Picture a highway. The New Jersey Turnpike, to be exact. Picture two young women –early twenties — standing on the shoulder of that highway, backpacks resting at their feet as they raise their arms and cock their thumbs upward and slightly out in that universally recognized gesture that says: Hello stranger, I’m on the road, headed in the general direction you are headed; would you please be so kind as to pick me up and let me accompany you in your car, truck, van, bus – whatever you got.
Except there are no cars, trucks, vans, or buses. And I mean zero. Nada. Not a one. It’s mid-morning, a weekday, so this expanse of highway would normally be zipping and zooming with bumper to bumper traffic, but right now it’s as deserted as – well, a desert — as a back road in bum-fuck nowhere. The absence is eerie, like a scene in some post-Apocalyptic sci-fi movie where ominous music – perhaps a Theremin – might be playing.
As you might be guessing by now, one of those girls is me. The other is my friend, Marietta. Though this was many years ago and I have no head whatsoever for dates, I can say with absolute certainty – for reasons that will become obvious — that it was August 9th, 1974.
Marietta and I had taken several trips together – psychedelic as well as geographic –though none of them quite as ambitious as this one. We were headed to California, and we’d set out early that morning with no doubt that we would reach our destination in due time. We prided ourselves on our superior hitchhiking karma, though we each had different theories about how to get the best rides. Marietta thought it was important to look as collegiate as possible. She’d tie back her unruly red hair, and swore by button-down blouses and cardigans as the best hitchhiking attire. I thought letting your freak flag fly a little was a better bet, since other counterculture types would see giving you a lift as the hip thing to do. We both agreed that most people picked up hitchhikers out of curiosity more than kindness. They wanted to be entertained by a stranger’s stories or to impress the stranger with a story of their own. Together Marietta and I had listened to a variety of tall tales and heartfelt confessions, and told stories – some true; some wildly fabricated.
We were headed to California that morning because both of us had friends from our former colleges living in the Golden State, and several people we knew from Temple — the university where we were now both students with indeterminate majors and class standings — were out there for the summer. Besides, California had an aura of mystery in those days for anyone who’d grown up on the east coast. We knew we were too uncoordinated to be surfers, and several years too late to swelter in any summer of love, but it was still the other end of the continent and about as far away from Philadelphia as we could get, considering our limited mode of travel, so we’d quit our summer jobs a few weeks early, ready for an adventure.
Before we had even packed, we managed to score a ride for a good part of the trip west. Our friend Dave had put us in touch with his friend, Dorothy, who was living in Maine but headed back to her native Oregon and planned on driving the Trans Canadian Highway to get there. She said she’d be happy to take us along – for company and a little help paying for gas. All we had to do was get to Maine to meet up with her, and it was California, here I come.
We’d gotten a reasonably early start that morning and were picked up right on our block by a salesman who drove us across the city, over the Walt Whitman Bridge and into New Jersey, where we got on the turnpike to head north. Our only problem there would be the Jersey State Police, who had a reputation among hitchhikers for being particularly intolerant. Hanging in my bedroom like a 4-H ribbon was an official warning I’d been issued the previous summer by one officer Schuenemann for “violating a safety principle.” He called my specific violation “begging rides,” and though I resented the implications of “begging,” I knew I had gotten off easy; he could have hauled my ass off to jail, instead of letting me continue on my way to Wildwood. That morning our luck did not hold out for long. Soon after our first ride dropped us off, we spotted a cop car heading toward us.
The cruiser pulled up. The cop stepped out and curtly asked for identification. Since I had no driver’s license, I carried a copy of my birth certificate along with my college i.d., both of which he eyed suspiciously. He got back in his cruiser, and radioed something to someone, as we stood there wondering what was going to happen next. Neither of us had informed our parents of our vacation plans. We figured that what they didn’t know couldn’t worry them, so we’d decided that we would inform them of our travels after the fact. Surprise them with postcards — perhaps a lovely view of the Pacific or the sun setting over the Golden Gate Bridge, a simple guess where I am? scrawled on the back. Calling them from New Jersey would definitely be a let‑down.
After a few minutes the cop reemerged from his vehicle and asked us where we were going. “Maine,” Marietta said. I guess she thought this sounded more wholesome than California. He could picture us scoring lobster rolls in Bar Harbor rather than tabs of acid on the Haight. The cop grunted, handed us our cards and papers, mumbled something about being careful, got back into his car, and drove off. Once again, we thought, our karma had prevailed. We took it as a sign that it would continue.
