Part One – The Arrival
The family is in stride this year: jovial, energetic, thrilled at one another’s company, at the chance to show off grown children and tanned legs and lean summer arms and new Mac eye shadow colors. The children are still young enough for cuddles and kisses and silly beachside games but old enough for “independent play” and “watch your brother” reprimands.
We packed all the right things, the best things.
Even the old glasses and the small living room and the oddly shaped dining room table don’t phase us much this year. Because, as we look around at one another, with proud satisfaction, we can be certain that we are happy and thankful for one thing: this—a healthy, young, thriving family, full of stories and memories, rich with laughter, wizened, seasoned, hopeful still, even now, all these years later.
I looked around the table—took in my sisters and my parents—and thought how we are all in good places these days, even me, even if I am here alone, yet again: one more single summer. Sometimes I think how hard it will be for a man to join this group, how strange it will be that he won’t know these days, this family, in this distinct patch of time: My middle sister, so happily mothering her daughter; my eldest sister, settled and in stride with her mid-30s and her growing boys; my mother and father, all fondness and softness and appreciation; my brother in laws, really true brothers to me now rather than “in laws.”
Beyond this sanded world, I can’t help but think of the pressing weight of work, of my life up north, of dear friends who wished me a happy vacation. I think, with a contented and, equally, resigned sigh that I have let go of the fantasy of him for good. We hung well in the balance of intrigue, affection, restlessness, hunger, and optimism. But, I’m no longer holding out hope. There is an odd mix of sadness, remorse, and excitement that comes along with that acceptance. Because if not him, well, then, who?
The days before me are many, sun-filled, child-filled, wholesome, healthy, happy. I love; and, I love.
Part Two: The Things to Remember
Me, a doting auntie, saying to five-year-old Jack, “That wave pushed me like a stroller!” And Jack, giggling, responding, “That wave tossed me like a soda can!”
The boys and me putting together a pirate puzzle, twice, because once was one time too few.
The rain and thunder rolling in from the west.
Lightening crackling over the sky like applause, like sparking light bulbs, setting fire to the tips of the waves.
My father asking, “And what of that guy?”, and me realizing I have no response. Because there is, finally, fully, nothing left to say.
The ocean, alit in my hair.
My sisters and I dancing in the kitchen, ribs aching with laughter as my mother and father dipped their hips, too.
A good book finished. A quiet moment appreciating its escape, its simplicity, its perfect fit for this time in my life.
A day, wonderfully spent, and lived.
Part Three: The Last Afternoons
It is a simple life we lead here, one of books and puzzles, laughter and long oceanside talks. It is days of flying kites, chasing children, slathering on sunscreen but always, secretly, hoping for more of a tan. We awake to an empty beach; we stay astride it until it is empty again.
The boys this year are taller, thinner. They talk of pirates and cannons, blowing up ships and finding wreckage and buried treasure. They hold my hand tightly, without inhibition. Jack makes me giggle with his innocent wit, his growing sense of humor. We play our own games and tell secrets and whisper of ghosts in the reeds. He sees the world through cautious but hopeful eyes and imagination. Sometimes, I think he has a very old soul.
We are a family of passions, of opinions, of tradition, of sit-down dinners and standing lunches of left overs. We grill steaks and shrimp, husk corn and order bags full of greasy, hot, delicious hush puppies. My sisters pour bottle after bottle of some “skinny margarita” mix. Someone stirs up mai tais. Sangria sits in the fridge, ripening.
My father tells me stories of his youth. My darling niece coos and scuttles toward me across the sand like a curly-headed crab. My mother shhs and clucks at all the little ones, her grown girls included, then swims alongside me in the ocean, holding my hand tightly, murmuring, “I haven’t said anything memorable yet, have I?” Little does she know that most all she says and does, I remember.
I feel very at peace this vacation. Yes, my heart hungers. Yes, I wonder when and how. I worry at all I will come back to.
As I floated in the waves one day, I actually laughed aloud at how new and strange and exciting life feels right now, here, in the last months of 30. I thought: when I return, I will embark on a new job, meet new coworkers, begin mastering a new book of work. I will save, like crazy. I will say good-bye to my best friend as she leaves our city, and then I will watch Boston crack and shift all over again. I will welcome autumn in Marblehead, and who knows what it will look like? I will throw it all out there, my heart included, on faith, and I will welcome whatever I find. I thought: This next season, this next phase of life, demands strength, flexibility, courage, charisma, character.
The ocean pulled at my toes. Across the waves, I could hear my nephews shrieking excitedly on shore. I bit at the burn on my lip, felt the heat of the sun on my shoulder, ached a little at the pleasant soreness in my legs. The water surged, then settled, against my neck.
There, alone, entangled in the sea, I promised myself a season of bravery.
Part Four: I found you, once again.
My mother has asked me to remember what’s memorable and omit what’s best left forgotten.
This, I hope she knows, is easier said than done.
Vacations in years past have sent me north red-skinned, irritable, exhausted, and convinced that either I’m crazy or my family is crazy. There is tension, unspoken resentments, afternoon-long errands, whole mornings of solitude. Some years, I think we’ve actually been relieved to bid our good-byes and climb into our respective cars and get the hell home.
But, not this year. No, this year, we were spectacular. Good moods, good meals, great weather, lots of great stretches of beach for the boys’ games and for Grace’s sand-crawling and for bocce games. This year, we drank less and enjoyed one another more. Work-outs were actually fun, not painful. I didn’t even mind my too-small twin bed. I felt—my entire family seemed—simply contended.
Coming home, I thought, with tremendous fondness, of all my favorite memories of the week. When I arrived, I immediately climbed the stairs to my bedroom, wondering how my poor cat, who I’d left alone for the week, would greet me. Would he be angry? Did he puke on the rugs? Had he peed in the closet? Torn my pillows to shreds??
I tip-toed into my room. I sat on the floor, in the corner, legs crossed, breath held. Minutes passed, waiting, and nothing. My phone still showed four voicemails from my vacation week that I hadn’t yet listened to, so I went through them, listening one by one, alternately grinning and grimacing at the voices on the other end of the line.
And when I lifted my head, there he was, wide-eyed, dusty, dirty. He came to me slowly, uncertainly, his steps unsteady. And then, when he arrived at my feet, he sighed, climbed into my lap, and looked up at me, and I thought: “Yes, oh yes, I have found you, once again.”
Because that is what we do with the ones we truly love—family, pets, best friends, soul mates. No matter how tired or beaten or beautiful we may be, we find one another at day’s end, again and again, like the tides bearing the sea into her shore.