Olivia Ramírez lived off a dirt road in the Maine woods. But she had not always lived in a rural area. Born in North Central Bronx Hospital, she spent her youth in a two-bedroom, run down brownstone in Norwood where she enjoyed a secluded, studious life with her mother and older sister. Two days after her eighteenth birthday, she took the Subway to 116th St. Columbia University with her mother and aunt. With two suitcases and a pillow, she began a new life in Morningside Heights.
It was an exciting four years. She connected with other students over shared interests in music and philosophy. She enjoyed her literature classes, immersing herself in the satirical prose of Wallace, Pynchon, and Vonnegut. She secured a work study job at the library circulation desk and built a consistent exercise routine at Dodge Fitness Center. On weekends, she explored downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, entering clubs and bars with a fake ID.
But it was a tumultuous four years as well. Freshman year, she stopped cultivating her musical talents after being rejected by several acapella groups. Sophomore year, her late nights studying and partying encouraged her to develop a cocaine habit, which resulted in a gradual estrangement from her family. Junior year, she became dispirited about her future career prospects and spent the majority of her time writing poetry instead of studying. Senior year, she was raped at a party in her east campus suite and was discouraged to press charges by Columbia University staff.
Although Olivia spent her last semester of college in a state of severe depression- skipping classes and chronically turning in late assignments- she managed to graduate with a 3.4 GPA; but with no job prospects, a limited network among professors, and not one recommendation letter. Fond of Brooklyn, she found a sublet in Bushwick with three male musicians who didn’t ask for proof of income. Without a desired career in mind, she applied to a vast array of job postings. She received three interview requests out of the fifty or so companies she applied to, but she was ultimately rejected. None of her follow up e-mails were responded to.
Tired of writing cover letters and watching her credit card debt increase, she asked the local cafe she frequented if they were hiring. She was told to come in for training the following Monday, no application or interview required. For the next five years, she lived with the musician roommates, worked at the cafe, and devoted herself to a relationship with an eccentric drummer whose tall, lanky appearance reminded her of a cult-figure ‘psychonaut’ journalist. She started singing in his rock band and- due to an increasing dependency on alcohol and a consistent psychedelic habit- gradually lost her passion and attention span for writing.
Four years into their relationship, her drummer boyfriend began an affair with the bass player. This put an end to their romance and the band. Subsequently, she left the Bushwick apartment, moved to East Flatbush, quit her job, and entered into a three year period of full sobriety. Her mind cleared, her focus improved, and her passion for writing and reading was reignited. She found a part-time job at a cafe a twenty-minute walk from her apartment and tried her hand at building an online reader base. But she never got past four-hundred email subscribers. She ventured into novel writing, but long-form did not suit her. Discouraged, broke, and exhausted, she studied for the LSAT and applied to the law school at her Alma matter. Despite unrelated recommendation letters, she was accepted.
At twenty-nine, Olivia found herself back at Morningside Heights. But this time, she experienced little enjoyment in her studies. Nonetheless, she aced the New York City bar exam. She then went on to work for a 501(c)(3)-designated organization that represented asylum seekers, which qualified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The job was bureaucratic, but the work fulfilled her. Furthermore, her settled lifestyle encouraged her to reconnect with her mother and sister.
During this time, she dated sparsely, finding excuses to push away the men that excited her. With heavy work and family demands, her personal life was of little interest to her in her thirties and forties. But a few months before her fiftieth birthday, she decided to steer her life in a personal direction. A new government administration that passed harsh restrictions on immigration pushed her to the point of burnout. So she quit her job and applied to a firm that specialized in environmental law. With the help of an inside connection, she was accepted for the position two weeks later. In the evenings, she salsa danced, attended biweekly yoga classes, and regularly dated.
It was a blissful period in her life. But at fifty-seven, a cataclysmic event happened in her family. Her niece, Gabriela, who was working hard to build a career in theater and film, was raped by a prominent director. As he was already experiencing prior sexual harassment charges, the pressure the media and legal aids put on the young woman was tremendous. She committed suicide by overdose while Olivia was at an environmental conference in upstate New York.
Unable to make peace with the event, she searched for help in the occult and spiritual. She struck up a relationship with an astrologer who inferred that her current experiences were due to the influence of strong aspects in her second Saturn return. (Her prior Saturn return was during her late twenties, when she submitted to societal pressure and enrolled in law school.) The connection was stark, but in a practical sense Olivia understood that- alongside a sense of grief- the remorse she felt was a result of the fact that she was never open to her niece about her own rape experience, as fear and shame prevented her from processing the trauma.
Soon after this realization, she ventured into the writing process once more in the form of essays and opinion articles. In a years time- and with the help of a friend’s niece well-versed in social media marketing- her essays gained enough traction to make a part-time income. Impulsively, she quit her job, bought a used Toyota Camry, and drove north, staying at ins and cheap hotels along the way. She finished her trip at Moosehead lake. In awe of the beautiful foliage and crisp air, she bought a quaint, one-story log cabin on Rural Road six miles from the lake.
And that was how Olivia- a city woman since birth- relocated to rural Maine.