A little game that we’d often amused ourselves with while hitching was to take on assumed names, and sometimes identities, for the duration of a trip, so Marietta announced that the next time someone – other than a cop, of course — asked, she was going to tell them her name was Caroline — as in Kennedy, whom she had often been told she resembled. I considered an alias of my own and, though there was no physical resemblance, decided on Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress who had been in the national news for months. The granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, Patty had been abducted by a little‑known radical group called the Symbionese Liberation Front. Instead of the expected ransom demands for hard cash, the kidnapping story had taken several unexpected turns. First came instructions for handing out free food to the poor in Oakland. Then there was a bank robbery in which Hearst herself reportedly participated. There were pictures of her wearing a beret and clasping a machine gun, looking like Che Guevara — if Che had ever taken the time to pose for Vogue. Denouncing her family and her capitalist past, Patty announced that she had changed her name to Tanya and joined the revolution.
It was one of those stories that periodically keeps the country riveted as it unfolds like a serial novel in the morning papers and on the evening news. The plot was so twisted that I could never figure out how to read it; the protagonist like a modern‑day Robin Hood, or a maiden who’d been carried off by gypsies and decided overnight that she was born to read tarot cards. I was alternately intrigued, amused, confused, admiring, and aghast. That day I went with amused. The idea of the unlikely duo of Patty and Caroline on the road like Kerouac and Cassidy appealed to our absurd sense of humor. Feeling like we owned the highway, we stretched out our arms, confident that California ‑‑ or at least Maine ‑‑ was just a few thumb flicks away.
Things get blurry at this point. It was what I liked best about hitchhiking ‑‑ the fact that I could decide on a destination and then just space out, trusting to the kindness of strangers. I didn’t really need to pay close attention to highway numbers and road signs unless somebody asked me to help navigate. Otherwise, whoever was at the wheel would determine — not where we’d end up, but the route we’d take to get there. For me, it was always the scenic one, because that’s where my attention wandered. I loved watching the world whizz by, reading the names of towns we’d pass through, catching glimpses of people in their yards or on their porches or singing to themselves in the wide‑open privacy of their cars.
But the going that morning proved to be slow. We’d been in and out of several cars, each driven by a commuter who’d only take us a few exits before dropping us off again. “Maine,” we said, when a driver asked where we were headed. When he asked us our names, Marietta answered “Caroline” and gave me a knowing look. “Patty,” I said, smiling sweetly.
Our last ride had dropped us off not far beyond a line of toll booths. He thought this would be a good spot, since cars were already slowed down and so more likely to stop for us. On the other hand, we were also clearly in sight of highway personnel, and if someone didn’t stop for us fast, a cop was sure to come along. We were praying for fast. Putting on our most All‑American girl faces. Trying to look as if we were traveling for educational, perhaps even charitable, purposes, like the kind of girls you were obliged to help along their way.
But there simply were no cars. It took a few minutes to register, but then it hit us — that traffic had inexplicably stopped. Completely. Not a single car had come through a single toll booth for – how long could it have been? We watched. We waited. We wondered what the hell was going on. Finally we saw one lone vehicle approaching, another police car – state troopers this time — cruising down the shoulder of the highway, heading straight for us.
Now Marietta and I may have considered ourselves born hitchhikers, but even if we did think we were queens of the highway, we were not suffering from any delusions about our importance. Surely, they had not shut down the entire state of New Jersey just to get us off the road. Nobody could be that determined to keep us out of Maine.
Once again the cruiser pulled up beside us. Not one, but two cops got out this time and demanded to see i.d. One of them grabbed our cards and papers. He glanced from our pictures to our faces, then said, “wait,” and got back in the car, while his partner stood silently beside us, shifting his eyes from us to the cruiser every few seconds, as if he was just waiting for a sign to swing into action. Meanwhile the normally busy highway remained so empty we could have danced across it unimpeded – though I didn’t think the officer at our side would have appreciated such antics, even if Marietta and I did both have a semester of Modern Dance on our transcripts.
We did our best to act nonchalant, but it’s impossible not to feel guilty when you’re being scrutinized by men in uniforms. We were clearly in the middle of something out of the ordinary, but had no clue what it might be. The demeanor of the officer on guard suggested it was better not to ask.
