Since I began writing, the little rudderless boat of my ambition has drifted me in various surprising directions, but the one genre I haven’t been tempted to venture is the memoir. I’ve written only two very short pieces along those lines. One to grapple with an alarming petty obsession; the other—this one—for reasons probably equally obscured to my sight. I finished it with no idea what to do with it. I did note, looking back over it, that I’d without fully realizing it begun to talk about some part of the genesis of my writing. Which is a subject, I realize, of pressing interest to a dismally small group of people. —J.S.


My father’s opinion is that my judgement is sound most of the time but given to the occasional psychotic break. This evaluation’s based heavily on a travel decision I made as a thirteen year old that lopped a few years off his life. As is often the case, he didn’t know the half of it. That half went like this:

My friends Georgie and Birks and I were big scuba divers. Starting when we were eleven, every summer we humped our gear down to Stratford’s semi-crappy beaches on Long Island Sound or spearfished the breakwaters at the mouth of the Housatonic. My parents were seriously into ruts, when it came to vacations, my father disliking surprises, so for part of every August they rented a cabin on the upper tip of Lake Champlain, within shrieking distance of the Canadian border. Sometimes my friends would get to go. The summer I was thirteen, though, Georgie, Birks, and I consulted and decided in a fit of independence that none of us would go, and that instead we’d stay home with my brother, who was eighteen. We’d live like kings off the money left behind for groceries. We’d dive all day and stay up all night. We were giddy with possibilities we kept prudently to ourselves.

My parents were skeptical and a little mystified but surprised enough to not just say no. They gave us three or four chances over three or four days to change our minds and then they left. It’s still hard to believe that my father, whose imagination ran to lurid and irreversible disaster when loved ones were out of sight, agreed to this plan. I think he was tired of locking horns with teenagers. He also might have been entertaining the forlorn hope of a serene couple of weeks all to himself.

The morning they drove off, we piled our gear onto a boat trailer and wheeled it all down to Russian Beach, a ten-minute walk. We strapped and buckled everything on, sweating and impatient, and sloshed out into the water. It was like coffee with cream. Our hands disappeared in front of us. When waist deep we couldn’t see our thighs.

We dragged everything back to my house and lounged around the living room, disconsolate. It had taken half the day just to go down, come back, and clean everything. I reminisced about how crystalline the water at Lake Champlain had been. We should have gone, we decided. We should have, we agreed, every so often. Then one of us said, Why can’t we go? We started discussing it. Couldn’t we go by bus?

We called Greyhound. Greyhound went as far as Plattsburgh, which, when we consulted the map, was only an inch or so short of where my parents were. We could hitchhike from there. The bus tickets were affordable.