Stories behind my books: Outer Banks
by Vadim Babenko
The year our firm went public, I began to feel I wasn’t in control of my life. I was spinning in a whirlpool of events and duties, of the interests and opinions of others; escape seemed impossible. And I liked my life less and less. In fact, I didn’t like it at all. So I made the decision to take a vacation and went, off-season, to Nags Head, NC – to spend ten days by myself at the ocean.
I turned off the phone there and didn’t switch it back on until I returned to Washington. I didn’t take my laptop with me and watched no TV. I talked to no one for the whole ten days. Even in the supermarket I communicated wordlessly, with just nods. This didn’t surprise the cashiers – obviously, I was not the first to come to these parts to take a break from the world.
The main problem concerned my writing. I had always thought literature was my calling, something I had a real aptitude for. I promised myself that as soon as I had the chance to write without worrying about money, I would put everything else aside and sit right down at my desk. I would write great novels, devoting all my energy to them and sparing nothing of what I had inside...
And suddenly the means materialized to do just that. I hadn’t struck it rich, but was able to afford to engage in activities that didn’t bring immediate income. Along with the financial comfort, however, I got an upper-management position, a big office, a few assistants, and many subordinates. There was power and status – and responsibility for a considerable number of people. And expectations concerning my career and my future, which I heard from all directions.
It was time to answer a question: what would I choose?
I pushed it aside for nearly a year without addressing it head-on.
At Nags Head, wandering about the dunes, I set that issue – and only that issue – before me, not distracting myself with anything else.
Right away I realized I felt apprehension. That I felt weakness – quite unusual for me. In my past there were plenty of things to fear, but I wasn’t afraid, and always stopped at nothing. Here I really faltered; it seemed to me I was giving up too much, that I would let too many people down – and I don’t like to disappoint. I mulled over the situation again and again, running in circles. And I couldn’t find any argument that would allow me to break the vicious cycle.
One day, a storm flared up, then the ocean calmed down even though the wind still raged. I wandered the water’s edge along an utterly empty coast. Suddenly, a show began right next to me as a flock of black pelicans started hunting. They rose into the air, hung for an instant, then swooped down, dove, soared upward again, looking for their quarry. They were many, a bewitching spectacle to behold. I stopped to watch. This continued for about a quarter of an hour, and then... Then I heard a woman’s cry to my right.
Because of the pelicans, I didn’t notice people had appeared on the empty coast – and they were in trouble.
Nearby, some thirty meters away, a woman bent over a fallen man. I ran up to them. The man had apparently suffered a heart attack. He was conscious but couldn’t speak; he just terribly, hoarsely inhaled and exhaled air.
Fortunately the woman had a phone and had already called 911. I tried to think of what needed to be done or how to help, and ran to the nearest house behind the dunes to note its address. She called the emergency hotline back and specified our location. We were told the ambulance was close and would arrive in five minutes.
Those five minutes were unbearable. It’s an awful thing to stand next to a dying man without being able to do anything for him. The woman also lacked the necessary skills; she just held him by the hand and kept repeating,
“But he’s an athlete, a runner...” Judging by his looks, the man was only slightly older than me. His face was contorted into a death mask. I sensed he was clinging to life with his last ounce of strength.
At last the ambulance pulled up – and here we were lucky. Rain had fallen recently; we were near the road leading to the pier, and the ambulance could pass over the dense, wet sand right to us. The paramedics attended to the patient; they brought a stretcher, an IV drip, and all that was necessary. Then they loaded him into the bay, the woman got in, and the vehicle departed. I was left alone.
The incident had only lasted briefly, but I felt I had awakened in another life. I looked around, as if unable to recognize the coast, the ocean, or the dunes. Then I headed toward my house and suddenly saw the pelicans had stopped hunting and were perched upon the water by the coast, rocking on the waves.
I walked almost right up to them – they weren’t afraid. The one closest to me, it seemed, looked me in the eye. I held his gaze and told him, “Yes.” I said it out loud, knowing all my issues were resolved and no doubts remained. Furthermore, I knew at once the title of my first novel – I simply had no other choice.
No doubt about it: a reminder of the transience of life always clears your head.
Upon returning to Washington D.C., I didn’t wait for an opportune moment. Straightaway, I let everyone know I was leaving the business world – forever. Parting was rough: emotions ran high, as did treachery and attempts to set me up. They threatened me, implored me, and denigrated me. They mocked me as a fool. None of this troubled me in the least. I wanted only one thing: to start to write.
And soon I did.
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Genre – Literary Fiction
Rating – PG13