I moved from Queens, N.Y. to Radford, Va. when I was 3. One of my earliest memories is of a cow that broke loose from a nearby farm and walked onto our carport. My next door neighbor at the time was named Jill. She pronounced it with an accent — Jail — so I pronounced it that way, too, leaving my very New York aunt to continually question my parents about their life choices. When I was in first grade, my family moved to Blacksburg, to a house near a creek full of crawfish. I had become (and I remain) a country girl. Still, I wanted to explore my New York roots.
We returned to New York at least three times a year. My relatives had moved to the suburbs, so any part of New York City that I saw was through a car window from the highway. Up close I saw:
My aunt and uncle’s house on Long Island.
My aunt and uncle’s house in Rockland County.
A pizza place around the corner.
What I did not see:
A Broadway show.
The Statue of Liberty.
I begged my parents for an excursion into the city. For a day? For an hour? But my dad was anxious about a lot of things, including driving. He was worse about parking. Would the tires be slashed? Or stolen? The subway wasn’t an option, Too dirty and we’d probably be mugged. New York was too expensive. Too much. Besides, my aunt had deli and HBO. Why go anywhere?
My frustration grew. In eighth grade I asked a Virginia boy I had a crush on to bring me back a post card of the Statue of Liberty. I kept it on a bulletin board in my bedroom. The New York Skyline was framed over my bed. Meanwhile, my dad waxed nostalgic about a city that seemed to only exist in his imagination. And mine.
Fast forward. I grew to have my own issues with anxiety. I understand better now. Rewind. I did not understand at all.
I visited New York City a lot after college, especially once my brother moved back there. With him, and with my friends, husband and kids, I explored (as long as someone else was doing the driving) all of the places I’d missed.
A couple of years ago, after reading the Odyssey, I began thinking about my own version of a cyclops, and using him as a way to explore anxiety: my father’s, which seemed to ebb in later life, and my own, which had become, at times, suffocating. Cyclops worried about the sharpness of the grass and took excellent care of his sheep. One day when I was doing research for something else, I came across a New York Times story from 1857 about a mysterious cave that had been discovered in Central Park.
My hope was for Cyclops and Eugene to navigate the world, including Virginia. But first, he had to get out of his cave and see the places I was never able to see growing up. I can’t wait for you to meet him when the book comes out in February. And I can’t wait for you to see the way Victoria Tentler-Krylov, an architect and artist, owned these characters. She added so, so much and I can’t imagine having done this book with anybody else. Before you see the story we created, though, I wanted you to see where it started: with a teen-age me looking out a car window. With a whole world that’s out there, waiting to be explored.
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