What does it feel like, that first night abroad and alone? Here, in a taut, vivid meditation on the nature of recomposing the self in a new, thrillingly different—and more than a little dangerous—environment, frequent contributor Kate Erickson explains the sensation with a searching, poetic eye. —Christian
I lied when I told Liz, a math teacher on the Portuguese Azores, that I could drive her manual transmission Toyota. Liz needed someone to feed her two dogs and two cats while she visited her family in the States. By the transportation email, we had already covered accommodations; her hundred-year old farmhouse sat in the brambles of a retired, tiered vineyard. Geography: the Azores are halfway between New York and Lisbon, a volcanic archipelago softened by purple hydrangeas. And timeframe: a month, July, the most glorious of the Azores year. I was just out of college, and I was emailing from my parents’ basement in Kentucky.
On June thirtieth my connecting flight from Newark hit a luggage rack, and Air Portugal dismissed all passengers to a crusty Ramada Inn. For one, two, then three days, I was stranded poolside with a dozen woebegone Portuguese grandmothers. They sunbathed and cried; I walked laps in stale jeans and a t-shirt, because Air Portugal had sent my checked bag on without me.
When I finally arrived to Terceira, Liz had been gone for forty-eight hours. Her wild-haired friend, also a teacher at the Air Force base high school, collected and debriefed me. House keys are in the car, unlocked; car keys in a bowl on the kitchen counter. Front door is triple-locked, deadbolt sticks, because Liz only just started using it again.
“These break-ins! Only in the off-base homes, of course, but elaborate as heists. It’s sleeping gas through an open window, then robbery as loud as they please.” She picked at mud on her dashboard. “I recommend locking the windows and shutters, both. Stuffy beats no DVD player.” The friend careened us around a blind turn and slammed to a stop for the cattle jogging downhill, into an open field. “Be careful of this,” she said, wagging a finger at the cows. “They stampede willy-nilly. My God!” She slammed her palm into the steering wheel. “I almost forgot. The cat died. Not your fault, of course.”
“What?” I said. Continue reading