‘I hope the exit is joyful and I hope to never return.’- Frida
The beach was lit by streetlamps. Are dreams ever as bright and clear as day? Bothered by the shadows, debris and a smelly trash bin I couldn’t find a comfortable place to be. As if my back was always to something I’d have otherwise preferred to face. When you revisit places from your past there’s a sense that something or someone unexpected will come up behind you and you won’t be ready. Her passive presence was distant and unaware. A toddler-like person whose wrist you might consider gently shaking to encourage eye contact or illicit an opinion only to stuff the idea knowing it won’t make a difference. I’ll move the barrel so we can sit. Underneath was a dead puffer, gelatinous and spiked. We pushed the barrel back over the corpse, then forward, then sideways. The thought of moving away from death and trash didn’t occur to either of us. Instead she grabbed the poisonous remains and without reason, smashed it against her face leaving a symmetrical pattern of dotted indents. Why did you do that?! Her cheek grew purple and swollen. Her expression remaining blank and unphased. My own face grew hot as if I’d been the stung one. Within moments all effects of the event receded like the tide.
I don’t recall taking the boat or even buying a ticket but I remember the silent sense of belonging those words could illicit when standing in the walk-on line. One way or round trip? One way. It meant going home with no plans of returning for at least a while. It meant you lived there in some amount of permanency while others were just visiting. Despite being born in Providence I liked calling the floating mass off the coast of America, home. Island. I land. There’s something in its skin, roads, shores and leaves that feels like compassion, intuition and a grandmother’s hug. Someone you’d want to be part from. A part from. Apart from. Without realizing it, I outgrew her comfortable embrace or found myself wanting more. I forget which or why.
We found the trunk on the side of the road in Falmouth. I was 19. The trunk said freedom, history and anticipation of new possibilities. We bartered the man down from 500 to 99. A wooden dome-top with tiny flowered paper aging inside. I arrived at college with two trash bags, a Tupperware bin full of pencils, pads, peanut butter, peppermints, prayer cards and that trunk. A transitional object representing the bridge between containment and continent which will never be built. Now it holds my husband’s adventure gear. Someday I want a living room large enough for the trunk to have her own corner and to fill it with soft blankets like the ones from Kennebunkport with fringe.
Just behind the dunes was an eatery attempting to be the Homeport. No rock jetty. No green flashing sunset but it had a deck and was wrapped in weather-beaten boards. Inside was a warm yellow light and heads of people I no longer knew what to call. The murmur of interested voices, clanking forks on china plates which always made the act of dining out sound more eventful, delicious and special than it might be. Drinks passed on large trays by mildly familiar faces which might’ve been anyone or someone you knew who’d gotten older or changed shape out of context. We stood in the foyer of the converted seaside mansion eyeing for a place to insert ourselves or waiting to be greeted. What if he was here and still hated me? As the thought escaped, a dark haired man in an apron and black clogs checked his shoulder with mine. At which point I realized leaving had been perceived as abandonment and I was no longer (had never been?) welcome. The onslaught of passive confrontational aggression came in crossing streams from servers moving in front and down from the stairwell behind us. I realized I’d once known this place; where the glasses were stored, how the bread was made, which days deliveries came. I’d shared nicknames and inside jokes with the now hostile strangers mutely rejecting me.
I’d been a terrible waitress. Never being one for beer, coke or chaos there was still something else about me that made even close acquaintances roll their eyes behind my head. It seemed a preference to lie to me than tell the truth about why there was a dead hedgehog and bags of psilocybin mushrooms in the freezer or that the man in the living room, dosing the sofa with glitter was actually a cab driver whose name no one knew. I was also terrible with systems of money and estimating my worth in context. Leaving Davis Square three nights a week with sometimes as a little as twenty dollars fueled my then thriving codependence. Try harder you idiot. Everyone else knows what they’re doing. You’re pathetic. I don’t get the world or if I do the rules have seemed so foreign, violent and senseless I’ve unconsciously refused to learn them. One night while the crew stayed to finish a bottle of mystery liquid I took the subway home to write a paper in peace but lost or forgot my keys somewhere between the Red and Orange lines. It was below freezing. I waited till my lips were numb to decide if I’d find a payphone to call the pub or break a window, both of which had costs attached. Accost. I called the pub. People were mad. I eventually got in to defrost my fingers and toes. Shortly after I quit, discovering for over seven months of would you like fries with that, replete with ass grabs and a semi-permanent perfume of stale desperation, I hadn’t been cashing out my credit card tips. The boss, skinny pale black Irish, laughed in a brogue at the floor. Part sympathy and part confirmation; body of christ. I stuck to retail after that.
A flood of what and why thoughts trampled through my head. What had I done that so was terrible? Was I as bad as their treatment suggested? Could I pathologize them or did I truly need to apologize for transgressions no one could seem to define? This was ego, fear or simply a wrong turn. And then I saw the top of his towering, curly orange head. He was wearing a white apron but instead of removing it, which meant we’d be leaving to smoke in the park and laugh about grease traps and tourists, he glared through my face into the floorboards behind me. Was I dead? Please talk. Can we talk? Are there any answers that might help remove the distance in the years of questions between us? I’d only ever wanted to remain friends. Had we ever been friends or was it one long, one sided courtship; some trick in which you’d expected a certain outcome in exchange for half a decade of patience? We all want more than compromise.
My docile companion continued doing, saying, thinking and feeling nothing while I went upstairs in search of someone who might want to recognize me and remember something good. Getting halfway to the top I was shooed down and out. You have no tags, collar or pedigree. You don’t belong. I reconciled in my head, where all truth lives, the sun would eventually rise and there is a place for us between the Sound and land.
~This is a shepherd’s pie of one dream and reality, which is life.