I know time tends to feel like it’s stopped when you are caught in uncertainty, but I swear it took a good ten minutes before the cop in the car reemerged and rejoined his silent sidekick. He asked us where we were heading. “Maine,” we said in unison, though I was beginning to doubt we’d ever get there. He asked where we were coming from? If we knew hitchhiking was illegal? If our parents knew where we were? We answered each question truthfully, except for the last. And meanwhile, as we were talking, cars started streaming by. Drivers gawked at us, as if we were aliens, or at the very least, Bonnie and Clyde – or Bonnie and Bonnie. Then once again — and much to our surprise this time – the cops handed us back our i.d.s and told us we’d better be out of there — soon. We assured them that was our intention. We ended every other phrase with “sir.” And, miraculously, they both got back in their cruiser and drove off, looking extremely harried.
Once they were out of sight, Marietta and I both doubled over with the kind of laughter that often follows averted fear. We howled with a mixture of relief and confusion. “What the hell was that all about?” Before we could get very far through our list of possibilities, a car stopped and we jumped in, wanting desperately to be anywhere else but there.
I don’t remember how far this guy took us or what kind of car he drove. I don’t remember what he looked like or where he dropped us off. He lives on in my memory simply as a source of explanation – albeit only partial. There had been a roadblock. Police were randomly checking cars, though no one knew what for. The woman in the lane next to him had said maybe a prison break. Another guy had suggested a bank robbery. Rumors had passed from vehicle to vehicle, a good swath of the north Jersey turnpike abuzz with speculation: what could be forcing them to a halt? Whatever it was, we agreed it must have been something big, and now that it was over – at least as far was we were concerned – it felt rather exciting.
Still, Marietta and I were quite happy to leave the excitement behind. We made our slow but steady way through Connecticut and into Massachusetts, taking in as much as we could from speeding cars, making small talk with a series of drivers who were all good-natured, though unfortunately, we had still not run into one that would take us the distance. Between rides we’d find a spot to rest and munch on some of the snacks we’d packed or pee behind a bush.
It was sometime after noon when a guy on his way to Vermont stopped to pick us up. I don’t recall what town we were in, but I know it was still Massachusetts ‑‑ his home state ‑‑ because that day this simple fact gave him reason to gloat. “Can you believe he finally did it?” he asked, the minute we got settled into our seats and established our destination. We had no idea what he he was referring to. We thought he might have some explanation for the morning’s roadblock, but what he was talking about was bigger than New Jersey.
“He did it. He really fucking did it!” the driver yelled, banging on the steering wheel for emphasis. When the baffled looks on our faces registered our cluelessness, he started yelling even louder, “Nixon! Nixon! Haven’t you heard? It’s official. He gave his resignation speech and flew off into the god damn sunset. He was an asshole till the very end, flashing the freakin’ victory sign, but the bastard’s finally he’s outa there!”
His face displayed a combination of righteous indignation and glee. And who could blame him? For nearly a year Watergate had dominated the news ‑‑ accusations and counter accusations, tales of burglaries and cover-ups, shredded documents and erased tapes. It was difficult to keep all the facts straight, but easy to distrust a president whose arrogance and lust for power had seemed, at least to some of us, obvious for years. Apparently, Nixon had finally decided he was going to resign the night before, but our communal house had no TV, so we’d missed the big announcement, and none of our previous rides that morning had gotten around to mentioning it.
“You can’t blame us,” our driver yelled, his Boston roots clearly audible in his missing r’s. “We’re the only state that went with McGovehn. You can’t blame that dick head on us.” He reveled in the idea that history had proved that he and Massachusetts were right.
If champagne had been available at some roadside stand, surely we would have stopped for an appropriate toast, but instead our driver pulled out a joint the size of Rhode Island and lit up to mark the historic occasion. We glided into Vermont munching on pretzels, recalling our favorite reasons for hating the demagogue who had just stepped down from his throne. Around every curve in the road was a scene right out of a postcard ‑‑ some red barn or white-spired church, fields full of purple flowers or impossibly pretty cows lazing away the day. It was beautiful and we were happy. We wouldn’t have Richard Nixon to kick us around anymore.
