Vanessa decided it was time. She wasn’t sure whether to wear a bathing suit or sweatpants, but she was otherwise ready to make her entrance.
The hole had been discovered, actually uncovered, while she was raking her back yard. Just beyond the fence, just before the forscytia bush, and just around where she had thought about moving the hammock, she was shocked to see a hole right in front of her in plain sight. Actually first she was startled, then intrigued, then concerned and then shocked. She knew she was shocked because she heard herself gasp just before she said, “What the hell?”
The hole was three feet wide on all sides and she had no idea how deep. It looked like a perfect circle except it wasn’t. She could see that the bottom looked to be ten or twelve or maybe twenty feet straight down and curved to the left, reachable by ten or twelve or maybe twenty thin iron bars each two feet across that would probably hold anybody’s feet safely.
For three weeks Vanessa had thought and weighed and wondered about the hole. She had no idea why she had not told anyone else about it, except that it was true that it reminded her of the unpleasant memory of a little clubhouse in her back yard when she was eight that she had to share with her brothers and never once did she have it all to herself.
The hole reminded her of the possibility of being lost without getting lost. Vanessa thought maybe that was just what she needed. For ten days after she found the hole, regularly during the day, a few times late late at night, and once just before dawn. she secretly watched from her bedroom window to see if anyone—human or otherwise, approached or entered the hole. Nothing. It was surprising.
Vanessa decided to climb into the hole on the same day she lost her job and four hours later her boyfriend. “You can have one bad thing happen and do ok”, she said to herself, “but two bad things on the same day—you lose your skin when that happens”. When Vanessa lost her skin, she knew from history, it was just a matter of time before she lost her appetite for breakfast, then something worse, and then something really worse.
Since she was skinless, Vanessa felt she had nothing much to lose. She easily arrived at the idea, and then the act, of climbing into the hole, and turning left toward who knew what. She briefly remembered the true story of a drunken stupid man who was found stuck and dead half way down somebody else’s chimney. “What did he think about in that horrid space?” she wondered, since it seemed logical that it probably took him hours to suffocate or affixiate or however else he had died—she couldn’t remember that minor detail.
So Vanessa efficiently used her time without her job and without her boyfriend to select portable items to take with her. First, a flashlight. “No way am I dealing with the unknown without a flashlight”, she reasoned, “After all, I have to see what I’m going to do”
Next, a cell phone. Vanessa wasn’t sure a cell phone would work in a three foot wide and 10, 12 or 20 foot hole, and she wasn’t too sure who she would call, but bottom line, she wasn’t stupid. You had to be able to at least try to reach someone.
Once she decided to pack the little orange knapsack she had bought for the camping trip that never happened, Vanessa’s confidence expanded with each additional item she chose: an orange for the dual purpose of nourishment and makeshift trail droppings, if needed; her red Swiss army pocket knife complete with corkscrew and tiny scissors—“you never know”, she shrugged., Earmuffs and extra pair of socks in the event that it was cold and wet that far below ground. A pen and small notebook to either write a sudden hello or final goodbye.
Vanessa could not recall a time when she had felt so brave. Maybe the day in school when the principal pulled her out of class to tell her that her father had died. That day she was given no warning and no niceties: the principal simply said, “Vanessa, something very bad and very difficult has happened in your family. You need to call your stepmother.”
Since Vanessa had no brothers or sisters, no tender grandmother, no favorite aunt, never a sometimes loyal puppy, she knew the news would be about her father. Since her father tried his best to protect and deflect her from Babette the meanest stepmother, she concluded her father had died.
Probably had a stroke or a sudden heart attack and died. She was unfortunately right, unable to derive any comfort at all from her needle point accuracy.
As Vanessa and her backpack provisions climbed downward, slowly, carefully, one step following another—guided in by the ten or twelve or maybe twenty thin iron bars each two feet across that would probably hold anybody’s feet safely—she wondered if she should have told someone—who?—that she was undertaking this mostly courageous journey, into the hole beyond the fence, just before the forsycia bush, and just around where she had thought about moving the hammock, She was mildly surprised she had not left a note, given that her planning had been impulsively and uncharacteristically thorough and practical.
When Vanessa reached the bottom of the hole, she had room to turn around with her arms outstretched, but she did not think to do that. She was slightly jolted by the fact that she had never seen black so very black. Thank god for her flashlight; otherwise she would not have seen the small tunnel to her left, accessible only on her hands and knees and even then the space around her was quite negligiable. “Am I crazy?” she asked herself. “Why am I doing this?” Then she remembered she had lost her job and lost her boyfriend and the hole offered her of the possibility of being lost without getting lost. She remembered the mysterious and brave feeling she experienced—it wrapped around her like the blue fleece blanket she had kept from three summers ago—when she knew that she would get to the bottom of the here-to-fore unknown hole.
Vanessa had crawled approximately six feet—thank god it was only that—when she saw the bag. It lay against the wall looking quite grungy. When she reached out to pick it up she could tell from it was made of burlap. Her flashlight told her it was green burlap, but of course, who could be sure of anything given her present circumstance. It was at that moment—when she held the flashlight to the probable green burlap bag, which was by the way the approximate size of a shoe bag—that Vanessa decided she had ventured far enough. She could not tell how much further this left turn extended—it could be miles for all she knew, although who in their right mind would have a reason to push forward that far and that deep.
