In the mailbox of the apartment we share in New York, it is not infrequent to find letters the size of a printed photograph, mailed from Gibbons, Michigan. At first we didn’t open these. We’d called the police from the highway on the drive home, but nothing came of it. To this day they insist there is no sign of foul play on the farm. And it’s not an easy thing to explain. But after enough time passed, and more of these letters arrived, we started to open them. Now there are numerous pictures in a drawer in the desk in the extra bedroom we use as an office. Most these pictures are the two of them, standing in front of the farmhouse or at the foot of the decks steps, Donna’s arm around Oliver’s waist, Oliver’s hand in hers. One photo has him holding her in his arms, the two of them smiling so big you’d have no choice but to think them the perfect couple, living an ideal life of solitude, hard work, and deep love. In some pictures, Connie is included, and we wonder who took these because we assume she took the others.
We do not ask what might have happened to bring Donna out of the barn and every time I find myself feeling glad that she made it, my relief is jaggedly tempered by bad images I’d rather not describe.
We recognize them, of course, but we also don’t.
In the pic that arrived today, the three of them are standing before what I think must be the side of the farmhouse. The grass is especially green at their feet, bare feet. Oliver is smiling a little shyer than he normally does, Donna’s mouth is open in full mid-laugh, and Connie, leaning into the pic, though she doesn’t need to, lifts a hand to wave.
Accompanying the pic is a letter that reads:
Come visit any time. We miss and love you guys!
Tracy and I read the letter together and our eyes meet and this time we don’t turn away. We’re both wondering if this is it, if enough time has passed, if the day has come in which we’ll start seriously planning a return to Carpenter’s Farm. We both know we’ll eventually have to, to check on our friends. Connie weighs on us the most, of course, but Karen does, too, as she walks these city streets unlike herself, with no memory of Baum, no idea whose clothes and things we helped remove from her apartment, no idea at all. We help Karen in every way we can, having her over for dinner weekly, meeting up with her for lunch at her place of work, being her friend. But there are, of course, some things even the best of friends cannot achieve.
Yet, are there not solutions for Karen on that farm?
“Look,” Tracy says, pointing to the window of the farmhouse behind the three of them. I see what she’s saying but I can’t bring myself to definitively agree.
It could be two people inside that window. Two lovers who found a way back from the unlabeled stuff.
I take a picture of the photo with my phone and I zoom in on the window and decide, finally, no. It’s only the beginning of those stairs, the bannisters rising up like legs, pieces of a person, toward the ceiling.
“Not yet,” Tracy says.
And I know what she means. But the yet worries me. The yet underscores what’s inevitable.
Tracy is up, changing her clothes, opting for what she calls the good-luck shirt. She isn’t trying out for a part: someone is trying out for one of hers. Tracy has written a play and while I love it, I find myself wondering, almost clinically, from what life is she mining the details of such harrowing things?
The Old or the New?
Either way, it’s brilliant.
“Give it to me,” she says and I hand her the photo and the envelope and she vanishes with both into the back bedroom. I hear the drawer open and close and then she’s standing beside me again.
“How do I look?”
I pull myself from the vision of Donna, her mouth wide with laughter, utter happiness in her eyes.
“Like you,” I say.
She shakes her head and smiles.
“We’ll do it,” she says. “Just… not yet.”
I nod. And I’m glad she’s at the same place I am.
After she leaves for the sidewalks and subways that will lead her to a small theater in what feels like the exact center of all this city, I head to the back bedroom and open the drawer.
I pull out all the photos they’ve sent us and I examine each, looking for a sign, any sign, of Morris and Rodney. But eventually, like always, I’m not looking for them and instead I’m following a pattern, eyeing Donna especially, trying to determine what steps, what path, was taken to get her smiling again.
I glance out the window, look to the city to remind myself I’m not on the farm.
I close the drawer and it seems to cut off, to literally snap, a piece of black yarn, the length of which feels like an impossibly small margin of error, a symbol of how close we were, all of us, to being completely unrecognizable today.
I look at the city.
Tracy is out there.
And I think, in me, in my memory and my mind, there will always be Tracy. As she is, yes, but as she was, as well.
There is Tracy.
There is Ever.
There is Morris.
There is Rodney.
There is Connie.
There is Karen.
There is Baum.
Oliver is there, too.
And we’ll do it, Tracy and I, when the time is right, or, perhaps, when a photo arrives that fools us entirely, that lessens the horror and opens a willingness within us.
I don’t know when that will be. Sounds far off to me now.
Maybe we’ll build our way up to it.
Maybe we’ll start with a run up to the farmhouse to touch its side.