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Julia Cooke speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her essay “Past and Future on Rapa Nui,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. In this conversation, Julia talks about her trip to Rapa Nui, commonly known as Easter Island, a place famous for the mysterious moai statues that dot the remote landscape. She also discusses the island’s complicated and unknowable history, her earlier work as a journalist, and her latest book, which chronicles stories from Pan Am stewardesses during the Jet Age.
Podcast: Julia Cooke on “Past and Future on Rapa Nui”
When my marriage ended I moved to an apartment building that was mostly uninhabited. I never saw the other tenants. There were traces of them here and there—a sock left in a dryer, muted weeping down the hall, ambulances flashing out front—but I couldn’t have told you what any of my neighbors looked like.
There was a serious cockroach infestation in my unit. In the kitchen, the roaches chewed through boxes of crackers, fresh fruit, bags of rice. They crawled over the counters, peeked up through the sink drain, and burned in the oven. In the middle of the night, I’d spot them on the ceiling, circling the kitchen light like planets in a model solar system.
For the past few days, I’ve vacillated between panic, helplessness, and feeling like a prophetic, burning witch. I spent the first two months of this year watching the pandemic take hold of China—from the arrest of Dr. Li WenLiang for spreading “false rumors,” to Wuhan and the whole country going into lockdown, to my friends mailing masks back home to their families in China—sitting in my NYC apartment as the virus swept across Korea, Iran, Italy, making its way across the globe towards me.
Hebe Uhart’s “A Trip to La Paz” is delightfully misleading in that we never arrive at our destination; we never see the city that touches the clouds. This essay is concerned with a different kind of beauty—the getting there, the buzzing potential of travel. It encapsulates why we embark on grueling car rides, on flights, on long train journeys, in the first place.
My boy is on the floor again. I’ve just told him he has to get in the shower, before dinner, after homework, after only five minutes of TV.
“What?” he protested in a drawn-out whine that contorted his face into a buskin tragedy mask before collapsing onto the floor. His body, prone and straight, swivels from side to side. He pulls his knees into his chest. Now he thrusts his feet down, then back, and almost behind him, as if doing a hamstring stretch. However he moves, thrashing, flailing, it is not vertical. To move up or around or about—even if stomping, even if screaming, even while crying out—would convey a sense of acceptance. “I don’t want to do what you ask, but I’m willing!” such a movement would say.
Last May, having exhausted all possible local options, my husband and I got into our car and drove one hundred miles west. We left home early that morning in search of two specific things: better medical care and a definitive diagnosis.
During that first drive into Manhattan, we held hands. Almost ten years into our marriage, it’s something we rarely do anymore — and certainly not for prolonged periods of time. Looking back now, I was holding on for dear life.
More than anything, I want to shrink down into the dirt like a tiny brown beetle. I cling to the Woolworth’s bag containing things I cannot bear to leave behind. Pushing through row after row of wavering wheat, I imagine sinking into the edge of the field where the sky swallows the sun at night. Trying to push from my mind the trail of bent wheat that betrays me, I trudge toward the line that divides gold from blue.