Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories  January 2013 | issue 445

Why I Moved To The Country

by Ruth L. Schwartz

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Ruth L. Schwartz is grateful that she’s able to redeem her youthful and not-so-youthful mistakes in poems. She is the author of five books, including the National Poetry Series winner Edgewater. She teaches creative writing in the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University and lives in Healdsburg, California.

I MOVED to the country after living in Oakland, California, for the better part of twenty-five years, adoring and defending my troubled city as if it were my wayward though generous lover. Oakland, you’ve given me everything you’ve got: trails through the hills at the edge of the city; trees, creek, and sky; the long-legged, sorrowful strut of the hookers on San Pablo; and the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten, just a buck down by International Boulevard. You’ve given me lemons and oranges, loquats and plums waiting on laden trees, and, in the evening, that creamy layer of light that settles over the blue waters of your bay. Mockingbirds sing all night long on your electric wires, and hundreds of brown-and-white goats graze your wild hillsides (trucked in by the fire department, it’s true, but still: goats in the city!). You’ve given me homemade corn tortillas, sirens all night long, the smell of piss rising from the asphalt, and the endless mumbled litanies of strangers who are just trying to get me something to eat, or a cup of coffee, or enough gas to get home. Once, when I was new to you and young and worked in a tall building, I went right back into that building and spent an hour making calls, trying to find help for the woman camped out on the sidewalk with her two daughters. Once, I wrote down my address for a man who swore repeatedly that he would send me my twenty dollars back. In those days twenty dollars was two hours’ pay for me. Now I make more and give away less. I have become someone who can leave the grocery store with my ecologically correct canvas bags bulging with food and still say, “No, no, no. Sorry, no,” and flick my eyes away.

The truth is, I have not moved to the country. I have only rented a weekend place there — or, rather, what was supposed to be a weekend place, though I have found myself going there increasingly often during the week, sneaking away for trysts. The truth is, I am only fantasizing about moving to the country, or perhaps plotting. I’m not sure which. Meanwhile my neighbor goes on yelling at her children, “I’m gonna whup your fucking butt! Get the fuck in the house!” and her children go on screaming and wailing, and her gentleman callers go on firing up their mufflerless cars at 6:30 in the morning, and also the public-address systems they call stereos. More than once I have found her children, all younger than five, walking down the street by themselves, a street where cars whip around the curve at alarming speeds. More than once I have said exactly that to the Child Protective Services worker on the phone. But, no, I answer when she asks, I haven’t seen bruises. I have not actually seen the children get slapped, beaten, tied to bedposts, or starved.

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