On August 18, 2001, Betty wrote to tell me that she’d returned from London—mostly, she said, she’d spent long hours at the libraries. She also offered me a very odd question: She wanted to buy my copy of the diary of Dr. John Polidori, Lord Byron’s personal physician who was present that Frankenstein summer in Geneva, 1816, a young man who later wrote The Vampyre (1819), a book that has given us Dracula and Edward Cullen and Bunnicula and innumerable other Undead “heroes.”
I wrote back about an hour later—a long email about our trip to Memphis and the Nashoba site. I told her, too, that while we were there, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum, a facility that includes the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., fell to his assassin on April 4, 1968. It was a private museum, I wrote, and one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. Virtually everyone else visiting was black, and as we slowly proceeded by displays on the KKK, on Selma and fire-hoses and police dogs, etc., I have to say I felt powerfully ashamed.
I told her I’d keep an eye out for the Polidori book—and then segued into a little report on our recent visit to Stratford, Ontario, to see the Henry plays of Shakespeare. (We are still going to Stratford, every summer.)
I also shared with her this bit of news: I think I told you [did I?] I will be back in the classroom this year—and we start the year with Hamlet! I don’t have any classes until after Labor Day (we’re a boarding school …, but I have meetings starting soon, and I’ve already been … gasp! … working on lessons.
Yes, in the fall of 2001 I would start teaching full-time again. Although I’d retired from public education in January 1997, I’d done some teaching at Hiram College’s Weekend College (enjoyed it a lot—but adjunct pay is pitiful), and now—with all my Shelley research debts piling up like tailings outside a mine, I figured it was time to head back to earn back a little of the bread I’d cast upon the waters of scholarship.
And so I returned to Western Reserve Academy—just about three blocks from our home—where, long ago, I’d taught for two years (1979–1981). The school was close enough that I could walk (which I did) or bike (which I did). I would quickly fall in love with my students and my colleagues and ended up staying not just for a year or two. But ten. Only failing health drove me home again to stay.
In my file I do not have a reply about this announcement from Betty (was there one? did I fail to print it out?), and the next exchange I have is from a few days later (the 21st), and it comprises only some perfunctory business about Mary’s original elopement with Bysshe and Claire Clairmont in 1814.
Two months would pass before our next communication. A pattern was forming.