Southampton: Lake View Court (age 7)
On Saturday nights my parents had parties, huge loud affairs where my dad would make banana daiquiris and skinny people in white pants would disco on the deck. I’d be put to bed in my musty room downstairs near the water; rainbow sherbet and a drive-in movie promised to cheer me up from loneliness. I’d help pass the hors d’oeuvres around the living room. Olives I could wear on my fingers like black jewels, cheese slivered thin on crackers, small cherry tomatoes from North Sea Farm. The grownups eating crispy duck from the Mecox duck farm, sucking grease off their fingers, Kathleen’s cookies for dessert still warm and melting.
So much food and play in my childhood, which I sometimes forget. Sarah’s house on Butter Lane, the long fields we’d run through, acting out “Little House on the Prairie”, tripping over the faux calico dresses we’d make in her attic, picnics under the willow trees of the pond as we’d feed the ducks. My mom’s hand so firm in mine at the July 4th parade, balancing ice cream cones from Candy Kitchen. Saturday evening at Melon’s when they were still together, sharing burgers, my head on their laps. All one season in those days: safe, buttery; gold summery light and nothing split.
Halsey’s Marina (age 14)
At dusk Richard and I would wash the salt off the boat’s clean lines and sleek body. He’d toss me a coke and nurse his vodka tonic with lime as we’d watch the sun drop over the long cattails, guys with khaki shorts pulling the long lines in. For hours I’d practice knotting rope. Liz and I would bike to the store for supplies. Richard’s illness worse each week now: the shaking, the balance, the moods. I knew he would die, and I worried for her, for my mother, for this bubble we’d all built together. It was there to greet us each time, but this now so beautiful too along these watery roads, chatting as we biked, goofing around in circles.
Amagansett (age 19)
Greg drove too fast from his house towards Montauk where the skinny road melted into bay. He raced me to one of the giant dunes. His hands hot and too fast as we rolled in the sand and prayed aloud that no one would find us. We smoked crumbled green weed from his bag of tricks and picked ticks from each other’s necks. His mouth so wet and warm, the salt wind in my hair so lovely that I crossed to the other side, the grown-up side where I would have to make choices and declarations, his weight above me almost unbearable.
Wainscott (age 40)
Mom and I walk to Georgica Pond and further, past the rocks, just as we walked these beaches when I was a tiny child trailing her shadow on the sand. Times have changed: the house with the bunkroom is sold, and on Fridays when I visit we get pizza with her husband and go to the small synagogue in Sag Harbor. I’m newly married, contemplating pregnancy. We talk of doctors’ appointments and career paths; things feel more serious, more layered with years and their loss.
Children are crabbing in the shallow corners of the pond and kayakers meander. We ramble along the topics of family and love, memory and history. No banana ice cream cones these days; in fact, I haven’t even been back to my childhood home in the back roads of North Sea in years. As we walk the first touch of sunset stains the sky in cherry. Enormous houses framing the dunes stare at us aloof and cool, their shuttered eyes closed. They give no answers.
But later when we drive the lanes and pull over to buy flowers from the farm stand, the light is still perfect. The high dunes and rippling fields still manage to take my breath away each time, no matter how many people we’ve loved and lost; I smile each time at the piles of flip flops by the beach parking lot, the mothers and daughters on bikes still riding up to take a late afternoon swim. The sea is still clean and gloriously cold and I want to drink it each time I dive under its surface, like some kind of salty ambrosia. Disease and divorce aren’t canceled out by beauty, but they do make a place real. It was these huge waves and long grasses, these shallow ponds and grassy dunes that truly taught me how to embrace our crazy, jumbled, messy and breathtakingly beautiful world, in spite of the painful things, or maybe because of them – holding them all in my arms at once, like this huge bunch of sunflowers.