DRIVING BY MOONLIGHT
After 9/11, Kristin Henderson’s husband ships out with the Marines, a Lutheran military chaplain headed for the war on terror. She’s a Quaker pacifist — he’s not. In search of peace, she hits the road with her German shepherd, Rosie, crossing America in an old Corvette.
From the start of Driving by Moonlight, a fast-paced memoir published by Seal Press, Kristin’s on a heartbreakingly funny adventure in how to give your life meaning even when you don’t like the road you’re on. As she explores the back roads of a changed country, she worries about her husband and questions her belief in nonviolence, just as she earlier questioned her belief in Christianity. That crisis of faith nearly ended a marriage already battered by her struggle to have a baby her husband didn’t want. Now, years later, she peers back at her determination to pursue infertility treatment despite the expense, the pain, the lonely absurdity, and the surprisingly dangerous drugs, not to mention the toll it took on their souls. As she tries to unlock the secret of why she was so driven to keep trying, she finds herself wondering: Is the primal urge to make war as unstoppable as the urge to make a baby?
Kristin hopes to arrive at an answer, but with the help of her dog, her car, and the people she meets along the way — from a gum-chewing palm reader in New Orleans to a burly cook on a snowbound Wyoming mountaintop — she reaches an unexpected destination within her own heart.
EXCERPT & PHOTO GALLERY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Shipping Out
FROM CHAPTER ONE OF DRIVING BY MOONLIGHT:
1. Shipping Out… starting date 9/19/01… new moon… odometer 124,054… route: north from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; to Norfolk, Virginia; then on to a pitstop in Richmond, Virginia = 2 days, 379 miles
The cop pulls me over at one A.M. just after I leave Norfolk, right at the start of my cross-country road trip. In a car designed to roar along at 130 miles an hour, I’m doing fifty in a sixty-five zone. My right turn signal’s been gedinking away for no apparent reason. I look like a drunk trying to appear inconspicuous.
My dog Rosie is barking six inches from my ear. She’s a German shepherd, a big dog with a big mouth in a small car. The cop flashes his light in my face. He has to shout so I can hear him. “Everything all right here?”
Everything all right? The World Trade Center’s a week-old mountain of smoking rubble, the Pentagon has a big black hole in its side, I just put my husband on a ship full of Marines bound for the other side of the world, and my old Corvette’s freaked-out alternator has been boiling the battery for the last four hours. But it got me to Norfolk, by God, where I’ve just managed to see my best friend, my husband of sixteen years, one last time before he leaves.
“Yes sir,” I say, “other than my alternator, everything’s all right.”
One week earlier, we all watched that jet explode into the South Tower, explode into the South Tower, explode into the South Tower . . . for days that television moment replayed over and over and over in our living rooms and our bedrooms. The instinctive response: close your arms around the ones you love and don’t let go. I had to ignore that instinct. Me and thousands of others, we had to open our arms and let the ones we love go.
I’m not complaining. Frank chose this life freely and I freely chose him. But before I let him go, in a dark parking lot out of sight of the looming gray amphibious assault ship that would carry him away, I sat next to him on the curb and listened to his voice. I don’t remember what we talked about. Nothing important.
I showed him the locket I’m wearing now, the first present he ever gave me, eighteen years ago. It’s a cheap gold heart-shaped locket that he chose as his free gift when he ordered a turntable from a catalog. He could have had a calculator the size of a credit card, but he chose the locket because he thought I might like it. I didn’t, but I appreciated the thought. This morning I put it on. Sitting next to him on the curb, I told him I wasn’t taking it off until he came back. In the star-speckled, moonless night I saw him smile.
Then he stroked Rosie’s head and hugged me goodbye. I’m a little taller than he is, but inside the circle of his arms, inside that moment, I felt small and safe and everything was all right.
We met in Florida in 1983 when we were both in college. Oma and Opa, my German immigrant grandparents, who’d lived with my family since I was nine, had sold me their yellow 1970 Mercury Cougar for a dollar and the promise that I would drive them to their Lutheran church every week. That’s where Frank and I met. I was in the pew because of a car, and he was behind the altar because of an apartment — he lived at the church in a little studio. He took care of the property and chose to help out Sundays with the service.Sundays I’d watch him up there behind the altar because he was a cute guy and I liked cute guys. Some of my best friends were cute guys. But the cute guys I really liked never seemed to like me back, with the result that I’d been on two dates in my entire life. A very nice big goofy guy had taken me to a basketball game where I listened to him and his basketball pals talk about great moments in basketball, of which there were apparently a lot. My other date brought along his ex-girlfriend, who sat at our table and watched him dance with me, looking bored, smoke rising from her cigarette, as if he dragged her along on his dates with other women all the time.
