I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.: 40th Anniversary Edition, page 1
Set in 1969, Donovan's groundbreaking work centers on Davy Ross, a lonely thirteen-year-old boy. When his grandmother dies, Davy must move to Manhattan to live with his estranged mother. Between alcohol-infused lectures about her self-sacrifice and awkward visits with his distant father, Davy's only comfort is his beloved dachshund Fred. Things start to look up when he and a boy from school become friends. But when their relationship takes an unexpected physical turn, Davy struggles to understand what happened and what it might mean.
John Donovan was a novelist, a playwright, and a former president of the Children's Book Council. I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. was originally published in 1969 and reprinted by Dell in 1973.
J O H N D O N O V A N
By the time I met Davy in these pages, I was already surrounded by the best books. Thanks to the magical boxes you sent several times a year, my world was alive with The Catcher in the Rye, Doctor Doolittle, Harriet the Spy, The Mad Scientists' Club. I believed as much in those characters enlivening the pages as I did in what was supposedly real beyond their stories-even more.
That's the way it is with books sometimes. They can mean more than actual moments because they might stay in our minds forever.
When I'll Get There... arrived, there was something instantly different about it. Not because Davy wasn't cool or collected, or that he'd lost so much in life already. The more he thought about and felt what was happening around him, the more I did too. He was tender, he was deep. He was lost, not fake. His divorced parents were each a mess for their own reasons.
But he had Fred, most excellent dachshund, and their connection meant pretty much everything. Until Davy met Altschuler at school, when a whole different part of life began.
I remember asking you once, have you ever been in love? Only about fifty times, you answered. We laughed and rushed through the New York City streets on the way to the theater. You introduced me to ballet, to drama, to opera, your hunger to taste the stinging, the sweet, everything.
When you died I thought, like Davy, that my heart could not bridge another separation. Yet life rarely offers the opportunity to go back to a world made exquisite with meaning, the world you brought into existence with I'll Get There.... How lucky we are to have you back in these pages.
My love and missing you always.
he limousine drives up in front of the house. I am in the jump seat by the door closest to the sidewalk, so I open the door and fumble with the seat I was sitting on. I'm not getting anywhere with it.
"I'll take care of that, sir," the driver says. He pounces out of the car and puts his hand on the door I opened. "Don't you bother with that, Mr. Ross," he says, emphatically this time.
"I can get it," I say. "I'm sure I can." I don't like him. He needs a haircut in the worst way. Not that I ordinarily care about haircuts, but for the limousine driver at my grandmother's funeral, I thought they could at least have given us a guy who had had his hair cut.
"Let him do it, Davy." That is my mother. "We're not all of us mechanics." Then she laughs. Everyone looks at her, and she stops.
"There we go, sir." The driver folds the seat in half a second. I sort of smile at him as though I am thanking him. "Nothing to it, sir," he says. The bastard. All that "sir" business. I don't know what he takes me for. Twice before, once at a fancy restaurant and once when I opened a savings account in a bank, guys had called me "sir." I thought it was pretty phony then, and I still do. This guy working for the funeral home takes the prize though. He must have called me "sir" about twenty times so far this morning. Maybe I'll get used to it later. Maybe when I'm fourteen. I doubt it.
Everyone files out of the car and onto the front porch. The driver is all smiles and has I'll-be-seeing-you-in-rosiercircumstances looks, so I don't even say good-bye to him. Everyone looks at me, and I realize I am supposed to open the door. As soon as I put in the key, old Fred lets out a howl from the inside, and I yell, "It's OK, Fred. It's just me." He stops barking right away, and I can hear him near the door, sniffing away. I wait just a minute before I open the door because I think Fred gets a lot of pleasure from sniffing like that. It gives him a few seconds to decide who's going to be coming through the door. Then I open the door, and Fred jumps on my legs. He gets so excited that he squirts on the floor.
"Isn't he trained?" my mother asks.
"Oh, sure. He's just glad to see me. That's all."
My mother walks past Fred as though he weren't there, and then my uncle and aunt come in, and then my greataunt and her daughter, or daughter-in-law, I could never figure out which, but I sort of like her because she always kisses me in a friendly way, even though we only see each other on big family occasions. My other uncle, the one from Los Angeles who isn't married, comes in last. He's like a stranger. The only thing I remember about him until now is that when I was a little kid he told me not to eat some potato chips on my grandmother's table one Sunday night before supper. He said there wouldn't be enough for everyone else if I did. Needless to say, since this is my only connection with Uncle Jess, he never held a top position in my people book. But this time he was OK. I felt sorry for him more than for anyone else. He cried very hard when he saw my grandmother in her casket. He got all riled up and said he should have been coming East every year to see her, and that he had wanted to come up to Boston the last time he was in New York, but he couldn't because if he didn't get to London some terrible thing would happen, and it happened anyway, so what was the point. Uncle Jess used to send Grandmother a check every month. He didn't have time to write letters though, and now he felt guilty as hell. He needn't have, I think. Grandmother didn't have much to say about Uncle Jess, just about things that happened a long time ago when he was in high school or growing up. He's some kind of model. He had his nose straightened, and his hair is all fixed up to look blond. Old Fred keeps sniffing at him, but he hasn't licked him. I don't think Fred knows yet whether Uncle Jess wants to be licked. Dachshunds are like that. They respect you if you are not a big dog-lover. If you are though, watch out!