That historic August night Marietta and I slept on a stranger’s floor in the great state of Maine with Gerald Ford at the helm of the republic. The next morning, we left the republic behind and headed into neighboring Canada, and over the next three days drove nearly non-stop across the often desolate, but gorgeous, expanse of it, stopping only to pick up the occasional lone hitchhiker — since we still had a little room in the car – or to sleep a few hours at a rest stop somewhere not far off the road. When we got to Banff, we took two days to hike and check out the sights, spending our nights in an enormous campground filled with serious outdoors’ types, other hitchhikers like ourselves, plus a few Americans who’d originally come to Canada to dodge the draft and now appeared to be living permanently in tents. Evenings everyone would gather around the fire to share what they had to share. People told stories and played music. Dorothy and I were a hit with our renditions of It Wasn’t God Who Made Honkey Tonk Angels and Long Black Veil. Then it was time to head back to the homeland again, but not before having our packs torn apart, down to my very last dismantled tampon, by the U.S. boarder patrol. Somewhere outside of Eugene, Marietta and I parted ways with Dorothy. We were back on our own. On the road.
As has no doubt been the case for thousands of dreamers throughout U.S. history, California was a bit of a bust once we got there. The friends from former colleges were happy to see us, but after a week of us crashing on their living rooms floors, were obviously just as happy to see us go. The east coast friends we planned on meeting up with were never where they were supposed to be when we got there. So we made the best of things. We hit the beaches. Camped out beneath towering redwood trees in Santa Cruz. Won a hundred and thirty bucks on a two dollar bet on the horses in Sacramento, which was a blessing, because we were almost flat broke by then and running out of people to crash with. Besides, it was just about time to head home in time for classes. We had given ourselves a week to get there in time for late registration.
Luck was once again on our side. We heard an ad on a local radio station for a guy driving to Indiana and looking for people to share the ride. He agreed to take us along for the few bucks we had to offer. Also on board was the driver’s pet white rat – rats being creatures I am borderline phobic about, regardless of their color. I would cower in horror when the driver took his rodent pal out of its little cage at rest stops, set it on his foot and let it climb up his leg and torso till it nestled on his shoulder and nuzzled his ear. I came close to jumping out of the car as it was speeding down the highway one afternoon when he decided he’d cure me of my phobia by letting the rat run free so I could see how harmless, how cuddly, it really was. Marietta saved both the rat and me by grabbing it before it got to my lap, and though our driver was pissed at my persistent aversion to his furry friend, he did take us all the way to Gary, as promised.
At the moment he dropped us off, our legendary road karma seemed to be on the wane. We were tired, and it was getting dark and beginning to rain – a hitchhiker’s trifecta of bad news. We were standing on the side of the road, scoping out a possible refuge from the elements, a relatively dry safe spot to spend what we figured would be a sleepless night, when not one, but two semis slowed down, blew their horns, then pulled up along the shoulder of the road with a great hissing and squealing of brakes. The driver of the first truck jumped out and started talking a mile a minute. He told us how he and his buddy in the truck behind him were bone tired but had a deadline to meet, so they had to keep driving straight through to Cleveland. They were riding convoy, trying to keep each other alert by chatting over their CB radios. They wanted one of us to go in each truck to help them stay awake.
I found the story dubious and was ready to bolt, but Marietta was clearly thinking the offer over. The guy talked a good game. He hopped up, opened the passenger side door of his rig, and demonstrated how the CB worked by calling his buddy, inviting him to join us. They seemed nice enough. They swore they were regular guys, not perverts, and would get us as far as Cleveland safe and sound. Though it went against all my instincts, Marietta said she’d go for it, and I was too exhausted to argue. She headed for the second truck, and I figured if worse came to worst and my driver detoured down some side road, she’d be feisty enough to start smacking the living shit out of hers and get down my guy’s license plate number. At least they’d find my body. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I glanced into the huge side mirror and saw her guy taking an unexpected turn.
Karma it must have been, because both drivers lived up to their word. Neither one of them tried anything untoward on either one of us. They really were nice guys who just wanted someone to talk and listen and keep them from nodding off at the wheel – though the speed at which my driver talked made me suspect he might have already downed a couple of black beauties or white crosses just in case. They showed us how to use the CB’s, which were the height of new technology then, and Marietta and I jabbered to each other constantly – probably more than we would have if we’d been in the same cab. Our drivers also sent a call out to other truckers, advertising two mermaids on board, headed for the City of Brotherly Love. Why mermaids I never did figure out, but the moniker proved effective. Outside of Cleveland, we had just enough time to eat the breakfasts our drivers bought us at an enormous truck stop before another guy sauntered up to the table, introduced himself and said he was prepared to haul those mermaids as far as New York.
