Into the Woods
The contested patient endures a journey both arduous and unique.
Posted December 16, 2008
Chappaqua, New York, 1993-2000, part 1 of 3
In the year 1993, I spread a map across the sunken living room of our co-op apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, and marked a bull's-eye at Grand Central Terminal, where trains come in from the 'burbs. I drew a circle of fifty-mile's radius around the spot, and spent the next three months searching, with my husband, Mark, for a house inside the curve. We sought top-rated schools for our two little boys, proximity to a train on direct route to Manhattan, and an ample yard. One weekend we toured the toy-town streets of Millburn, New Jersey, the next, the wide-rolling lawns of the Long Island town Dix Hills. As chance would have it, we ended our hunt at the most devastatingly beautiful of spots, a winding country road abutting a spruce forest in the tony suburban hamlet of Chappaqua, in Westchester County, New York.
It would be the biggest mistake of our lives. If only we'd known how infected we'd get living on that land and how much skepticism we would face from the local schools and doctors, if only we'd understood that we, ourselves, would be the bull's-eye, we never would have left Queens. But hindsight is 20/20. At the time, the move to Chappaqua seemed like the answer to our dreams.
Hailing from the hills of Brentwood in Los Angeles, Mark had come of age in the fifties and sixties, atop a canyon, with miles of wooded nature spread out before him and the twinkling lights of the city beckoning below.
My background was less lofty, but not less intense. While Mark was running in those hills, I was growing up in the low-income housing projects of East New York, Brooklyn, where I shared a claustrophobic room with my kid brother, Alan, and hung out with friends on dicey city streets. I spent my childhood playing tag in the stairwells and scraping my knees on concrete, all the while dreaming of the lush lawns and deep driveways I'd seen only on television, in Leave It to Beaver and Donna Reed.
Fast forward to the eighties. After college and then graduate school in journalism, I moved to Manhattan and, after a few years building my portfolio, was hired as staff writer on the new science magazine, Discover. Mark was finishing an M.F.A. in fiction writing at Columbia when we met in a workshop at the 92nd Street Y. By 1990, we were married and living in Forest Hills with our two little boys. We made our way as writers, specializing mostly in health and science stories for the national magazines in New York.
Thinking back, those long-ago happy days feel like a dream. Blessed with the flexibility of writers, we had abundant time to spend together with our boys. We read books, spent hours at the park, vacationed at the shore, saw movies and friends. It was a rich, creative, fascinating life-it should have been enough. But I longed for that lawn and driveway, and Mark wanted a return to the wide-open nature of his youth, with room for our boys to run.
Chappaqua fit the bill.
Countrified in appearance, it was nonetheless urban in sensibility owing to an influx of professionals from Manhattan. It was an easy commute to the city, with a school system so stellar that 15 percent of graduates went on to Ivy League schools. In Chappaqua you could find a taxi company run exclusively for children and a health food store whose work-for-hire clerk knew as much about supplements as a nutritionist with a Ph.D. The hamlet's compact main drag was a potpourri of gourmet food, real estate agencies, and antiques, all of it anchored by a Starbucks-a nod to the fact that, underneath all the haute, it was really a brand-name town.
Chappaqua had a way of attracting attention and getting into the news. Whether it was the high school football team partying with a stripper (at an event hosted by one of the fathers) or a Little League coach breaking an umpire's arm, if it happened in Chappaqua it was reported nationwide. When the Clintons vacated the White House, they followed our lead and moved to Chappaqua, a mere two blocks away from us. The day they arrived, reporters chased me down my driveway for quotes. Chappaqua was one of those ubersuburbs where homes segue into forests, rock faces, and fish-filled ponds: The modest raised ranch we bought was no exception. Our front yard, a tangle of lofty pines, led down to a towering spruce woods out back. A fairy-tale forest that stretched beyond our view, those woods provided haven for an abundance of wildlife, including squirrels, skunks, raccoons, white-footed mice, and deer. Residing in one of about two dozen houses that ringed this wonderland, we felt privileged to own a piece of it.
For years, from the time we moved there in late summer of 1993, our children spent carefree days in the woods. Along with their friends, they constructed a fort, an arboreal Rube Goldberg made of moist, leafy branches and decaying logs. The contraption was well-stocked with plastic action figures and draped, haphazardly, by a tarpaulin cloth. At the edge of the forest, just where the woods gave way to our backyard lawn, we hung a swing from the branch of a tree.
Watching my children play in the shadow of the woods, I passed the time plunging my fingers into the dark brown soil of the rolling backyard lawn, easing out crabgrass by the roots. Mark tended the autumn leaves, gathering them with a rake, piling them onto a drop cloth, and dragging them out to a pile of mulch deep in the backyard woods. My home office overlooked the forest, and often, as I wrote, I glimpsed deer, usually in groups, traipsing past my window and traversing one part of our property to the next. For a city girl from Brooklyn, it was an otherworldy scene.
(Click here for Part 2 of 3)
Excerpted from Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic, St. Martin's Press, 2008