Driving myself home after that date I had prayed: Okay God, I give up. If you’ve got somebody in mind for me, he’s going to have to make the first move. In fact, he’s going to have to make all the moves, because I’m through looking. That was back when I still believed God was in the matchmaking business, back when I prayed to God like God was a person, a Parent in Heaven who appreciated getting specific requests so God didn’t have to guess what I wanted.
So the pastor was praying. Oma and Opa’s heads were bowed — tall, graceful Oma’s gray perm a little higher than short Opa’s pink baldness — in fact, everyone’s head was bowed except mine. I was looking at the cute guy standing behind the altar in the white assistant’s robe, enjoying him from a nice safe distance. He was good looking in a tough, scruffy mutt kind of way, not my usual type; my type usually wore glasses. He looked like the kind of guy who had a lot of ex-girlfriends. All of a sudden he snuck a peek at the congregation to count how many wafers he was going to need for communion, he later told me, popped open his eyes without even raising his head and saw a whole sea of bowed heads, hair-dos, comb-overs, and bald spots, and a single pair of eyeballs, mine. Before I could look away, he did something horrible.
I was naked blushing mortified. It was middle school all over again, when the absolutely last thing you want a guy to know about you is that you like him. It gave him power over you, the power to hurt and publicly humiliate you. I was a twenty-one-year-old virgin, had never said much more than hello to this guy and now I vowed I never would. The only difficulty was that I parked at the church every day because it was next to the campus, so I took care to park out of sight of his apartment.
Days passed. I started to relax. Then I found a note on my car:
I’ve been trying to catch you for three days now, but I keep missing you. So I have to resort to a note. Is your grandfather mad at me? He brushed past me the other day like he was. Or is that just his German way? Also… do you watch me in services a lot? I felt someone’s eyes on me during the service & saw that you were watching me. It wasn’t the first time. Am I wearing the alb wrong? Is my hair messed up? My zipper down? (But how could you see that?) It doesn’t bother me at all, I think you’ve got something very pretty in your eyes, and behind them, inside.
I reread the note, and then the last line really hit me — I was being pursued. Now I wasn’t just embarrassed, I was scared. I’d never been pursued before, not by someone I liked. If I’d just been embarrassed I would have known what to do, gone on the attack, joked my way out of it. But romantic pursuit? I had no idea how to handle it. It was a big dark frightening unknown. I stuffed the note in my backpack and sped out of the parking lot through the back exit.
After that, he started locking the chain across the back exit.
Now I had to pass through the exit next to his apartment, where he’d wait inside and listen for my one-dollar yellow car’s big V-8. But I was too quick at hopping out to unhook the chain, driving through, scampering back to rehook the chain, then roaring off.
So he locked that chain, too.
I arrived at my car in the middle of a tropical downpour one afternoon to find a note instructing me to knock on his door so he could let me out. I considered walking the five miles home in the rain instead. But, I told myself, all I had to do was knock, then leap back into the car and wait there while he unlocked the chain. I wouldn’t have to say more than a couple words to him.
I pulled up to the exit and left the engine running. I ducked through the downpour to tap at his door, huddled beneath a covered walk. No answer. I tapped again. No answer. I pounded on it. Still no answer. I was turning away, annoyed and wet, when a nearby door to the church banged open. It was him.
“Hey!” He seemed a little out of breath. He was smiling.
“I got a note saying I had to get you to let me out.”
“Right, sure.” Very friendly, very helpful. He looked out beyond the covered walk at the solid wall of rain. “Can you give me a ride to the chain in back?”
Sit within two feet of him for the time it would take to drive thirty yards? That would be very bad. “What’s wrong with this one?”
“The key’s locked up in the church office.”
I didn’t know it was a lie. We drove the thirty yards to the back chain in silence.
He put his hand on the door handle. “After I get the lock open, would you mind giving me a ride back and then, like you know, relocking the chain behind you when you leave?”
Another endless thirty-yard ride? No way. But the rain was pounding on the car. Making him walk back wouldn’t be nice. “Well. Okay.”
