Provincetown is a fragile, narrow, and sandy spit at the tip of Cape Cod. Land’s end now but it was once an island. Thorny conservatives wouldn’t mind if it still was because of its diversity and liberalism. But all of Cape Cod is diverse by nature and by plan. Thrust slowly by glacial forces deep into the Atlantic from the cliffs of Southeast Massachusetts, Cape Cod’s delicate moraine might have easily been an on-ramp for an unfinished bridge: one that, had it been completed, might also have caused a significant shift in migration history, resulting in even more diversity.
Indians, the Cape’s original inhabitants, came from North and West and, like the pilgrims who later invaded their space, were just as diverse, just as single-minded, just as austere and even hostile, all collectively resulting in a tenuous cultural coalescence amalgamating Indian and Puritan characteristics still evident in many Cape Codders: structure, pride, tradition, heritage, challenge, recognition, fortitude, fortune, and favor, all bound with certainty into diversity and independence. The Cape’s politics include Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and strange brands boiled slowly over an eclectic range. All combined they are woven into a social fabric with a tight warp of conservatism shot through by a solid weft of liberalism. Frayed fringes always the nerves of the most vocal.
Cape Cod is the left arm of the country. With its sleeve rolled up in summer, it’s a haven for everyone from beach bums to Boston Brahmins. Living year-round on its bicep is a mixed bag of affluent retirees, entrepreneurs and service people for the Cape’s commerce and an ever-dwindling number of townies who will never budge. On the elbow, and always to weather, is Chatham with its assortment of active and inactive rich and others who live with uncertainties similar to those of cousins in the California hills: landslides or hurricanes always threatening; the atmospheric and geological risks are the same.
Chatham is where the elbow breaks north at a right angle toward Orleans, the end of Cape Cod suburbia that quickly gives way to the remaining small towns along the forearm and wrist; those with scrub woods, sand dunes, sparse populations and different brands of territorial urgency: Eastham, still a well-kept secret; Wellfleet, a quiet seasonal refuge for recovering psychiatrists, and Truro, a community with an invisible gate that swings mostly for many of New York’s theatrical, musical and literary. Finally the wrist twists, painfully, into a deformed hand – Provincetown, positioned delicately and precariously, its fingers buckling arthritically east, but for one: The middle pointing defiantly at the orthodoxy to its south.
The pilgrims landed first in Provincetown nearly 400 years ago but didn’t stay long. The tallest all granite monument in the United States commemorates their landing and speaks volumes about the town’s evolution. Those pilgrims, who yearned for freedom and tolerance, abandoned the one place that would later render those privileges untouchable; they exchanged Provincetown for Plymouth, now a tourist exit across the bay. One Hundred and fifty years later, the British gave up a huge advantage in Provincetown, commencing the loss of their sovereignty in the New World. Then pirates camped out, fishermen thrived and artists discovered the light. Provincetown is where individuals discover or rediscover themselves, where diversity is sacrosanct and where no one dares defy that tenet as it is the very essence of the town’s soul.
Travel from the Cape Cod Canal to Provincetown is 65 miles more or less. To the left and to the right along the way are extraordinary landscapes and seascapes but one has to get off the main road to see them. Where the road ends is where America ends, where your back is to the sea, where Henry David Thoreau wrote of the place, “You may stand on this beach and put all of America behind you.“ Provincetown is where some come to live or relax unconcerned while others can neither afford to stay nor leave – paradox. Provincetown is a magic of light, a magnet for diversity, and a monument to discoveries confirming either the misery or the majesty of life. And Provincetown has had its share of moments. One of more recent consequence on a damp and dull October night when a sensational and sensitive drama began to unfold – one that epitomizes the distinctions of the misery and majesty of life.
A deliberately placed car bomb killed one person and left another dying. With the resulting fire, much of Provincetown was in danger of being reduced to ashes. For weeks efforts to shed light on the crime ground on while the compromised person lay badly damaged, comatose, unidentified.
She was screaming. Nurses quickly convened to witness eyes snap open and uncontrolled motion. She was rapidly leaving a dream of basking in the sun on her boat. But it was too hot, skin-searing hot in noonday sun. She rolled off the deck into dark water, but the water didn’t cool. It ignited. Reacting reflexively to an episode removed from the present, she screamed herself back to consciousness.
Medical personnel acting swiftly wrapped raw wrists and ankles in saline-soaked bandages to keep her from thrashing. Gripped by classic panic, a warped mouth wailed, anxious eyes gaped beneath dressings, restrained arms struggled in passionate appeal, attempting to grasp something safe or hopelessly accepting a deliberate and anguished departure. Usually stoic professionals exchanged edgy expressions until flailing faded ever so slowly to futility. Or just to terror on hold waiting to re-ignite unpredictably with heightened passion – signs of hope or gestures of rapidly fading options. If she didn’t die from burns and injuries, sinister and relentless professionals of another ilk would hunt her down and claim her life. Competition even in death.
Finally conscious but with only unconscious notions of where or of what, she reacted predictably to unthinkable pain: the kind of suffering witnessed by those who were powerless except to wisely send her into safe sedation. If she knew any of what had happened she would be distressed but could defend herself. If she died and never knew, her life and reputation would forever be transcribed, without accurate footnotes, as something it was not.
You may buy, Disclosure at www.amazon.com/DISCLOSURE-ebook/dp/B003ZK55A2
Return to Disclosure page, click here
E-mail Dean at: DISCLOSURE@windstream.net
Copyright by Dean Henricksen , All rights reserved