road to the town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, a dirt path destroyed in parts by torrential rain and mudslides in 2011. The effects of that disaster forced me onto the private farms of the people of the mountain when I walked the trail a year ago. Feeling guilt as I trampled their vines—the crops successfully, impossibly cultivated over generations—to get to town to take pictures.
Why would she be here? Faith is Lyme, Troy, Peru, New York. This, then, is my memory. Her hair emits another spark and I follow it down the mountain, jumping down the terraces. The world blurs. Papers flap around me like the awkward wings of a long-limbed crane. I hear laughter pealing as I jump down the notches in the earth, and I can make out a few distinct faces. Students. Dartmouth. Not here. I’m losing her. The dirt of the terraces collapses with the weight of my strides. Mudslide. The world is growing blurrier and blurrier and all I can see is that slight flash of gold against the blue and I realize that she’s leading me to the water and all I can do now is hope my feet will land somewhere soft when the momentum of my own legs, pulling me downwards, not a gentle nudge, a push, stops. I wake.
* * *
For Faith, summer is the feeling that the fault lines of her past are joining together in the barn at the Lodge. On its bare wooden planks, lit by a single light, she converges New York City and Lyme, Troy and Peru. She furnishes this place with professional actors lured from the metropolis of her twenties and the children raised in rural comfort from her present in Lyme. The sets she stages there combine a discerning eye for the grand and eccentric from her upbringing in Troy with the make-believe of childhood summers spent in a country house down a dirt road in Peru.
“You a slave driver?” someone calls from a car that pulls up to the barn. Salem (I’ve changed his name), a wiry forestry student at the University of New Hampshire wearing a green “Lyme, NH” tee shirt, climbs out of the passenger’s seat.
“I ordered a teenager,” Faith tells me. Like me, Salem has come to do some heavy lifting.
It’s the final day of cleanups for her friend Maggie Renzi’s “tribal gathering,” a Memorial Day weekend sleepover assembling her family, business partners, and protégés. Maggie produced most of John Sayles’ films (they are also life partners who got married a few years back—but only to share a health plan, according to Faith) and she culls the industry for new talent. Her chosen ones assemble at the Lodge, where they embark on scavenger hunts to make contacts, hunting for the figures that answer clues like “Who lives in the same town where the South by Southwest Film Festival is held?” and “Find someone who knows Sanskrit.”
“Maggie wants all the kids to know each other—the second generation. Because we’re all now, what, sixty-two, sixty-three years old.” The “kids” are anywhere from twenty to thirty years old.
I wonder how it must feel to be one of Maggie’s kids on Memorial Day Weekend. Would jobs come easier, I wonder, if the plea were shuffled in with the cards in a game of gin rummy played on the floor of Butternut Cabin? Could taking a spontaneous dip with an older mentor in Post Pond begin a career you could hold onto, at least for a few years? Faith, Salem and I furnish the illusion as we set up, disguising this networking conference in all the trappings of summer camp.
Faith gathers groups of chosen ones around her too, but her kids construct stories that leave the modern troubles behind. Salem remembers the years when Faith attended rehearsals for the Lyme Elementary School 8th-grade play, which, for his grade, was called Coconut Capers. It was written by Faith, her husband, and a select group of twelve picked out of a pool of letters from students who wished to contribute their words. Salem played a boy pretending to be a girl, and Faith made him wear a coconut bra that bobbed against his chest as he walked across the stage. She doesn’t remember him, though: she calls him “Kalem,” combining his and my names, as if we are one. He wasn’t one of her writers.
But as he clears the furniture from Faith’s barn, Salem makes a little place for himself. His father owns twenty-four guest cabins, and he’s used to this work—slinging mattresses over his shoulder, pushing couches across uneven wooden floors, vacuuming away the grit accumulated over one New Hampshire winter.
Faith takes note of his diligence. “I’ve been keeping him busy so no one else around here snatches him up.” My face flushes with jealousy. I wish I could carry a mattress by myself, instead of struggling with one end as Salem picks up the added weight with ease.
“Hey, Katie!” Faith yells to me across the barn when she pulls something out of a closet. “Look what I found! Carter Glass!” She has unearthed the chalkboard program of the concert that introduced Carter Glass to Lyme, where the members’ names are scrawled in a child’s handwriting.
I’ve attended two of their concerts. Faith sees us as partners in fandom now, and believes I’m also a little crazy for the band. “We can be groupies together!” she tells me. I want to like them just to share her memories of that Labor Day Concert.
The truth is, I’m Faith’s groupie. I drive down Route 10 every other weekend to clean out the barn like a roadie hoping to catch some of the heat that seems to spark from her small frame. I write her words like the girls at Lyme Congregational Church who Faith taught to revere Carter Glass properly—sometimes, I feel she dictates my prose. The language ignites with her words. My own are crude in comparison, as if composed in crayon.