But the transition wasn’t seamless. During the first month of rural living, Olivia would only leave her house to go for a walk in the woods or shop for groceries. Those bi-weekly shopping trips drew her to science-fiction. The local grocery store, a gray building so enormous, stocked, and empty of customers, made her envision a future in which only the relics of human indulgence would survive a mass extinction. Works of Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood lined her shelves and desks along with strewn papers of a work in progress, an attempt at a novel length manuscript. A life previously spent in the thick of things was now spent in isolation with imagination and words.
But ideas and poetic sentences were not enough to beat off a sense of anxious restlessness. So- as Spring neared- she frequented local bars and cafes. Shortly after, while visiting the Moosehead Marine Museum, she formed a relationship with another writer, Leo, who had a book published with Penguin Random House. Through him, she also made two other friends, Margaret and Fred. They were visual artists, and a couple.
Although she had built a small local network, acclimating to the slow pace of rural life was still a struggle. With the advice of her new friends, she signed up for a dating website. A week later, on a Tuesday evening, she matched with a handsome man named Landon who lived in the same town. In his bio, he wrote that he enjoyed dancing and listening to live jazz music. Intrigued, she sent him a message asking if he knew of any nearby bars with jazz venues. He responded that he know of a place about two hours away. They agreed to meet at the Camden waterfront Friday afternoon.
For the date, she wore a ruby wraparound dress with black half-inch heels. To fit her 5’2”, 106 pound frame, she accessorized with a thin silver necklace, ruby stud earrings, a thin silver bracelet, and a silver ring with a small ruby stone. Before she left, she studied her appearance in the entryway mirror. Unsatisfied with her low bun, she used a curling iron to create waves in her dark brown hair and then rushed to her Toyota Camry.
At 4:10, she parked her car at the designated meeting area, a free lot on Washington Street. She spent fifteen minutes exploring the harbor. At 4:25, she walked back to meet Landon. He arrived at 4:40, ten minutes late. He was thinner and taller than she had expected, with a youthful, airy demeanor. But this appealed to her, as she was at a point in her life where she wanted to tease away the heavy burdens of middle age.
That afternoon, they walked along the waterfront, dangled their legs off an old pier as ice cream dripped onto their fingers, swung on swings that overlooked the West Penobscot Bay, ate a delicious meal of oysters and pasta, and danced until midnight. That night, she fell asleep on top of the covers with her makeup on and teeth unbrushed. A woman of routine, it was something she had not done since her mid-twenties.
They saw each other twice a week after that first date. As is often the case when falling in love, she overlooked his negative traits by focusing on their similarities. Not only were they New York natives and former lawyers, they were also new to retirement and rural living. Moreover, they were both experimenting with building a carefree lifestyle. But Landon seemed incapable of subsuming into his life the relaxed ease he so ardently spoke of embracing. He continued to laud the benefits of retirement, yet their conversations increasingly turned to potential business ventures. Furthermore, he treated waitstaff and customer service employees, especially those that were female, in a condescending manner.
But Olivia worked hard to uphold a rose-colored view of Landon. And yet, bit by bit, his past began to slip into their conversations. When he bragged about how he succeeded in acquitting celebrities and prominent officials of criminal charges, she voiced her dissatisfaction. Vexed at her firm opposition, he let the dinner conversation falter, quietly finished his meal, paid the check, and excused himself from the remainder of their date with the pretense of an upset stomach.
Despite years of letdown, the first crack in a rose-tinted relationship still shook her. But she persisted in distancing herself from Landon for a week. On the seventh day after their argument he wrote to her asking if they could speak. Although there was a forecast of rain, she suggested that they go for a walk in the woods the following morning.
He showed up at 8:57, three minutes early. She watched from her bedroom window as he eyed the minute hand on his Rolex, waiting for it to reach 9 o’clock to ring her doorbell. She let him wait on the front steps as she grabbed her red rain jacket and put on her black sneakers. At the door, he greeted her with a natural smile and a loose hug.
Silently, they walked along a trodden footpath that weaved through a dense overhang of trees until they made their way to a small pond. They stopped in front of a large log and enjoyed the still, overcast morning. After a tense silence, Landon apologized for his words and actions at dinner, admitting that he struggled when women openly disagreed with him. She let him speak further, until he expressed the regret that was prominent in his mind: the depression and opioid addiction that his daughter was suffering after she was raped by a man he had previously represented and succeeded in acquitting.
She asked what the man’s name was. He responded with the name of the director who raped her niece. In a state of disorientation, she lowered herself onto the logs rough surface. Landon reached for her, but she held her hand up to block him. He asked if she was okay. She responded in the affirmative and politely asked him to leave. In a lawyerly fashion, he began to make his case to stay. But she interrupted his speech, requesting firmly that he leave. He acquiesced, dejectedly following the path back to the rural road where her house was located.
She remained at the log in a meditative state, allowing the rain to pour over her head, drip down her eyelashes, dampen her neck and jeans, and pool inside of her shoes. As her tears joined the raindrops, she let herself feel the opposition between her cool, damp extremities and warm, dry core.
Such a stark contrast was an experience she didn’t know she needed. And a need she didn’t know how to experience.