Fred keeps running back and forth from me to all the people. Then I know I'm going to cry. He's looking for my grandmother. I know it sure as anything. He keeps running around to everyone, and each time he sniffs and then runs back to me and jumps up. I hold him close two or three times, but he pops right out of my arms and runs around again. He finally goes to the door and just looks at it.
"He has to make, David," my mother says. Big doglover.
"I don't think so." I have a hard time getting that out because Fred has shaken me up now. Grandmother went away for two or three days now and then. Fred didn't like it when she was away. He didn't like it when I was away either. Sometimes I would go to New York for the weekend to visit my mother, and once I went to Canada for a couple of weeks with my father on his vacation, and each time old Fred thought he was being deserted. But then each time I came back. And Grandmother came back. That is the difference this time. Fred knows she isn't coming back. He looks at me and cries. Oh, God, that hurts. He has this short whine, and he uses it when he wants attention or when something is hurting him. It's that whine Fred is using at the door, only it seems to me to be deeper. That does it. I can't take it any more, so I run over to old Fred and fall right down there with him in front of the door, and I bawl my head off. We both do, and once I start I can't stop. It gets louder and louder, and I have a hard time catching my breath, and my ribs start to ache. Poor Fred. He just keeps crying too. Everyone in th
"Don't do that, Helen," Aunt Louise says. "It's better this way."
"Oh, my poor baby," Mother says. She runs her hands over my back. I look up at her. Her eyes are moist, and I throw both myself and Fred, I guess, into her arms. In a minute I stop bawling and calm down a little bit, so I pull away from Mother. Fred isn't whining any more either, so I guess that crisis has passed. Everyone is staring at me as though I am a patient who has just come out of ether.
"I'm sorry," I say.
They all say No, No, No and smile encouragingly, so I begin to feel a little dopey. There isn't anything to say, so I breathe deeply once and get up from the floor.
"Fred and I will take a run, I guess." Fred won't let me get two inches away from him now, so there is no problem in getting him out the front door. Sometimes he is reluctant, especially if he thinks there might be some food waiting to be begged for. Not now though. Poor Fred. I wish he could talk or let me know in some way he understands all the stuff I say to him.
t is a good thing that I go out when I do because I know that they are all itching to get on with the inevitable conversation and that as long as I am in the room, or in the house even, they will just sit there being polite, trying not to hurt my feelings, and no one will say what everyone has on his mind. What becomes of me? I'm sure they want to get the whole thing settled in two or three hours. They won't sit in the same room again until the next person in the family dies. If they want to get something talked out all together, it's now or not at all. I am glad to be away from them anyway. I don't really have anything to say to any of them. There aren't many adults I have anything to say to, and now there is one less, with Grandmother dead.
Our house is right near the beach, and whether I want to or not, that's where Fred and I go to have a run. He loves the beach for two good reasons. The first is digging. He digs like a maniac. People are always stopping to stare at him on the beach, and at least once a week someone asks me if I know why Fred digs like that. They don't believe me when I tell them I know why, so they tell me anyway-that his ancestors were badger hunters and that's why dachshunds scratch so furiously at the earth and the sand. I don't tell them I know all about this any longer. People like to think they are instructive. What the hell. If it makes them feel useful, I am glad to listen.
The second reason Fred zips over to the beach at the least provocation is dead fish. Nothing makes Fred happier than a smelly dead fish. And he's really got a nose for them. To tell the truth, I don't much like it when Fred throws himself all over the fish, not because it isn't funny to see him do it-it is-but because of later. He walks around smelling like a mackerel for two days after, and, to tell the truth, I would be just as happy to keep him at a distance when that happens. Except who can keep a big lover like Fred at a distance? He goes crazy just to give me a kiss whenever I come home.
Fred and I run along the beach for a few minutes. He's still acting as though he knows something is up. Ordinarily he would be scratching away by this time or would have his nose up in the air, sniffing for a fish. Not today. He sticks close to me. He never gets more than two feet in front of me, and when he gets even that far, he keeps looking back to check if I am still there. Usually I'm just jogging along, and Fred is a hundred yards ahead of me. I find a piece of wood and put it right in front of Fred's face. Then I toss it about fifteen feet in front of him.
"Go get it, Fred! Bring it to Dave!"
