Each winter we would sit and stare out the window at the impassable driveway, the snow piling up on the doorstep, and repeat the same mantra, “We gotta get outta here.”

Then we’d float the familiar names and places along the journey, and they’d all be the same … until they began to change.

I won’t list the names of the departed out of respect for their privacy, but there have been a lot of them, and their departure has shortened the list considerably.

She reminds me that we had the same conversation when we lived in Los Angeles, when the smog thickened, the crime grew worse, the hills kept catching fire. When taxes got worse and acting jobs grew scarcer, we looked at each other and together moaned, “We gotta get outta here.”

She, who never interrupted me before when I was composing, just told me that I’m forgetting how many times we had said that.

It goes back a long way. There was the time in boot camp in Texas when Scoop Larkin and I were scrubbing the latrine floor, and I shouted at him, “We gotta get outta here.” He agreed, and we did.

But let’s stick to our life; to our almost 60-year theatrical life of moving from one place to another. She recalled the time we laid in bed in a cheap actor’s apartment, starring up at the chunk of ceiling that was falling apart, and our landlord, an actor friend of mine wouldn’t you know, refused to fix it. This was her turn.

A little piece of plaster fell into her glass of bedside water, and she whispered, “We gotta get outta here.” I’m not letting her forget that.

And for every one of the winters, all 38 of them, as we paid the monthly oil bill, or slipped on the driveway, or got the car stalled in a drift at the bottom, or had to dig the mailbox out of another, we sang the same song, intoned the same lyrics, and sat in the same frigid dark during power outages.

“Don’t forget the ice storm of ’97,” She groans.

How can I? On the eighth day of no heat nor light, we lay in bed huddled together under overcoats, blankets and a pile of towels and one sheepdog, and moaned, at exactly the same time, “You know, we gotta get outta here.”

OK, so we laughed when Gatsby, the sheep dog, groaned in agreement; but we cried 10 minutes later.

In the coming years when the sewer backed up in the basement, or we had an unusual invasion of soldier ants or the property taxes soared, we’d say it.

I can remember all the winters when our neighbors, some of whom had become good friends, suddenly disappeared. Come the first frost, they pulled out of their driveways and vanished down I-95 to Florida.

Their warm lights that flickered in the snowy nights went out, and we found ourselves friendless, and alone in the darkness of a Christmas when the colored tree lights around the manger failed to cheer us.

But come spring they would all come back with tales of the humidity in Naples, the fighter plane-sized mosquitoes, alligators in their pools and snakes in their toilets in Gainesville.

Now, here we sit with all of you in the middle of what sounds like the music in the overture to the end of the world, waiting for our grocery order from the market to arrive.

As winter nears, the evening news will come on with the pictures and numbers.

But I will have my cold Stella, she her ginger ale, and we’ll sit listening to the ambulance sirens scream by on their way to Inland Hospital, and make the sign of the cross in thanks that they’re not turning into our driveway.

The temptation is there to moan, “We gotta get outta here.”

But at our age, masked and gloved, with the borders closed, and nowhere we can go, “gittin’ outta here” leaves us with only one final destination, and we’ll pass on that.

We’re here for a while.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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