My Year of Hurricanes
Going back to work after losing everything.
Even though it was boiling hot, I decided to walk back from the square—about two miles. For the past few days I'd done little more than sit in a car, watch TV, and drink bourbon. I could use the exercise. At about the halfway point I passed a historical marker directing me to Faulkner's grave some 20 paces to the east. I walked over, my book bag chafing against my sweat-soaked back. "I believe that man will not merely endure," I said, in a folksy Southern drawl; "he will prevail." I'd memorized that part of the writer's Nobel speech for an oral presentation in college. As far as I was concerned, it was the weakest thing he ever wrote (with the arguable exception of Fable).
The next day it was time to move on. Our friends in Oxford were wonderful folks, but they hadn't counted on lodging, indefinitely, a homeless family. ("Are you doing any good?" my host would ask, with a kind of irritable solicitude, while I hogged his computer for hours at a time.) The six-hour drive to Fayetteville, Ark.—where my father-in-law lives—was a nightmare. Gas had jumped to three bucks a gallon, and I pictured the dregs of our bank account leaking away while the tank filled. Then the car's AC cut out as we drove west into the sun: The baby screamed; the dog sighed; I got dizzy and sick and gave up the wheel to my wife.
On arrival I went right to bed, but not to sleep: Rather I lay there wondering whether we'd have health insurance now that my wife's internship was in limbo, and what would become of our house, our mortgage, and were we eligible for FEMA assistance, and was our poor old cat still fighting for life in the bathroom (and what must she think of us?) ... on and on, my teeth chattering. There would be a lot of work to do in the morning.
Blake Bailey is the author of Cheever: A Life.