As Salem walks into the barn shouldering a lawn chair, I fear Faith might see in his outline, framed by the barn doors, some character from the seventies. At which time I would fade into the background like the international waiters at Carter Glass’s Labor Day debut—part of the “potpourri,” another quirky furnishing completing the set. The Dartmouth student.
“So how’d Faith rope you into this?” I ask Salem as we move boxes of tee shirts into the sunroom of the farmhouse.
“She answered my notice on the Listserv. I have to find work where my old man can drive me since I lost my license.”
“How’d you lose your license?”
He pauses. “I did something really stupid one night a few years ago. Actually, several really stupid things. I deserved to have it taken away.” After a short silence, Salem continues. “I’m living at home and I don’t mind it. I guess the only time it’s not so great is on Friday nights when I could go out with my friends. I’d have to ask my parents or my buddies to drive me out, so I just don’t.”
Faith flits in and out of the barn as we work, watching us with warm, distant eyes. She puts her hands on my shoulders when I pick up my last weighty box of tee shirts.
“You could own this place someday,” she tells me. Her voice turns playful. “With your Dartmouth education.” Salem looks at me. I feel as if Faith has blown my cover.
“If only I’m so lucky,” I reply.
When she tells Salem to vacuum, Faith and I are finally alone. We walk to the highest point on the Lodge’s gravel driveway and look into the barn as he sweeps the machine back and forth. “He’s probably your age. Did he say?” she asks.
* * *
Growing into adolescence in Lyme, Salem anticipated driving far more than he did drinking. By the time he graduated middle school and began traveling 20 minutes down Route 10 to Hanover High, he realized he would have to go far to feel satisfied. He drove longer and longer down Route 10, meeting people who moved in an entirely different gear than the slow Lyme pace of life he was used to. Drinking only hitched a ride with the speedy meet-and-greet of those nights.
“You’re just going out and meeting all these people and sometimes you lose sight of the fact that you’re all trying new things, all getting new experiences, but you’re going at a different pace. They may be all right, but you’re getting out of control.” Returning to Lyme with their fast talk and fast life still whirring in his head was the high that justified the black-outs and the mornings after.
He isn’t exactly dry now, but forestry has disciplined the escape: when he can catch a ride, he travels through northern New England for jobs. Once it’s all over in a few months—the court, his old man carting him to paid gigs lifted off the Lyme Listserv, the $15,000 sunken into regaining that little piece of plastic—he might drive himself to Banff, in Canada.
“I can’t go up there now because a DUI is a felony in Canada, but all of this stuff’s almost blown over.” He pauses. “There’s even a film festival in Banff,” he says, nodding at me. “The movies are all about extreme sports.”
I realize Faith has been talking about me. She has taken on my concern that my internship with a film festival will keep me indoors all summer, forwarding Listserv jobs to get me out of Hanover. She knows I stay in town, watching endless loops of films that, after hours spent note-taking before a screen, whir together as one larger plot of why and now for my pass to the festival in Colorado at the end of summer, my plane ticket west.
Once, I told Faith that my actress friends do not share my passion for film; they only do the movies to get an IMDb page. “You’re friends with actresses?” she asked.
“Even though I am like the least theatrical person ever.”
Faith barked with laughter—she thinks I’m far too quiet. Then I realized something. “I think they’re the only people on campus who don’t bore me. They know where they’re headed. They’ve always known.”
“You like firecrackers,” Faith says, beginning to understand. “People who are just doing college to get their art.” She’s lighting fuses for me, in the hopes that one day, I too will launch and streak the night sky with light.
* * *
When John Sayles arrives with the rain, I offer to drive Salem home. To my surprise, Faith jumps in the backseat. “I have to get at least one ride in the Dartmouth car,” she says. I glance in the rearview mirror as she settles into the Camry like an excited child, and at Salem next to me, a perpetual shotgun rider these past few years. Salem told me that last Halloween he biked from Lyme to Dartmouth in a costume just to get to a party, where he would be drugged by the frat’s trash-can punch. He believes it was laced with blood thinners.
I could not fathom why he would bike ten miles just to drink on my campus. But as the hybrid’s engine hums beneath me, I think it might have felt freeing to be so in control of how he lost himself. Even if it meant pedaling back to Lyme with heavy limbs chilled by the fall night.
I wonder what it would be like to bring him to Dartmouth. He might cruise down frat row commenting in his way—a satirical tone tinged with a rural mysticism—on the students. Part of me wishes he would overturn pong tables in the basement of my sorority and I would hear the shattering of beer bottles. He’s told me about a party at UNH broken up by riot police shooting paintball guns loaded with pepper balls. I want to taste the tears a cloud of pepper spray would prick in my eyes. For the first time in my life, I consider giving a boy my number. I’d like to help him escape his cage in Lyme for a night.
