Leaving New York

I live in a house on the beach. My closest neighbor is half a mile away. I am 46. My 40th birthday was the last eventful birthday—eventful because there were people, because my husband was there. This house on the beach was our summer home, then.

I stopped painting. I write now. I didn’t write, then. Not like this.

I wear white. I don’t like tight clothes. I wear white and I live simply. I have enough money to live off my savings for another 20 years.

I am mad. Mad. That is not a medical diagnosis. And yet I know it is true. I feel it.

When I sweat, when my clothes stick to my skin, when the salt burns my eyes, I remember. I am mad.

I have no family. Friends check on me from time to time. My friends suit me. We look like we should be friends. They call. They write me letters. I do not own a computer. I gave my computer to a family who lives in town. I told them to delete everything from it. I trust they did.

The last time a friend visited in person was 2 years ago. It was Lina Northrop. She is also an artist. She lives in New York City. I lived there for 22 years.

She was traveling and a visit to me was only a 45-minute plane ride. She spent the weekend at my house. It was uneventful. I didn’t tell her what I saw. I wore the mask of pleasantries and good humor just as any good friend would do. We were good friends, after all.

Leaving New York

When she left, I felt nothing. Later, I would feel myself expand, once more. I had shrunken imperceptibly in her presence. My words became simple, my voice weakened.

That night, I walked into the forest. I brought a flashlight. I walked along my favorite path to the bluff overlooking the beach. I could see my house in the distance. There I sat, gazing at the beach, and past it, the ocean. Then I turned my gaze to the stars. I must have sat there for quite some time, as my legs and thighs grew numb. The stars took shape. Lines began connecting them. I had the thought, this must be where constellations come from. But the lines did not form images.

Walking back, I found an owl. It had died recently. It was nestled into the crook of a tree stump. I was not emotional. Nor was I curious. I picked up the owl and carefully wrapped it in the white shawl I had been wearing. I carried it home with me.

When I got home, I set the owl down on my porch and emptied out a shoebox from my closet. I placed the owl in the shoebox and put my shawl over the top. I left the shoebox on a bench on my porch and went inside. I could hardly sleep for giddiness.

The next day I peeked under the fabric. The owl was still there. Each day I would check, and the owl would still be there.

Then, after the 4th day, it was gone. Not only the owl, all of it—the owl, the shoebox, and the shawl.

Later, I would tell Nelson, the groundskeeper, of what had happened.

He said the neighbor’s dog probably got to it, but I don’t think so.