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New London By Christine Palm


I am standing before the cathedral of Saint Mary Star of the Sea with its dove-grey spire flattened against a slate-grey sky. I've come to find Eugene O'Neill -- not Monte Cristo Cottage, which I've toured several times. I am looking for Gene, for the slim man lying on the sands of Ocean Beach with his friends, all of them in elastic, uncomfortable-looking wool swimsuits that come up to their chests.


I'm trying to see what there is left of his New London, which even in his day was beginning its steep decline from whaling center to would-be resort, to post-industrial port where submarines surface like sharks and slip back beneath the flat water. Across the Thames, Pfizer is producing anti- depressants, not morphine. The hotel where Gene and his friends drank is now a satellite treatment center associated with Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.


I remember a Sunday in July, 40 years ago, when my mother suggested we drive over from Groton Long Point, where we were vacationing, to attend Mass at Saint Mary's.


"Why the hell would we drive over the Gold Star just to sit in the same pews that the asses of a bunch of alkies sat in?" my father said. We went instead to the large, round, new church on the top of Fort Hill.


Today, as I stand before Saint Mary's, my mother is trying to get used to her new apartment in a bright, safe independent living facility, which she insists upon calling "a home for the aged." She will be 90 soon, and she is not afraid of dying. She is, however, apparently afraid of the kielbasa they sometimes serve, of her new telephone, of Jewish people, of being abandoned, of her own dark journey into the falling night.


Around me, on Whale House Row, the clapboard is muted and grey. Beyond them, the river moves toward the ocean as in the slow advance of cooling


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