Ride two let us out at another sprawling truck stop where yet another trucker — this one going all the way to Philly — had also heard about the two stranded mermaids via CB and was waiting to take us on board. We had a fantasy of him delivering us right to our doorstep, but our street was too narrow for a eighteen wheeler, so he let us out at the corner and blew his horn as he headed down Broad Street. We’d made our way from Sacramento to Philadelphia in record time, spending less than ten minutes actually standing on the side of the road.
As hitchhiking sagas go, this was a pretty good one – complete with weird characters, amusing anecdotes and unbelievably good luck with rides, all set against the historic day of Tricky Dick’s resignation. But the story got even better when we learned that Patty Hearst and some of her SLA cohorts had reportedly been hiding out on a farm in Pennsylvania just about the time we had started out on our cross-country adventure. It seemed plausible that the road block we’d encountered that first day in New Jersey might have had something to do with the search for these outlaws. The irony of that possibility was so perfect, we convinced ourselves it had to be the case.
Though I can barely squeeze into it now, I still own a red tee shirt with iron-on letters proclaiming No, I’m Not Patty Hearst emblazoned across the chest. My friend, Steve, made it for me to commemorate the occasion, which may or may not have actually occurred. Of course, much of what officially passes for history also seems to come down to what we collectively choose to believe about the past.
When Richard Nixon died in 199 – twenty years after he resigned in disgrace — I felt compelled to watch some of the funeral ceremony that was televised. Though I’m all for trying to speak well of the dead, it galled me when people went so far as to praise him as a hero and give him credit for ending the war in Vietnam, like it was his idea, yet I couldn’t help getting choked up when I saw Julie and Tricia veiled in mourning. Tricia, who’d always been hyped as the perfect pretty one during Nixon’s White House years, looked dumpy; she seemed to have inherited her father’s jowls, while the once mousy-looking Julie had aged into an attractive, competent looking woman.
Tanya went back to being Patty Hearst and married one of the men who’d served as a bodyguard during her trial. She’s had a few bit parts in movies, including one hilarious role in John Waters’ Serial Mom, where she was bludgeoned to death by Kathleen Turner for daring to wear white shoes after Labor Day — a scenario no more bizarre than some years of her actual life.
Caroline Kennedy shows up periodically on TV at political events or family ceremonies that are so public they sometimes feel like political events. First there was her mother’s funeral, then her brother’s, then her Uncle Ted’s – always bearing up under grief with the stoic resolve we’ve come to expect of that clan. She still bears a resemblance to my friend Marietta — at least the way she looked the last time I saw her.
Marietta never got over the travel bug. Two years after our California adventure, she signed up for a semester abroad in Europe and ended up staying for more than a year. She met John, the man she later married. Meanwhile, I had moved to New Orleans to live with a man I met when he picked us up hitchhiking in the Keys. He and I rendezvoused with John and Marietta in Switzerland, where they were picking grapes. Then they came to New Orleans and lived with us for a brief time, and when the boyfriend and I split up five years later, I moved in, for few months, with them. In 1980, they took off for extended travels in Central and South America. They eventually moved back to John’s native Australia, then later divorced. While I left New Orleans for grad school in Massachusetts and then a job in Virginia, and eventually Nebraska, Marietta settled into life outside of Sydney, continuing to travel every chance she got.
Even as email became more a fact of life, Marietta was never a great correspondent, so we’d be out of contact for long periods, managing nothing beyond an erratic exchange of birthday or holiday greetings or the occasional postcards she’d send out of the blue — sometimes from places I’d never even heard of before. She came back to the states only three or four times in more than twenty years — to visit her aging father in the Poconos. Once she made it down to Virginia to see me for a few days; another time she happened to catch me at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania the day before she was scheduled to fly off to London, and we got together for a cheese steak and a couple of beers. The last time we spoke was a few days after President Obama was first elected, when she called in the middle of the night to say we’d finally done something to make her less embarrassed about being an American.
Then, in late January 2011, I received a phone message from my friend, Pamela. I could tell from the hesitancy in her voice that something was wrong, so I called back immediately and heard the disconcerting news – how Pamela’s Christmas card had been returned from Australia along with a letter from an attorney who regretted to inform her that her friend, Marietta Sutherlin, had died the previous September.
