Passengers

Written By: Zinnia  Smith

My first trip to the East End began at a bus stop during the early morning, far north near the Adirondacks. The bus route with Adirondack Trailways is traveled within a silver and green Greyhound bus, and it finishes in Albany after seven hours. The bus passes through those high North Country towns with flat lands and cold winds. The first stops along the bus route include the Village Diner in Potsdam, where Amish travelers wait in black, straight clothing, and to my surprise, the bus stops for passengers at two correctional facilities.

That early morning was complicated. The night before was spent in my bed with an old boyfriend, a place both of us had agreed never to find ourselves together. There was also the car accident on route to the bus stop that left my friend’s driver-door ripped open, while shattering the inconspicuous security that overlays our days. Before the truck came through my friend’s window, she was in the midst of telling me that I had made a truly terrible mistake seeing him.

When the bus stopped at the first correctional facility, I was concentrating on the sickening lump of tension in my stomach, and the guilt from stepping onto the bus after the car accident, leaving my friend to wait for her boyfriend amongst shattered glass on wet, shimmering pavement. My head was filled with the silence of lingering contact and the intruding presence of a noticeable absence. The absence of early morning goodbyes, his absence. I hardly noticed arriving at the first prison. The passengers carried large paper bags like giant lunches, and wore matching forest green sweatshirts and pants. I didn’t recognize these details until a man with long, wiry hair and pink scratches curving across his face, stepped onto the bus.

He sat two seats in front of me and was sick with a deep, intermittent cough.

“So where does this bus end?” he asked the driver.

 

This isn’t an essay about a bus ride. It’s about the East End, or at least, my first taste of it. About a month after my long ride from Canton to Albany, I drove off the ferry at Orient Point in my chunky Volvo. The car oil leaked, and the alarm system was broken. However, it had four doors and the speakers worked. My dad had stuck two pens between my car’s windshield and the dashboard to prevent the front deck from rattling. I had a job in East Hampton, and a room rental in Hampton Bays, and my graduate classes started within the next few months.

There was clouded sunshine and bright spots of blue sky. The ocean rested on both sides of the road. I saw stretches of vineyards and empty farm stands with dirty leaves and stacked benches. I had the car windows open, even though there was no summer heat, and I wore sunglasses, even though it was mostly cloudy skies. Despite the springtime month, the landscape around me anticipated summer and that’s how I want to remember that drive.

Moving along the curving roads across the North Fork, I alternated between eagerness and troubled nervousness. I held numerous expectation with no tangible conception of what I expected. I only knew that I needed to try to be here independently, along the East End, at least to be somewhere new.

My first week in the East End was unstable and short lived, but the experience itself felt long within the seven days. Every person I passed or talked to was both a stranger and a new world companion. Expectation and hesitation existed at the same level in my mood, competing against each other relentlessly—the weight and certainty that I had made an overeager mistake matched the meditative voice that quelled my anxieties. All of these optimisms and apprehensions left the week, more or less, blurry in my mind.

I rented a bedroom in Hampton Bays covered in pink French country wallpaper with matching pink shades. Every morning, I followed the bumper traffic to East Hampton for work and I quickly learned the backroads. I visited the Parrish Art Museum and fell in love with Fairfield Porter. My credit card information was stolen. The diamond necklace of my recently deceased grandmother locked in the glove compartment of my car. I decided my favorite thing about East Hampton was the large, venerable trees lining Main Street. I ate an apple-berry muffin on the beach in a striped and pink bikini when it was hardly seventy degrees, and it was perfect.

One night, I had drinks with a boy and there was a fleeting moment when I thought I fell in love with him. That night, I fell asleep looking at old photographs of my old boyfriend and I together. A dinner when he wore a pink striped shirt and I cooked oysters and gnocchi on a two plate stove top during a storm-laden February night, and I was there for a moment in Canton, and suddenly, he was there sitting at the bar that faced out towards the water in Hampton Bays, sitting behind the date I was now sure I would not love.

The first week, I called my mother nearly every day. In a letter I wrote to a friend in London: “And sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed with all the new, I go and sit in Starbucks. Because Starbucks is always consistent. Miss you dearly.” I waited too long to send that letter and it quickly felt irrelevant.

 

During the first week, I read an interview with an artist, although his name now evades me. He gave an acute response to a question about the cause of life’s unhappiness.

“Overthinking,” he said.

Overthinking. It’s what prompted me to break away from my first love prematurely. (This wasn’t the only reason. At least, I tell myself late at night.) Overthinking is my prevailing state. It’s why budgeting is a relentless drudgery. It’s why I check my purse multiple times before I step out of the house, and I happen to forget essentials like my bra or credit cards.

However, overthinking is also the reason why I’m an essayist. The essay is a route of overthinking that offers clarity. Clarity over the obscurity of a new place, new people, and too many expectations. Overthinking allows the essayist to notice small things and expand them to larger relevance, to transcendental meaning. Whether this is helpful or not, I have yet to figure.

If misery is overthinking, the essayist’s life will always be akin with the miserable. This is, in its own way, how life is like art. Very few works of art are not without misery or grief—regret.

I will find a happy life with overthinking as my companion. On this day, overthinking brought me the ability to claim a certain quality that I couldn’t acutely describe during my drive from Orient Point to the South Fork. This was the presence of happiness despite an ambiguous future. Happiness was a quality subdued the months preceding my venture across the Sound, a restoration suffocated on the southern traveling Greyhound bus, overwhelmed by times of uncertainty. A lack of clarity, an absence of the essay.

I must admit now that I did not have any clarity driving down the North Fork that first morning and I still don’t. The conclusion that I draw is that perhaps the best way to live is to embrace the obscurity. To accept the ambiguous tomorrow, because to fight it, to constantly attempt to define it, to be an essayist… it’s exhausting.

The first time I came to the East End, it was with a broken heart. The second time, it was with a future. I talked to him almost every day that first week and I thought of him every morning, as I always had, but I don’t know if I always will.