When he jumped in again, he was wet to the skin, hair plastered to his head. He cheerfully declared his leather boots ruined, and I, relieved to have something to talk about, told him how he could save them with newspaper and saddle soap. I stopped the car outside his apartment. But he didn’t get out. He just sat there, slouched on one elbow, looking up at me. The rain on the car roof was like a drumroll, and there was something about the way he was looking at me — suddenly I got a bad feeling.
And then he said, “Did you get my note?”
My heart was thudding. I gripped the wheel hard. “Yes I got your note.” I focused on evening up the balance of power. “That was the rudest thing! That was the most embarrassing moment of my life!”
“Getting the note?”
I should have said something sarcastic and funny, but I couldn’t think of anything. “No! That you thought I was looking at you!” I could feel myself blushing.
“Of course not! I was just looking around!” My face was on fire.
For a long moment we just looked at each other, and as we did my anger and embarrassment drained away, leaving only nervous fear. I had to look down and waited for him to get out. Instead he asked me if I could take him to the post office. I was still uncomfortable, but he was a good-looking guy, he hadn’t said a word about basketball, and no ex-girlfriends were in sight.
We spent the rest of that rainy afternoon together.
He told me he had a little inertia problem. He’d been in college seven years. He’d been Navy ROTC, nearly commissioned an officer in the Marine Corps.
“You?” I said. He had a lot of hair and a mustache and mutton chop sideburns. I grew up in a liberal family during the Vietnam War. For me, the military was General Westmoreland lying about body counts, it was My Lai, it was a little girl running naked after napalm had burned off her clothes along with her skin. Frank didn’t look like my idea of the military. But then he showed me his old military ID, no hair, no smile; he looked like he could kill. I raised my amazed eyes from his old picture to him. “What happened?”
“Got sick,” he said. He’d started passing out during boot camp for officers, gutted his way through on willpower, and after graduating from Officer Candidate School, wound up in the hospital. By then we were back at his tiny studio apartment that smelled of running shoes and french fries, and he got down on the floor to demonstrate the position he’d had to assume for an old-fashioned diagnostic colonoscopy. Rain pounded on the pavement outside. I’d known this guy all of two hours and there he was on the floor with his butt in the air. I started to laugh. I’d never met anyone like him.
He got his health back but the Marines had already given him a medical discharge. He told me now he was feeling called to become a Lutheran minister and wanted to go to seminary once he finished college. My Oma had spent her life as a minister’s wife; I knew I didn’t want to be one. And I didn’t trust military men. He might be cute, he might make me laugh, he might even pray to God like a personal friend, the same way I did, but after he told me about his inertia problem, I told him I wanted to drive across the country and back, leaving behind other people’s expectations and controlling each day’s destiny with a map and a car. Clearly we weren’t meant for each other.
Two and a half years later we were married.
He’d been the first one to say, “I love you.” I’d never said that to anyone outside my family. Months after he first said it, when I finally whispered it back, he pounced on it. “What? What did you say?”His look of delight made me nervous, like I’d just revealed a secret I should have kept to myself. “You heard me,” I muttered.
“Say it one more time,” he begged.
Only when he stopped begging did I finally say again, “I love you.” He didn’t say anything then. He just made me lie down beside him, and held me.
After our wedding we fought daily the first year, every other day the second, every third day the third. Mostly I can remember the fights but not what they were about; we really were just wrong for each other. Our family backgrounds and personalities were too different, our expectations didn’t match. I tried to storm out once and he grabbed me, pinned me to the floor, both of us crying, me refusing to look at him till he realized he couldn’t hold me down forever. I drove around for a few hours before going back.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said, and started to cry again. My nose was red, my eyes were puffy. I turned my head away. “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous. ”
He put his arms around me, gently. “I think you look pretty. Sort of vulnerable.” And he turned my face to his and kissed me and then made love to me. I always loved the feel of his body against mine, how different it felt from my body, the otherness of him. Sex always made things better.
The next day we had another fight about something else, money probably, or dirt. Cleaning was an issue. I had always thought my father wanted me to be a Modern Career Woman while my mother wanted me to be the Perfect Wife, so I was trying to be both. I’d work all week, then I’d spend the weekend buzzing around vacuuming and trekking to the laundromat. I cooked dinner every night. I even ironed.
Frank’s Saturday mornings were devoted to cartoons, the afternoons to naps. He’d wistfully pat the couch beside him. “Sit with me?”
