Former Hospital Grounds, Lunch, March

My daughter signs up to give blood in Waterbury, about an hour away from us. The three of us decide to make a morning of the expedition, with the youngest driving, including the stretch of interstate.

After we drop her off, my youngest and I walk around town, and I buy her a watery hot chocolate in the one place that appears to be open that morning. It’s cold, and we end up back in the car, watching a few skiers on the town’s rec fields.

We talk about dogs and high school and how writers are the most annoying people on the planet, always peering into strangers’ lives, wondering. Even worse, writers write about their families.

True, I admit. It’s a burden.

It’s about 11 degrees. She orders sandwiches on her cell phone from a nearby bakery, and I tell her to add cheesecake to that digital order.

When my older daughter returns, we pick up that order at the bakery window — or, I pick it up. One person only, please. We eat falafel in my car in the enormous and utterly empty parking lot of the former Vermont State Hospital for the Insane. The extensive brick buildings are now state offices. Empty, now, too.

As we eat, we talk about the tall smokestack, crumbling and apparently unused, with VSH bricked near the crest. Two geese fly by, and I realize how near the river we are. So much has happened on these grounds, so many people, so much living, so many years.

It’s cold, cold, and we keep driving. March, my father’s birthday, a promise of spring in the offing.

But I’m beginning to understand this: We never know. Life is a foray into mystery.

— Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted