Hotel Pharmacy

Yes, I still shoot odd camera angles, even when I’m wandering out-of-state. Yesterday afternoon I took a drive to Brattleboro to walk the streets and browse the shops there: a short junket to Keene’s Vermont sister.

Ivy wall

The last time I was in Brattleboro, I was seeking signatures from my ex-husband to dissolve the Zen Group we’d started some five years ago; the time before that, I was seeking signatures from my ex-husband to dissolve our marriage. Neither of these visits was a fun one: I have a particularly vivid memory of my visit last September when Chris and I went to his bank to get our just-signed divorce papers notarized. “Have a nice day!” the notary enthused as we stood to walk away: apparently she hadn’t read the heading on the documents we’d signed (nor noted the strain in my blanched face) to realize Chris and I had just with a signature ended a relationship that had spanned our entire adult lives.

Since Brattleboro is where my ex-husband has lived for the past ten months, it is a haunted town for me. Before we separated, I’d been to Brattleboro only with Chris: we’d occasionally go there to browse shops or go out to eat with his brother and sister-in-law. After Chris moved to Brattleboro, it became his town, a place I visited only when I was coming to do “official business with the ex.” The chance of running into Chris on the street, either alone or (worse yet) accompanied, was too big a risk: what fun is there in visiting a town where the potential for awkward agony lurks behind every corner?

Carter's Little Liver Pills

Now that Chris has moved back to Massachusetts–back, in fact, to the Cambridge Zen Center, where we’d lived together for over two years–Brattleboro is free for reclamation. Just as I tried to exorcise my Cambridge Zen Center ghosts by meeting up with new-found blog-buddies there, yesterday I walked the streets of Brattleboro in an attempt to take back the town. Brattleboro never was our town, and it no longer is his town, so there’s nothing preventing it from being my town, a place I can freely visit without fear of ghostly visitations: an exorcised place that bears the shadow of bad memories but is now ready to be cleared of its karma.

Chris always said he’d love to live in Brattleboro, and I always countered that it was a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there, Brattleboro being more crowded and less walkable than my beloved Keene. After a mere ten months, Chris ended up hating Brattleboro because it wasn’t lively enough: knowing no one and having made few friends, he felt both lonely and alone, facing ghosts of his own as he too struggles to move on.

Directionals

If only one of us can have Cambridge, I’ll take Brattleboro in return. It’s fine and good to say you’ll stay friends with your ex, but those awkward agonies intervene. While Chris is living at CZC–and especially after his girlfriend moves in to join him there–I’ll practice elsewhere. Although it’s a cliche to say a town like Cambridge isn’t big enough for the both of us, there’s truth behind the truism. Whether or not I’m comfortable running into Chris on the streets of Cambridge or meditating alongside him at CZC, there’s his space to consider as well: as he starts a new life with a new girl in a place we once shared, I myself don’t want to be the “ghost of relationships past,” a specter who hovers above a space they are trying to reclaim.

When we lived together at CZC and I’d go on long retreats, it always comforted me to know that there were other folks in the Zen Center who would look after Chris while I was gone, some sort of sublimated maternal instincts leading me to believe he “needed” my tending. Walking the strange streets of Brattleboro yesterday, I realized that it could indeed be a sad and lonely place if you landed there knowing no one. In Cambridge at least, Chris will have the comfort of a whole house of other people, the prospect of companionship being as close as his own kitchen. Here in Keene, I’ve occasionally felt alone but rarely lonely, surrounded as I am with work colleagues, a handful of nearby friends, and a larger network of cherished ones that transcends the boundaries of this or any town. For as long as he needs it or until he again grows disenchanted, Chris can have Cambridge. As for me, I’ve always had Keene, and now I’ll reclaim Brattleboro, the ghost town he left behind.

Brattleboro Books

Corner mural

Parked motorcycles

And yes, a quintessential Hoarded Ordinaries image: still life with shop window, mannequin, and reflection of Yours Truly:

Sidewalk treasures