Thanks for the comments about where I should go. I liked Annie’s idea. Apparently this place where Leif lives has a kind of open-door policy for anyone willing to put in the effort of finding it, somewhere in the North Carolina mountains.
“You really should check it out,” Ivor said to me. “It’s not what you might imagine. Not cultish. For us it was almost like going to a resort.” At the time I’d thought, Who has the time? Now I realize that I do. I can’t stay away from my work forever, but I’ve already made arrangements to be gone a few more days. My colleagues can survive without me that long.
It’s true, probably the last thing I need is to throw myself and my kids into some left-over hippie hideout, to put ourselves at the mercy of someone I haven’t seen in thirty years, practically a stranger.
And yet the prospect offers more than just an escape. Ever since Ivor told me that Leif was actually doing it – actually living in some contemporary version of a commune – I’ve been trying to picture it in my head. It boggles my mind that he is still trying to realize the ideals that went so wrong, and it astounds me that he feels successful.
Everyone I’ve met in my odyssey has undermined my understanding of my past. The idea that what my parents tried could actually work is the most radical of all. I still don’t believe it, but the more I consider it, the more Leif begins to feel like the final variable in some equation I have to solve. Each visit with a Wrightson has brought some kind of revelation. Now there is only one character left in the drama, and I have an overwhelming impulse to complete the set.
Signs and cosines
I called Ivor at work and got the number and e-mail address for Leif. Phoning felt awkward, so I composed a message on my Blackberry.
Even then, I found it hard to write. Memories swam up to me, of Leif’s arm coming around me in the salt water, of his offers of lemonade and popcorn, his slow lope around the softball diamond after hitting a home run.
I remembered days on the piano bench, with his soft fingers touching the backs of my hands, and hours he’d spent helping me rewrite a paper on the Bill of Rights, or sort out sines and cosines. He’d talked more than anyone else in the old days about the glory of “extended marriage.” And yet, for all the explaining he did, for all the attention he’d given me in those days, I understood him the least. Maybe that was part of the reason I wanted to see him now.
Finally I wrote that I’d become fascinated with the idea of alternative communities and would love to talk to him and see what he was doing. After three hours, Leif hadn’t responded to my e-mail message, so I screwed up the guts to call Selu directly.
A woman’s voice, perhaps in her 30s: “Is it an emergency?”
“No. I just was thinking of visiting him. I’m an old friend of his. Sort of a step-daughter.”
“Come any time.” Her voice was calm, almost impassive.
“I just thought he might like to know when I was arriving, see if he was feeling like having visitors and so on.”
“He prefers not to use the phone.”
“Then what? A telegram? FedEx?”
“If it’s urgent. Or you could just come.”
Just come. The strangeness of it put me off, and at the same time the impulsive mood I was in made it sound appealing: No need to make arrangements, talk it out, or reserve a spot. I could just show up. “Could you tell him Adrienne Eisenberg will be coming? With her two kids?”
“Ages three and six. Maybe tomorrow night. Or possibly the next day, in the evening. I could call just before leaving.”
“Whenever you come, you’ll be welcome.”