“I have too much to do,” I’d snap, playing the martyr till I couldn’t take it anymore, and then I’d yell at him for lying there while I worked like a dog. It was years before I realized he didn’t care if the apartment was spotless. It was a few more years before I realized I didn’t either. It was one of those things I had just absorbed growing up, like a natural law — if you throw a brick in the air, then it will come back down and hit you in the head; if you hit your sister, then you will get in trouble; if you’re one of the little children, then Jesus loves you; if you’re clean, then you’re good. “They are good people,” Opa would say about neighbors he admired, “everything always in order.”
Later, at the seven-year mark, Frank an ordained Lutheran pastor, me a pastor’s wife in the middle of nowhere, living a life that had yet to take me any of the places I’d dreamed, I told him I thought it was over, that we should get a divorce. But by then it was too late. By then, in our wrestling, without us noticing, our marriage had divided, and divided again. It had emerged apart from us and part of us, half him and half me, the truest parts of ourselves curled together into a living breathing thing that kept him from sinking and me from floating away.
I’m trying to pay attention to what the highway patrol officer is asking me, while at the same time I’m hunting for my identification. He hasn’t asked for it but I’m sure he will and I can’t find it. I’m trying to hunt very casually. I know I just had it at the naval base in Norfolk. Security was extra tight because of September 11. I had to show my ID and explain what I wanted. My husband, I wanted to see my husband. This wasn’t the departure I’d planned for…
“A unique and engaging memoir written with remarkable honesty.”
~ SUE MONK KIDD, author of THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
“Henderson’s complex, compelling, timely story will haunt her readers.”
~ Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
“Intriguing… It will provoke questions about war, pacifism, the desire for children, and the ‘right’ to procreate.”
~ Publisher’s Weekly
“Written by a master of detail who understands the timing and poetry of words in her very bones…”
~ Friends Journal
“Fascinating… This readable, moving book holds no easy answers for those in the midst of spiritual or infertility struggles. But it provides a clear guide for riding out crises by using faith as a roadmap.”
~ Dallas Morning News
“This tension, in her skillful hands, produces a book that ought to come with a warning label: Do NOT start reading Driving by Moonlight when you have a lot of urgent work to do. It was very hard to put down… Henderson can be both hilarious and astringently insightful.”
~ Quaker Theology
“Driving by Moonlight reads like a book club novel about two characters that we care about, two people we know.”
“A humorous and astute writer, Henderson skillfully weaves past events, her email correspondence with her husband, and the day-to-day details of her trip into an evocative story… Recommended.”
~ Library Journal
“A military wife and writer who struggles with the stresses and worries that a life of deployments and reunions brings… Henderson travels along the road of life with a certain amount of zest and fearlessness.”
~ Fayetteville Observer
“Funny, fierce, and frank, Henderson’s voice is steeped in religious and political convictions. Above all, she speaks to us of faith – in God, in the people (and the dog) she loves, and, ultimately, in herself.”
~ Linda Carbone & Ed Decker, authors of A Little Pregnant
“It is her faith that gives this highly enjoyable book its substantial ballast of wisdom and good sense.”
~ Robert Lawrence Smith, author of A Quaker Book of Wisdom
Fertility for Dummies, by Jackie Meyers-Thompson and Sharon Perkins
A Little Pregnant: Our Memoir of Fertility, Infertility, and a Marriage, by Linda Carbone & Ed Decker
Resolving Infertility: Understanding the Options and Choosing Solutions When You Want to Have a Baby, from the Staff of Resolve, the national infertility association
Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again, Jean W. Carter & Michael Carter
Specifically for Christians: Empty Womb, Aching Heart: Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility, by Marlo M. Schalesky… and Fertile Prayers, a daily devotional by Charlotte Fairchild
Specifically for Jews: Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss, by Nina Beth Cardin
SPIRITUALITY & RELIGION:
The Gospel According to Jesus, by Stephen Mitchell
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, by Karen Armstrong
Just Among Friends: The Quaker Way of Life, by William Wistar Comfort
The Little Quaker Sociology Book, by Lyn Cope-Robinson
Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions, compiled by Jeffrey Moses
Peace is Every Step, by Thich Naht Hanh
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell
A Quaker Book of Wisdom, by Robert Lawrence Smith
The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America, by Margaret Hope Bacon
Spiritual Friendship: A Practical Guidebook, by Kristin Henderson and Margery Larrabee
Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind, by F. David Peat
The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hof