I am lolling in a lounge chair in the shade on a dock on a pond in the western Maine mountains. It is one of the hottest days of the summer, and I am slathered in sunscreen and swathed in protective clothing. My phone is in a Ziploc baggie stored in the bottom of my daypack. A pile of unread manuscripts sits on my lap. My editing pencil lays atop them, as do my hands, folded one over the other, and I am doing… doing…
Well, that’s not entirely true. I am watching several adults and children lounge on floats and rafts in the glistening water in front of me. Aside from the occasional kick or slide into the pond, they, too, are doing absolutely nothing. I am just like them, I think. (OK, except that they had sunburns and wet hair, and I looked like Whistler’s Mother Goes To the Beach.)
I’m usually not good at sitting. I prefer to stand or go. I work standing up and have been doing so for years, long before it became au courant. I’m one of those annoying people who, when at the ocean, wants to know if anyone’s up for a walk — problematic if we’re sailing. Wherever I travel, I make sure I get up early and do my four miles before the rest of the household rises. I have regular routes spanning from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, to Sorrento and Machiasport, Maine. I’ve logged so many miles in Bethel and Stratton that the postal service is ready to give me a route. This past spring, when I was visiting friends in Baton Rouge and found it difficult to make my four miles without crossing several dangerous highways, I created a Lego-like grid that took me numerous times around the same neighborhood. I thought the residents might get suspicious and call the cops, until I crossed paths with other people several times, traversing their own grids. I had to do the same thing a month later when I visited my niece in Garden City, except that no one else was out walking and every so often a house’s in-ground sprinkler system would activate just as I passed, semi-soaking me. (Yes, that was me flipping off empty houses on Long Island, looking like a proper mook.)
A loon’s call breaks my reverie. In the distance, I see the silhouette of a mama and her baby. I could dig in my pack and get out my binoculars, but at this moment that seems like an enormous effort. Instead, I tip my chair back. It’s one of those jobbies that allows you to elevate your feet above your head, like at the dentist’s office. I look up through the branches to the cloudless, cornflower-blue sky. A soft breeze shimmies the leaves. My ordinary, everyday mind would fret about brown-tailed moths and start checking my skin for brown-tailed moth disease, but that hardly seems worth the bother. I close my eyes. In the daytime. In front of other people. I am drifting, drifting…
Had they been privy to the sight, my Puritanical ancestors would have called an inquisition. What be wrong with she? Hath some hex befallen her? Look how the limbs toil not. How the forehead dost remain furrow-free. See the eyes darteth behind the lid. Possessed she is! Anon, anon! We must awaken her from this spell. Quick, before this sloth o’ertakes her and ruins the family line!
A muffled ding rouses me — a text on my phone. My Pavlovian drive to retrieve it doesn’t kick in. I’m even too lazy to go up to the cooler to get myself a beer. I am perfectly content to sit and stare and let my whirring mind be quiet.
What is this powerful force? A head injury? Drugs? One too many cat videos? No, there can be only one reason for my repose: I am on Joycie time.
Joyce will be a familiar name to my legion of fan. (This is a typical Joyce joke. She once — after a teasing session gone too far — asked, “What, did I hurt your feeling?”) Anyone who has followed my columns over the years will know Joyce as the chill yin to my angsty yang. She is the friend who once substituted a block of feta for the soap in my shower, the one who would call me up at 3 in the afternoon while she was bartending at the Great Lost Bear, put the phone up to a tap as she poured a beer, and demand I quit work for the day and come join her. Her idea of a good time was to slam on the brakes when she was driving and I was trying to apply lipstick or eyeliner. I went through my 20s looking like Norma Desmond. Often, in the middle of a conversation, she’d lick her fore and middle fingers and wipe them down the lenses of my glasses. For some inexplicable reason, this never made me mad.
In our thirties, after Joyce moved to Bethel, she briefly got me back on skis (she liked to ditch me at the top of the mountain) and inspired me to buy a mountain bike — which, after a brief fling, gathered dust for a decade before I rode it again. When we were both single, we had a call-ya-every-day-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dead-in-the-shower pact. We nursed each other through heartbreaks, caterwauling to Joni Mitchell’s Blue at the Bear after hours. When I was starting my fledgling freelance career and couldn’t drum up any work, my remedy would be to go over to her house, lie on the floor, watch TV and let her make me dinner. Miraculously, an assignment would materialize on my answering machine by the time I got home. We used to listen to Joe Jackson and tear around town in her Jetta, windows down, speakers blaring, in all seasons. Our favorite story was about the day we came screeching up High Street and, crossing Congress, almost took out Micky Dolenz and his family, who were crossing against the light. He actually made a Monkee face when he saw us barreling toward him.
Later in life, Joyce and I danced at each other’s weddings, which, crazily, were only two weeks apart. She attended my book launches and performances; I wrote a letter of reference when she and Doug were adopting their daughter, Molly. We served as lifelines to each other as we simultaneously dealt with our aging and failing mothers. She was there to console me after I lost Mom, and I did the same when it was her turn. And she was the one who gave me the use of her mother’s condo in Bethel four years ago to start writing the book that became the show that changed my life. My only complaint was that she actually left me alone to work during that time.
When she and Doug and a couple friends bought a camp on an island not far from their house, they turned it into a community center of sorts. All weekend long, friends — and sometimes friends of friends — paddle out, hang around, swim, throw something on the grill, drink beer. If this were my island, I’d greet interlopers with a shotgun on the dock, but not Joyce. When I asked her once if all this company bothered her, she just shrugged. “It’s such a great place. I’d want to be made to feel welcome here, too.”
“Get out here.” That was her reaction when I told her I had too much work to do to come to the island. Somewhere deep in the reaches of my mind I heard a beer tap sputter — “Yes, Master.” I threw my editing in my pack and obeyed.
And there she is now, the grand dame of this leisurely affair, the one with mahogany-colored skin, her blonde hair pushed back with her mother’s psychedelic Paco Rabanne silk kerchief, a fruity vodka drink in her cup holder, face contentedly tilted up to the sun, floating — my Queen of Supreme Nothingness.
And, not so far away, Molls. She’s slung over the bouncy raft like a ragdoll. Her skin is berry brown, and I know there’s a spray of youthful freckles (unlike her auntie’s blotches) strewn across her little 11-year-old nose and cheeks. Her curly hair hangs in wet ringlets. A friend had spent the prior day and night with her, and Molly is wiped from all that swimming and roughhousing on the float with Doug and games and giggling and staying up late. (She’d somehow managed to find time to teach her friend to dive off the dock.) When I wrote the agency, I gave all sorts of reasons why they should grant the adoption, but basically I said one thing: Joyce and Doug will give this child a good life.
I will never be as relaxed or generous or accommodating (or tan) as my friend Joyce. But I know someone who will be — she’s floating right beside her, her head blissfully tilted back to the sun, not a care in the world.
Under Joyce’s tutelage, Elizabeth Peavey has hung a “gone fishin’” sign for August. Check out elizabethpeavey.com for signs of activity come September.