This was to be the beginning of the first real journey of our lives together. We weren’t sure where we were going. We weren’t sure whether or not we’d return to Massachusetts. All we knew was that we had a motorcycle. And a tent. Two sleeping bags. Two leather coats and two pairs of chaps. Rain gear. Long underwear. Helmets. A few books. Jeans. Boots. Maps. And seven thousand dollars cleverly hidden in a white gym sock. These were the possessions that separated us from destitution.
The ST1100 clunked between gears. As I pulled onto Route 495. With Deb, my new bride, on the back. Leaning on the sissy bar I had constructed. Her hands unzipping the pockets of my black leather jacket and tucking themselves inside. Away from Billman’s orchard. Away from Littleton. And Chelmsford. And Lowell and all the towns that had huddled around me for as long as I could remember, close and giant family members. Away from them. And Local 537, where I had completed my apprenticeship in the refrigeration trade.
Deb wore her hair in a single, thick braid that she tucked inside her leather jacket. She was leaving too. Leaving was one major reason we got married. I wanted to leave. And she wanted to leave. We wanted to leave together.
We didn’t know it then, but we were young. We had thick hair. And lots of hope. When you’re young and full of hope, you think that your leaving home constitutes a coming-of-age, a story that hinges on a character who starts out as a child, and through some series of events becomes a real live grown-up. It’s a common blueprint. The protagonist is young. Full of wonder and earnestness and lust and anger. And he descends somehow. Falls. Or is thrown out. Either way, he leaves the garden behind.
Deb and I ran out of money in Iowa. We rented a small brick house seven miles west of Iowa City on what the locals call the “Old IWV,” which was the main highway from Iowa City to Des Moines before I-80 came through in the mid-1950s.
Our first child was Sam. Then William. Then the twins: Lucy, the first, and Mike, the second, who was born with autism. I left the house each morning for work while Deb spent her time trying single-handedly to find a cure for our son’s autism. Battling with doctors and experts and insurance companies and government agencies. And enduring Mike’s constant crowing and squealing. She didn’t like me playing golf. It made her angry. She didn’t like me going to the gym. Or working late. She became weary taking care of the four kids. Especially Mike. She didn’t laugh anymore. On the phone, sure. But not with me. Our marriage became, through these years, a habit. Like biting fingernails. Just that. And love had become a faraway thing. An intangible. I could blame it on the affair. But it wasn’t the affair.
The housing market was crashing. Everything was crashing. So that, at first, with everyone going under, The Great Iowa Floods of 2008 seemed redundant. But the flood didn’t care about the economy. Or our marriage. The flood was absolute. The flood was The Truth. Like the original flood, when God cursed the ground and decided to kill every last creature on earth. Except Noah, floating there in his little ark. I don’t know what Noah did for a living, but say he was in real estate. All the contacts he had made were dead. All the land he had sold was destroyed. His house was gone. Everything would be different from this day forward.
The Iowa Floods were a time for recalibration of everything Deb and I thought we knew. Everything we held up as important. True. Inviolable. We questioned. It’s almost as though our entire lives had been excused. And every act we committed had been forgiven. We had been released from all contracts. Those contracts applied to the old world. This was the new one. And now, as the waters receded, it was time for us to decide: Who would we be? Would we own this home? Would we work in these trades? Would we be father and mother to these children? Would we love them? Would we love one another?