Easing the steering wheel around the bend where Lyme Congregational Church faces the Common, I believe I finally have an answer to the question Faith asked me weeks ago at the White River Junction Film Festival. In the aftermath of the Dartmouth protests, Faith and the festival volunteer group sat in the back room of Tupelo Hall in White River Junction discussing rape at the college. I told them everyone at Dartmouth knows at least one person who’s been sexually assaulted.
I don’t remember why Faith asked me what she then asked me, but I suspect her question came from the opinion she has formed that my dark view of the world keeps me heavy, grounded. The question, I believe, was a challenge.
“I would go home with a stranger. That was our culture,” she told me. Then her eyes flicked up to my face. “Would you go home with a stranger? If he was smart and attractive and you had spent the night having a great conversation?”
It plagued me for weeks. I thought about it during times of habit—when I walked to spinning class every Tuesday and Thursday, when I woke up early to study or finish a paper. Would I? I never thought so. But as I pull up to Salem’s driveway, I begin to understand her question wasn’t just about sex. Because for Faith, sex is always a metaphor. It’s trust in people and curiosity that cannot be satiated by talk at a party. It’s access—going after it to get it, leaving your calling card with a stranger. It’s radicalism—veering beyond the easy identity your immediate situation provides you, to change yourself.
As Salem points out his house, I believe I might—if I found the right person.
I recall the crux of Cynthia Huntington’s “Shot Up in the Sexual Revolution,” when the men drive away and Suzy’s sex stops seeming so defiant.
And God knows it felt good those nights.
I was ready, it was ready, to open and answer the call.
And take me down and roll me over, yes, and give
it to me—but why all this riding away afterward?
Where was everyone going
and why didn’t I get to ride along?
In the seventies, Huntington suggests, the highway was like a birth canal, where high school girls were turned into women by driving away. But her poem is one-sided: the girls are always going away. What Suzy drives toward is abortion.
But what Huntington doesn’t show, and the revolution I’d like to know, is what happens when we ride out onto the highway and bring back the radical acts and people that change us and where we’ve come from. Because we can’t every truly escape the straight fucks we leave behind. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the revolution will be compassionate. And peaceful, as serene as sitting in, dying in, staying the night.
In the backseat, Faith has an idea. “Salem, do you think you would want to work at the Lodge over the summer? Jay and Amy just like to try people out, no commitments, and see how it goes. But I’d put a word in for you.”
“No commitments is good. That’s how I like to work, anyway,” Salem replies. I wonder if, when Salem gets back his license, he will really leave the town where he grew up forever for Canada. Can it be that easy?
By the time we pull into the driveway of his green house, I haven’t given him my number. He closes the car door and steps back into his childhood home.
As we pull away, Faith says, “He’s twenty. Did he seem twenty to you? Did he seem a little young? You should hang out with him!” Her voice is faint.
“He told me he doesn’t remember the nights when he drank. That and the DUI, I don’t know, it seems kind of risky.” I harbor the hope, too, that he will drive north to Canada instead of south to the cradle of my college campus.
That night, Faith introduces me to John Sayles and Maggie Renzi and hands me a cardboard box containing Anthony Trollope novels to take home. We’ve talked about Trollope and Dickens and Elizabeth Gaitskill. She was delighted when she learned that I’ve only just begun to read beyond the Victorians. She liked what she credited as our shared eccentricity. She once told me she felt like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. But I wonder what this gift of novels means. It couldn’t be a reward—I don’t feel I’ve lived up to her yet. Perhaps it’s a grant.
But I don’t know if, like Faith, I can act out the protests I imagine. Because I’ve been shot up in an age where the CNBC ticker on the television resembles, more and more, the film plot summaries I type up for the festival job. The images shift, become fluid. I endlessly imagine pain I have never felt. Maybe that’s an excuse, but I can’t help feel what Faith once said, that these times are heavy—maybe that’s why the students around me always seem to play by the rules of campus administration and tradition. Because it’s safe.
When I leave her house to get the Dartmouth car back to school before it is due, Faith sees me out the door.
She hugs me. “It’ll be a great summer,” she says. I have no doubt. “We’ll be friends.” Then she kisses my neck. Her kiss is fleeting, grazing my collarbone because I’m so much taller. I still feel it, lingering there, as I drive back home.
One morning, a few weeks later, I start suddenly from my sleep. I believe I hear Faith’s voice outside my window. It sounds like she’s demanding something. But when I turn in my bed and triangulate the voice, the tone softens and falls away with a woman passing, chattering to a friend, on the sidewalk. Opening my eyes to peer outside, I realize it’s the golden glare of the rising sun, glancing across my face, that has awoken me from my heavy sleep.