Each summer the cadets of Maine Maritime Academy put to sea with a crew of instructors aboard their eponymous training ship, State of Maine. Here, like medical students at a teaching hospital, they set about practicing the skills of their aspirational careers on a live patient—navigating, steering, chipping paint, avoiding collisions, and tending to a diesel plant whose thundering mass fills a room large enough for basketball. Everything is big on a ship like this, which sleeps 350 people and needs 30 feet of ocean just to stay afloat. In tanks below the living spaces there are 3,300 long tons of fuel and 770 tons of potable water. The anchors weigh 5 tons each, set out on chains with links fourteen inches across. An old Navy ship built for speed, not baggage, the State of Maine is slim and pointy at her ends, like a canoe. In a calm sea she moves with almost no feeling of displacement, just a low white-noise rumble of engines and the shoosh of water sliding by.
Before the arrival, there was a departure. A view of an airport gate through an airplane window.
I was eleven years old; my brother Nathan was eight. We had just completed the drive from our home in Norman, Oklahoma to Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. I was eager to board the plane and get to my seat so that I could look out the window, back toward the gate. My best friend Rachel had come to the airport with us, back when you could hug someone goodbye right up to the boarding doors. She had promised that if I looked out the plane window, she’d make sure I saw her waving to me, and she promised to keep waving until after the plane had pulled away from the gate and Nathan and I were far above the place where we’d grown up, in between two very different homes, two parents, two lives. I held onto this promise tightly, as if looking back to see Rachel waving was as far as I was going that day: boarding a plane just for this small moment.
Raw granite and brick, hip roof like a helmet. At its height, it hummed: seventeen trains daily, lumbering in along the river. I imagine E.A. here with his ticket and his trunk. With his back to the brick, listening for a whistle.
Now the depot is a cannabis dispensary. They keep records in the ticket booth, make brownies in the basement. Preservationists call this adaptive reuse.
Mostly, Les gossips and writes about girls. One’s “a real peach” and another “darn nice.” Poor Esther has legs like parentheses—she “must have been born with a barrel between her legs.” Then there’s Mildred, who’s darn good-looking but too biting: “Sarcastic is no word. That’s complimenting her.” Les gets a little revenge when he sees her at a dance with “an awful dopey looking hobo.” He has a good time, even though “nearly every girl there was a pot.”
Portland was vibrant, despite its mistiness; always threatening to rain, but never truly downpouring. G. and I walked up and down Fore Street, looking for the restaurant by the same name, trying not to look too much like lost tourists. We had escaped to Portland in search of good food, which was always a comfort to us and which we needed now more than ever. Finishing our undergraduate degrees a few weeks earlier had left us feeling more somber and empty than excited. After days of enduring many heartfelt goodbyes from friends we knew we’d never see again and lengthy advice from proud, overbearing relatives, we were aching to get away from it all; to distract ourselves from the constant reminders that a chapter in our lives was closing forever.
There were hundreds of summer camps in Maine in the ’60s. It was a seasonal gulag for middle-class white kids, ages 8–16. Being shipped off to the woods by your parents for eight whole weeks felt like a secret Get Out Of Jail Free card. Only the nametags on your clothes connected you to who you were once you had been dropped into June, and then, somewhere around August, you would brown and swell and burst into flame like a marshmallow on a stick.
The sidewalk in front of my house unfurls enticingly to the north and south. Though its seams have buckled after months of gravel and salt, the walk still leads me to my neighbor’s porch, where I pull eggs and goat cheese from the fridge, take honey from the shelf, and leave cash in an unlocked box. The snow- and ice-narrowed path also still ferries a friend and me to the Bookmill, where we drink wine in the afternoon and squeeze up tight next to the stacks to peer down on the rushing creek below. If the walk’s covered overnight by a hard snow, Don blasts his snowblower through, the cranking assault of the motor a reasonable price to pay for the favor. For the magic of having one’s way into the world restored. That I have a sidewalk outside my door is a fairy-tale luxury, an enchantment.
Chipper Hanson had found a lost goat and tied it to his porch, where it was kicking and butting and destroying things. He called the hardware, and the hardware called me, because if nobody got it off his porch soon, his wife was going to get the gun and take care of the problem herself, and whether that would involve just the goat or the goat and the husband, no one could say.