Pam and I were floored. We both knew Marietta had been through a fight with breast cancer a few years back, but so had Pamela, so had several other women we knew — all of them diagnosed early, treated, recovered, in remission. Doing fine. Since we had not heard otherwise, we assumed the same was true for our friend living down under. It’s the kind of taking for granted thing we all do – going about our lives, trusting that all is well unless we hear otherwise.
We wondered why Marietta had not contacted us to tell us she was ill. To tell us she was dying. Not that I could imagine how to break that kind of news to people – especially friends you hadn’t actually seen for a while. Not that there was anything we could have done if we had known, beyond lending whatever support we could have from halfway around the world. Is that why she chose not to bother – because the kind of sympathy we might have offered from a distance would have been, at that point, more burden than comfort? Or was she hanging on to the hope of recovery until the bitter end? We would probably never know.
What complicated matters was the fact that I had received a holiday email from John, Marietta’s ex-husband. I knew that their divorce had been fairly contentious, but John was still a friend, and a thoroughly decent guy; there was no way he would blithely send me a Christmas greeting without mentioning her death. Not if he’d known about it. So I faced the excruciating task of informing him – via email no less, since it was the only means of contact I had. As I expected, the news was a total shock to him, even more than it had been to me and Pam. He was, after all, the one who’d brought Marietta to Australia, and now she’d died there – in the same city – without his even being aware that she was ill. He immediately set out to find what information he could – some of which was a comfort to him, and all of us.
Marietta did have friends who were with her during her final illness, though – unsurprising to anyone who knew her – she’d left all her practical affairs in total disarray. Because she’d died intestate, her ashes were still sitting on a shelf in some crematorium while the State Trustee who had informed Pamela of her demise tried to figure out what to do with them. Both her parents and her only sibling, an older brother, were dead; the only remaining relatives were a few cousins. It took John, as ex-husband with no legal rights in the matter, months of untangling red tape, but by July he finally managed to obtain permission to have her ashes buried. The marker he purchased for her lists the places and dates she was born and died, but also proclaims she Lived: The Big Easy – 1975-1980, followed by an unconventional epitaph I know Marietta would love, though it must surely perplex most Australians who read it:
I’ll meet you at Tipitina’s
on the corner of Napolean
and Tchoupitoulis at 8
Don’t be late – the Band’s great
Life as a journey is an age-old trope. Google the phrase and you’ll find quotable quotes from everyone ranging from the Buddha to Oprah Winfrey, words of wisdom or worn-out clichés advising us to find our own path, choose our own direction, focus more on the travel than the destination, enjoy the ride while it lasts. That good gray poet, Walt Whitman, saw the universe itself as “a road, many roads, as roads for traveling souls.” Some see that road as long, some short; most agree it can get rough, or at least a little bumpy, but it’s certainly wide open. We are all poor wayfaring strangers doing our best to find our way — to get by, get over, get to or away from somewhere. To accomplish whatever or become whoever we think we must do or be before we reach the end.
On the side of a very real road – that highway in New Jersey that August morning in 1974 — there were two girls, young women heading west on a summer adventure. Outlaws and heiresses were on the lam and some of the mighty were about to fall, but those girls were worried about nothing beyond the next ride, looking no further into the future than the promise of the Pacific and partying with the friends they’d meet up with on that far shore. If anyone had predicted that one of those girls would someday leave this earth without the other even knowing, we would have both thought it impossible. But, of course, all things are possible. We may be too busy to stop for death, but death will, as Whitman’s contemporary, Emily Dickinson, says in her odd and brilliant poem, stop for each of us someday — kindly or otherwise. Though the idea of hitchhiking surely never crossed Dickinson’s mind, she does envision her not-so-grim version of the reaper as a driver who picks her up, and eternity as a destination at the end of a road they travel, at least part way, together.
Marietta is not the first friend from my youth who has preceded me into whatever the hereafter may be and probably won’t be the last. It’s the learning about her death so long after the fact of it that distinguishes her passing, and leaves me with a haunting sense of loss while not allowing for that more acute emotion I might accurately label grief. This morning, as I once again tried to evade the frustration of a blank page by checking my email, I received one from John in Australia reminding me that today was the third anniversary of Marietta’s death. The message was sent out to a small group – my ex, another old lover, an even older mutual friend – all of us now scattered across the country, the globe, each of us a crucial part of each other’s journey, once and forever fellow travelers still making our way in the world, still on the road to whatever comes next, our memories of each other — even the painful ones — part of the baggage we lug along. Because without it, we’d be lost.