Fred looks at me as though I'm crazy, so I just sit down on the sand. Fred sits right down too, and I rub him under the muzzle and then his neck. He purrs.
"You're not a cat, Fred. Or maybe you are. Are you half cat, Fred?" He looks up at me, his dumb face begging for a kiss, so I bend over and pull him into my lap. He cradles his head under my chin, and in two seconds his eyes are closed and he's breathing heavily with the kind of instant and total sleep Fred seems able to fall into every time he's contented. I laugh a little and fall back on the sand. No one is on the beach. It is the middle of October, and the sun is bright and comfortable. I wonder why no one else is here on a lovely day like today until I remember it is the middle of the week and most people are working or at school. Fred half opens his eyes when I fall back, makes a very easy adjustment to my new position, and is sound asleep again in half a second. I hold my arms around him so he won't fall off my chest, and he sighs deeply. That was just the right thing to do, and I'm happy I did it. I think I fell asleep then too.
Not for long. Fred and I wake with a start. A wave has cracked not too far away and made a noise different from the steady, even breaking of most of the waves. Fred is really mad, and he jumps out of my arms and dashes to the edge of the water. He barks at the ocean.
"Give it hell, Fred," I shout. And Fred barks again and again. Another wave breaks gently, and Fred barks at it before running back to me.
"Good dog! Where does the sea get off-interrupting our sleep?" I toss Fred's head around a little bit, from hand to hand, and he jumps up, more playful than when we first came to the beach.
"That's the good boy," I urge him on. I pick up another small piece of driftwood and toss it out. Fred chases it and brings it back. We do this four or five times until Fred gets bored with it and begins to dig. Before you know it he has pushed a pile of sand through his hind legs and has a big hole ready for who knows what. In the summer Fred curls up in the holes he digs because they are cooler than the top sand. Not now though. He seems to be looking for a clam, which probably has buried itself deep when hearing Fred scratch away. I have never known him to get a clam in this way, but people are always telling me that's one of the reasons for digging. People and their facts.
Fred and I mess around some more, and then I guess that it's time to go home.
"OK, friend, now's the time. It's now or never."
Fred scratches away again and then squats to do his business. He looks at me for approval while he's doing it, so I say, "That's a good boy. Oh, that's marvelous. Fred's a good dog." I guess he's pleased because when he's finished, he trots over and brushes by my leg.
never thought much about my grandmother. I came to live with her when I was about five, before I began going to school, and I don't think that kids of five think too much anyway. I knew that most of the boys and girls I met at school lived with their parents. But they all had grandparents, and they occasionally talked about all the money they got from them on their birthdays and the good places their grandparents took them. None of them talked about their grandparents as though they really knew them, or even wanted to. I may have been a little embarrassed when I asked some kids to come home with me after school for the afternoon and introduced them to Grandmother and then waited for the question they all asked in their own ways. It is really funny to realize how tactful little kids can be in a blunt way. My favorite kid on this was Rosemary Mayer, who always had on neat dresses and did a lot of homework. When I introduced her to Grandmother, Rosemary turned to me and said, "And your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ross, are they traveling in Europe?" That's pretty good for a sevenyear-old kid.
The thing about Grandmother was how orderly she was. Everything had a place and fit into its proper place or it was out-she'd have nothing to do with it, or she'd forget it if she could. She was a great one for saying "Don't pay any attention" when some bum would come up to us on the street in Boston, asking for money. Or if something terrible happened, like the time I threw a metal compass at some kid I was mad at in school, she would pretend it had never happened after I had had my punishment, not because she was ashamed of me or anything like that, but just because it was too rough on her to think of what I was really doing when I did this terrible thing to that guy. I got nervous about myself after that episode. I can't even remember what I was mad at now, but I certainly know that I have a temper. I really wanted to talk with her about this, but every time I brought it up even indirectly, she cut me off with a look.
When I loo
I liked to pick up a lot of other things too, and it wasn't long before all her stuff was either locked up or put up so high that I would have needed a ladder to reach it. This is what I mean by how rough it must have been on her. She had laid out her house without kids in mind, then had to lay it out again with me in mind. She didn't make a great big thing of it though. She just did it. It was only a year or so before she died that she began to bring things out in the open again. I guess she never got a chance to be old in the way most people are.
She always tried to ask me questions about schoolwork and friends. She worked very hard at being a good parent. She never had the pleasure of being a grandparent. Poor good girl. Now she never will.
It was Grandmother who realized first that she was never going to bring it off and that with her and me it would always be a friendly, but awkward situation. When it got close to my eighth birthday, she said, "David, I'm not going to ask what you want this year. Is that all right?" I didn't know what to make of what she said, so I just nod ded. I had gotten a twenty-five-dollar birthday check from my father that morning, so it didn't make much difference what else I got.