With the bag tucked under her left arm, just beneath her left shoulder, Vanessa crawled backwards, inches at a time, until she was again at the bottom of the hole. She looked up briefly and smiled briefly at her accomplishment, which seemed considerable given the present lack of accomplishment in her life, then she and the probable green burlap bag climbed back up the ten or twelve or maybe twenty thin iron bars to the far side of her back yard, where she had started 32 minutes ago.
Vanessa walked back to her house and left the screen door open as she walked into the kitchen, put the kettle on for tea, and sat at the small dining room table with two chairs and an old red tablecloth she had forgotten about until she found it in a bottom drawer while looking for matches. She pulled out the wobbly blue wooden chair and sat down with the burlap bag directly in front of her. It was filthy, so much so it was hard to open the string that was tied in a Boy Scout type knot.
Vanessa could not imagine what she would find inside the green burlap bag. She put the fingers of her right hand in very cautiously, fearing the worse. She was not particularly surprised to find four envelopes, each the same size, each licked shut.
Three of the envelopes revealed nothing. The fourth had immature handwriting, large and bold scrawled across its entire width. It said, appropriately or not,” Open this last”.
Vanessa placed the envelopes on her kitchen window and did nothing with them for three weeks. She spent that time catching up on laundry, writing letters to old high school acquaintances, and on one occasion, seeing three movies in one day, something she had not done since she was eleven and needed to bide her time since she had run away from home and could not bring herself to go back until just before dinner. She was recovering from her foray into the hole, not knowing whether she was satisfied or dissatisfied by how it all ended—the small crawlspace and all, the dark damp space that she had only crawled into and crawled out of. Never the less, she had done what she had set out to do. She was proud of that.
That August, Vanessa opened the first envelope. She unfolded a crisp 8 by 11 piece of paper—not the cheap kind she was used to—and hoped for a few seconds that it might be a letter—a long letter—that would both amuse and comfort her. Instead, the letter offered three words on one straight line. The handwriting was similar to the outside of the envelopes, but more mature, so she thought.
She read and reread the first message: “Let it go”.
“Hmmm”, Vanessa said. “That could mean anything. It probably means something.” She kept the so called letter open on her kitchen counter until several weeks later, when the bank called to tell Vanessa that she was now four months behind on her mortgage payments. She was surprised, no, not really surprised, more like defiant, as she heard herself say, “Oh, you can have the house back. I do not have a job, I cannot pay you, I am moving soon, and I don’t care anyway”.
That defiant pronouncement set things in motion. Within days Vanessa had booked her flight and written another set of letters—this time to several college acquaintances and to five first cousins, telling them she had decided to move to the west coast and would be offering her furniture and garage contents to anyone who had an interest. She spent several weeks sorting, compiling, storing and packing until all that was left was one mid size and one oversized suitcase, which she would take with her. In it she had packed only her summer clothes, one complete and one incomplete journal, a half candle left over from that week at the ashram, and a book someone—who, she wondered—had given her called, “the crazy world of cats.”
That Saturday, Vanessa opened the second letter. This time there were four words on one straight line. “Hey,You already know”, it said. Vanessa thought that the handwriting looked even more mature than it did in the first letter, so she decided to accept on the spot that she knew indeed what she already knew. Since she was not entirely sure, however, what that was, she proceeded to pretend, and was pleasantly delighted that no one challenged her to the contrary. Not the bank teller when she closed her accounts, not the mailman who she told him to hold her mail indefinitely, not even her horrible stepmother, who she had finally called after considerable weighing back and forth to simply tell her she would be unavailable until further notice.
Vanessa opened the third letter on September 3rd. The paper was different this time, instead of being crisp and classy, it was thin and lined. “I might as well be back in fifth grade reading this”, she thought, with some disappointment sprinkled in between each word. The handwriting was no longer mature. One line had turned into two, and the message was murky”
If you are reading this, consider yourself lucky” it said. “Lucky Lucky. It’s time”
Vanessa checked her two suitcases at Logan airport, enjoyed a cappuccino at Starbucks Express and boarded her flight for Los Angeles. She had $ 1300 dollars in her wallet and the means to access $ 3000 more if things got bad. She had let it go, she already knew, she was doing it, and she considered herself lucky lucky.
Vanessa sat in seat 21 B along side an educated looking middle age woman who wore a glamorous scarf, carried a laptop, and smiled politely. Fifteen minutes into the flight Vanessa opened the last envelope, The classy paper was back. This time the message was typed. She read the words carefully.
“Enduring peace.” Vanessa smiled. She knew.
Five minutes after that, Vanessa turned to the woman with the glamorous scarf and said as calmly as she could, “Should we hold hands?”
The woman, who’s name was Sue McKay, looked at her quizically for the slightest moment. She had been crying.
“What is your name?”, She gently asked.
“My name is Vanessa”
“Yes, Vanessa, we should hold hands”
Vanessa thought, “This is so different than when the principal told me about my father. This is all so so different than before the hole. Everything changed since then. Everything….Thank you Jesus.!”, Vanessa said.
Seven minutes after she opened the last envelope, at 8:43 am on September 11, Vanessa spilled into a demoral-like sleep, a lot like her surgery for that biopsy. Her last thought before the plane hit the first tower was “Finally. “I’m holding a kind warm hand. This is a good person. This is a mother. Finally. Lucky Lucky me.”