I moved to Sakonnet Bay to save Sam. I woke up with the idea. It had been one of those problem-solving nights. Having fallen asleep in a state of intense distress, I awakened with the notion that if I uprooted my life for three years, I could avert disaster.
I'm a journalist, a small-time, freelance magazine writer, and there is no telephone number I can't wheedle out of someone, no tidbit I can't unearth. If the front door is locked, I know how to sneak in the back. Now I would simply apply my creative doggedness to the problem of keeping my teenage son safe.
Once I made this decision, I rented a car and drove out of Manhattan. I felt virtuous, even noble. I turned on the radio and was able to listen. For the first time in weeks my mind was at rest, which is to say lying in wait for the moment when it could become agitated once again. Agitation is normal for me, calm is unexpected. I veer toward agitation, list naturally in its direction. Taking action, almost any action, calms me, regardless of whether or not it is the correct action. I assume this is true for everyone, a small measure of peace secured when one goes from worrying a thing to death to doing something about it.
I felt noble and virtuous because I love Manhattan, and even before finding my new town, I had committed to giving up New York. To sacrifice. For a time. I had moved there originally from Los Angeles to attend Barnard College. I don't remember my first sighting of a New York City street, or my first glimpse of its magical skyline, but I fell deeply in love. Every single time I left my dorm, later my apartment, and walked outside, I felt a rush: I live here. I get to live in this amazing place. It's very strange when a city can do more for you than a husband or a lover, but for me, that was always the case.
I drove 495 east, then cut south and prowled the Long Island coast, trusting that someplace would strike me as the solution. On one of those roads that jumped to fifty mph between towns and then abruptly announced thirty mph as it became a main street, I found myself in Sakonnet Bay. It felt like Brigadoon, a village that came to life for only one day every hundred years, so perfectly was it a dream come true.
Sam needed order and this town was orderly. Main Street, which formed a T with the only other commercial stretch, Barton Road, was lined with charming nineteenth-century buildings of clapboard construction - a visually comforting style, each narrow strip of wood tucked obediently under another, everything painted in refined grays, whites, and blues. Awnings shaded display windows, giving shops a proper, well-mannered look. There were no chain stores, no outlets that felt transient or common.
In my present condition, I was willing to leap to many conclusions to believe this move was right. Still, Sakonnet Bay's harmonious façade appeared to be a statement not just about its architecture but about its inhabitants. I had read Sherwood Anderson, knew that odd behavior could fester beneath the surface of small-town life, but that did not seem relevant. "Pretty" was the word for this sweet place. It was immensely pleasing and at the same time innocuous. This town could not possibly attract or foster trouble.
I stopped at a real estate office and in one afternoon located a house to rent and a future best friend. In my mind, meeting Jane Atkins, my realtor, elevated the discovery of Sakonnet Bay from luck to destiny. The first person I met was simpatica. A former New Yorker, sharp and witty. I would not be lonely.
Jane toured me through town to see the sights that would make a New Yorker happy: the perfect food-doughnuts (plain and powdered-sugar), deep-fried and flipped automatically for everyone to see on the old-fashioned doughnut machine in the window of LePater's Grocery; a produce stand featuring local goods, which reassured me that Sakonnet Bay was country, not suburbs; and the bookstore, selling new and used - this was no intellectual wasteland - owned by an ancient sparrow of a woman, as quaint as the doughnut machine, whose thinning white hair was twisted into a tiny knot.
Reprinted from Big City Eyes by Delia Ephron by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Delia Ephron. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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