I now know why people feel compelled to travel. It isn’t for love of the open road, exotic adventure or an overwhelming desire for refrigerator magnets. No. It’s to give them a deeper appreciation of all they left behind.
I didn’t have to bungee jump in Peru or climb a mountain in Nepal to discover this Truth. All I had to do was accept a friend’s invitation to spend a week at her house in the Poconos, a mere three-hour drive from my home in Mt Airy. I had known Nancy for several years, but since she maintained a “pied de terre” (her term, not mine) in Center City, my knowledge of her country home was limited to her glowing reports.
“It’s fabulous,” Nancy said, “Wait till you see it!”
From her bubbly descriptions, here is what I had imagined. Green hills, blue skies, and verdant farmland dotted with charming villages. Red barns, antique shops, horses grazing in fields of buttercups. Time to read, do some painting, and linger over home-cooked meals, fine wine, and endless conversation.
Be careful what you wish for!
The hill were green. The skies blue. Horses aplenty. But on the drive from the city, with Nancy at the wheel, I already had my fill of conversation. How had I never noticed? Nancy was a monologue artist. For every gallon of gas burned up on the Interstate, she delivered soliloquies that would exhaust Hamlet. Her favorite subject? Herself, naturally.
“My mother knew all the buyers at Saks, so I had couture clothes from the time I was 14 …” Yadda yadda yadda.
I stared desperately out the passenger window, biting my lip, hoping she’d get the idea. No way. Had I jumped out of the speeding SUV, Nancy wouldn’t have skipped a beat. She was an “expert” on every subject and dispensed her wisdom without any encouragement on my part.
I felt as doomed as Janet Leigh at the Bates Motel. We had driven up in Nancy’s car, and there was no other means of transport back to Philly until the end of the week. Worse yet, her house was not walking distance to anything, not even a Dairy Queen, unless I was willing to risk walking along a narrow road (with no shoulders) on which cars whizzed by hell bent.
I spent the entire week plotting how to evade Nancy’s relentless need to fill “dead air,” as if she was the host of a loopy talk show and I was her entire listening audience. Ironically, it isn’t that Nancy is boring or leads a dull life. She has an exciting career and many friends, and she is in demand as a speaker at conferences. People pay her to talk. I, however, would’ve paid her just to shut up.
When my long silences and lack of eye contact didn’t dissuade her oratories, I tried evasive tactics. Longing for a first cup of coffee without a diatribe on The World According to Nancy, I hid out in my room until she finished breakfast and entered her home office. Then, I tiptoed to the kitchen, made my brew, and just as I was about to savor the first sip … (cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone”) … Nancy popped up, jabbering away.
At first, I credited her verbosity to the sad fact that Nancy’s husband had died two years ago and she simply wasn’t used to living alone. However, after three days, I was convinced it wasn’t a terminal disease that killed him. Nancy had talked him to death. As I listened to her ramblings, I realized that Nancy had an insatiable need for admiration. Her parents were “amazing.” Her marriage was “flawless.” Her life would make Melania green with envy.
Nancy and her motor mouth were one problem. Her “fabulous” house was another. A converted VFW hall, it had all the warmth of a meat locker. Even though it was June, there was a pervasive damp chill impervious to multiple sweaters and jackets. I even wore a hat indoors. But it was the décor that really made me shiver. Every inch of floor and wall space was filled with what looked like the contents of every yard sale in America and gave it the aura of an abandoned asylum. Just outside the door? A pocket-sized cemetery with weathered tombstones from the 1800s. (Stephen King, if you are looking for a film location, here it is!)
So, how did I survive the week? I escaped into smart, well-crafted novels. Plugged myself into iTunes. Binge-watched Netflix. And indulged in long, luscious fantasies about returning to the comforts of my not-so-fabulous home.