DIMENSIONS: 5 x 7.5
Read an Excerpt
Three weeks later, the small plane lifted off the runway at La Guardia Airport like a kite caught in a powerful gust of wind. Anna usually dreaded these short commuter flights, but this time she hadn't even given it a thought. As the plane began its ascent, Anna became hypnotized by the sight of her own reflection in the window. She watched as the features of her face gradually blended into the white backdrop of floating clouds.
Mesmerized by the stark emptiness of the cloud screen that formed before her, Anna's eyes locked like a laser on the vision that appeared. She sat transfixed as a replay of Beth's last days and her funeral appeared in the skies. Anna recalled how Beth had agonized to accept her losses, how she had struggled to embrace her fate. Somehow from the depths of her own solitude and pain, Beth had managed to give strength and energy to all around her. As Anna sat gazing into the heavens and remembering her friend, she wondered why she had been spared, why she was the one left.
The little plane sputtered abruptly, then jolted as the engine thrust in its effort to reach cruising altitude. Despite the turbulence, noise, and violent vibrations, Anna was mindful only of her loss and its injustice. As the small plane climbed higher and found smoother air, the vision before her eyes melted into a vast emptiness, causing her very being to relax. She felt transported in time.
At first Anna thought it was the pilot trying to make himself heard over the whine of the propellers. But like clouds that pull apart in the sky, the sounds became clearer and very distinct. Annaheard a calm and gentle voice at the funeral, softly reading the words Beth had written in her final days:
Thank you, my loving husband, my beautiful daughters, my devoted friends, for giving me such a blessed life. I have tried to leave some part of me for each and all of you. Recently I have been reflecting on my life, and I have realized that if I had the chance to go back in time and alter the course of my existence, I wouldn't change anything. I have lived a happy life and I have lived it to the fullest. As odd as it sounds, this cancer has brought me to an awareness that perhaps I would not have acquired without it. And it is with this knowledge that I say my legacy for each of you is to remember to live in the moment. . . .
As Beth's words faded from her consciousness, Anna realized she was looking down, through tears, on the island's distinguishing aerial land-mark, Oyster Pond. It wasn't long before Anna, like the small plane, once again touched the ground. As the plane rolled down the runway, Anna stared at the rickety, weather-beaten terminal, her mind numb. She would have sat there all afternoon, transfixed upon the small, faded wooden building, if not for the gentle tap on her shoulder. "It's time to go," she heard over her shoulder. With a slight shudder, she came out of her reverie, made a feeble attempt to smile at the man, and gathered her things.
Some find the antiquated building that serves as the terminal for the Martha's Vineyard Airport charming. It was so ramshackle, with a baggage "system" so simple, that Anna usually found herself chuckling as she collected her bags. No laughter today, however. Anna scanned the parking lot filled with vans and jeeps, anxiously looking for a familiar face. She felt another tap on her shoulder, and turned as the man from the plane asked her if she needed help with her bag. Just before answering, she spotted the silver-blue four-wheel-drive with Patrick's friendly face grinning out at her. Anna managed a weak smile for the stranger, shook her head, and slowly walked toward the Explorer. Patrick, the caretaker for the house where she'd be staying, helped her stow her bags. Few words beyond the perfunctory greeting were exchanged between them as they headed west for the short drive to Tisbury.
Martha's Vineyard bustled with tons of vacationers each summer, but, in the off-season, the island was a beautiful, quiet haven for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Anna couldn't think of a better place to be at this moment in her life. She had fallen in love with the island the first time the ferry had dropped Beth and her in the little town of Vineyard Haven the June after they had graduated from college. That was the first time this duo from the tidewaters of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay had visited the rocky shores of Cape Cod. The idea had been proposed by Rebecca, Becky as nearly everyone called her, a good friend from college. She had met them at the bottom of Water Street with Michael, her boyfriend turned fiancé, by her side. They had a great time, that week back in 1970. Somehow, during those seven days, they remembered only the good things that happened during their four turbulent years at the University of Maryland. For that one week, no one talked about the war in Vietnam, its stupidity or horror. No one brought up the recent political skirmish, turned tragedy, at Kent State, which had cast a pall over the already shaky graduation ceremony at their school, and across the nation.
They had stayed in a rooming house, later to become a bed-and-breakfast, sharing a bathroom and shower down a long and crooked hall. They'd bicycled all over the island, discovering its nooks and hideaways, delighting in the natural charm. Anna in particular relished the daily routine of eating breakfast in the quaint whaling village, spending all morning on the beach, then cycling along the many remote country roads in the afternoon.
Years later, after everyone in their college crowd had established good careers, they could afford annual reunions on the island each June. Becky and Michael had built a summer home there in Tisbury, near Lake Tashmoo, in 1991. The get-togethers had lasted only three summers, however, before they were permanently interrupted by the cancers that began to take friends one by one.
