Fifteen years ago today, I woke up in a hotel room in Boston, quite close to the art museum and Boylston Street. I went to the bus station, dragging a duffle bag on wheels that contained enough clothes to get me through two months in the USA , and a boxed set of my James Joyce Ulysses etchings. I boarded a bus going to Burlington, Vermont, and I settled into my seat with a John le Carré novel to pass the time. I recall how bright the sunlight was, how leafy and beautiful the interior of Massachusetts was, how green and hilly Vermont was.
Fifteen years ago, I arrived in Johnson, Vermont, after being picked up at the bus station in Burlington by someone from the Vermont Studio Center. I think there were three or four other people being picked up at the same time, all heading to the VSC to start retreats ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months. I remember arriving in Johnson and checking into my tiny room in an old 2 storey classic New England house, and meeting Brian from New York, and the weird guy from Kenya who later turned out to be the sort of person who never flushes the toilet.
Fifteen years ago, I finished unpacking and walked along the street to the main residency building, a converted red barn by a stream, where I had been told there would be a get together when all the new arrivals and the current residents could all meet. One of the interns wrote my name on a tag and stuck it onto my shirt. I poured some wine into a plastic glass and looked around. I think that I spoke to a young woman with dark hair, and a writer called Andrew who later became a good friend.
She was wearing a wine colored dress and holding a beer bottle with long fingers that extended well past its curved sides. Her hair was blonde, and she wore some sort of reactalite glasses that were still dark from being outside in the sun. She smiled when I said hello, with the sort of smile that looks like someone turned on a light in an unlit room. She didn't say a lot, and I couldn't tell if she was still being reserved or not. So I made a stupid joke: staring obviously at her name tag while asking "what's your name?", she said "Patty," I said in a heavily patronizing way "OH REALLY?", mugging at the name tag with her name on it. It was fifteen years ago this happened. We talked for a few minutes, I don't remember about what, probably about whether we were writers or artists, where were we from, how long were we going to be in Vermont.
I took in everything about her in a few seconds. We clicked, as they say, but we both clicked with lots of other people during that residency, and there was nothing you could put your finger on and say : Yes, that's the moment, that's the glance, that's the phrase that meant we would find our way to each other in the next few days and weeks, past the other people claiming our attention, both in the US and the UK, across the many parties and bonfires and gatherings by the river in the darkness with the flames in the oil drums, the guitars, the six packs from the local gas station, the singing, the loud laughter in the summer air, the intense conversations while pressing shoulders against one another. Yet this is the moment, fifteen years ago, at 6 p.m., on August 28 th, 2000, that we return to in our memories, and our private talk, and our public talk when people ask us "How did you meet?" The start, the moment of ignition. Our foundational story.
Fifteen years ago, long enough to get married and build a new life. Short enough that it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Long enough to fall and stay in love. Short enough to say to each other, We just met yesterday, didn't we? And to realize with deep wonder, No, that was fifteen years ago.