As she sat quietly in the Explorer, Anna stared at the starkness of the terrain. She remembered that wonderful week from so long ago, a week that marked a major transition in all of their lives. Anna fidgeted with her gloves as her mind tried desperately to grasp all that had changed since then. The war and Kent State were now history. Cancer, not guns, was now slaying her generation.
Anna hadn't been to the island since she and Beth had impulsively hopped the ferry one October morning a year ago, and ended up staying a week. When Beth's cancer had returned she'd reluctantly agreed to put herself through another six weeks of chemo. Once her treatment was completed, Beth felt like getting away, so she and Anna had headed to the island and settled in at Becky's house for what turned out to be Beth's last stay on the Vineyard.
Lost in thought, Anna was now oblivious to the barren late autumn landscape as Patrick navigated west on the road to Tisbury. Before she knew it, they were turning onto Lambert's Cove Road, and it seemed as if the tall trees were closing in on her. It was midafternoon, only a hint of sunlight was left, and the woods were eerily quiet. Their tires crunched somewhat forebodingly on the hardened dirt road, alerting Anna that they had reached the house. Patrick opened the kitchen door, politely asked her if she needed anything else, and then quietly departed.
The house looked and smelled as it had a year ago. Anna felt as if she had never left; she almost expected Beth to come bounding through the kitchen to greet her, but there was only silence. Anna sighed deeply, ambling over to the counter to smell the fresh flowers and read the accompanying note from Becky:
Hope the weekend alone is really what you need. Patrick has taken care of everything, including stocking the fridge. We're only a phone call away. We love you!
Becky & Michael.
God, I hate that we stuff, Anna mumbled aloud. Michael can barely stand to be in the same room with me, let alone love me.
Becky and Michael had been part of the crowd forever. A couple since their early college years, they had married the September after graduation. Anna found Michael to be both superficial and pretentious, yet his boring consistency and cluelessness about anything real kept her intrigued.
Following his medical training, Michael had established a very successful practice as a cardiothoracic surgeon in Fairfield County, Connecticut. The practice, like its location, was among the most affluent in the nation. When their group got together, Michael never let an opportunity go by without making some deprecating comment about psychologists for Anna's benefit. Little did he know that his arrogance and insecurity were the catalyst for her first book, You Are Your Own Worst Enemy.
Like her husband, Becky was very bright and quite business savvy, but she also possessed an innate sensitivity that served to temper Michael's brashness and worked to sustain these relationships of so many years. Anna was continually amazed at how Becky managed to juggle the elements of her life. Between handling a man as high maintenance as Michael and the social demands he placed upon her, she had developed a very successful interior design company in the twenty years since graduate school.
Although they lived totally different lifestyles and had grown somewhat apart over the years, Anna and Becky had remained friends. Anna had long ago given up trying to understand the relationship. She did know that she truly cared about Becky even though she found Michael irritating and almost amusingly obnoxious.
Anna opened the refrigerator and smiled faintly. Becky was right. Everything she could possibly want or need for two days was there, even capers-a new, unopened bottle of capers! These brought back a rush of more memories; tears welled again in Anna's eyes.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think Anna becomes so desolate after Beth dies? In addition to her profound grief, how does this loss affect Anna's life? Does losing a loved one at mid-life have unique characteristics or do you see grief as grief, no matter what the age of the deceased or bereaved?
2. Why do you think Anna could never "move on" after Kevin dies? Does this strike you as just "soapy fiction" or is there indeed something "eternal & karmic" about a woman's "first " love?
3. Does Anna just have powerful dreams when suffering a loss, as she does when Kevin dies and then Beth, or do you believe in after-death communication?
4. Consider each of the characters that Anna runs into on the island. Do all of these people actually exist or are they figments of Anna's imagination? Do they each serve to help Anna work through her grief? How?
5. Who is "little" Beth? Is she merely a ray of sunshine when Anna is at her lowest point? Or is she more than that? Is there any connection between John's niece and "little" Beth from the bookstore?
6. What do you make of the "Michael" & "Becky" characters? What purpose do these characters serve? Why do you think Anna's relationship with Becky has survived for so long given their differences? What do you make of Michael's "epiphany" at the end of the story?
7. Can you identify with -or imagine---Anna's pain? How did Anna honor her pain? Do we all have to mourn alone "on an island" as Anna did? Is Anna typical or not of how we, in this society, deal with loss and grief?
8. Do you have a close, life-long friendship similar to Anna's and Beth's? If so, does Eternal Journey manage to convey the depth of that connection? If not, are you skeptical that such friendship is possible? Is so, why?
9. What feeling are you left with at the end of the story? Spend some time embracing & sharing those emotions. Feel vs. Analyze your reaction to the book.