Some time ago, I get a letter from someone important. A work-related letter – a lovely, generous one with kind words about what I’d accomplished during the time I’d been in the job. With a gift – a contribution. A significant one for us. I’m delighted, of course. Thrilled. I engage all my “donor relations” skills and send notes and invite him to events. Update him on certain projects that I think he would be interested in. Weeks and months pass. No response. Several invitations go unanswered. A few declined. I tell my friend about this. She listens carefully as I go through the history. When I have finished, she says: “Oh. Do you see what happened? You thought his letter and gift was the beginning of something. But for him, it was an end.”
I drive down roads I have not driven in some time. Over the summer, it was a familiar route – second nature. But when the school year starts again, that particular drive to that particular spot in the woods is forgotten like the sand-encrusted plastic buckets and shovels that kick around in the trunk of my car. It is raining and it is dark. A distinct autumn chill. And I am reminded of the winding, tree-lined roads of Brewster that led to the reservoir where I spent so many nights of my late adolescence – climbing up the hill to the observation deck with our bottles. The moon over the dark water, shimmering.
That New Year’s Eve spent with the sea captain when he was just a boy. Before we knew he would go on to sail ships. Before we knew that he would leave his wife and daughters on land and spend his days on the vast ocean. We never made it to the party we were headed to. Instead, he parked his car near the reservoir and left the heat running. We drank beer and talked for hours. About our families. About what we thought we might want for ourselves. He turned the radio on as midnight approached and we listened as the year turned from one to the next. We raised our bottles to each other and then, he took me home. Sweet boy. Kind boy.
Years later, when I came home after my mother’s surgery, he had met the woman he would later marry. On the sidewalk in front of the movie theatre, he says, “Had I known you would be coming back, I would have waited.” It’s a lie, utterly, but I smile, touch his cheek. I am like a children’s picture book. It is so easy to see what comes next.
Seasons change. The bridge I drive over in summer in the heat – the sun high in the afternoon sky – the men lined up alongside the road casting their fishing lines far out into the water – is the same bridge I now drive over in cold rain in the dark. My chest tightens. My heart remembers something of this place that my conscious mind does not.
We take Z. to the beach when she is small. It is early spring – too cold still, but the sun is so bright and the breeze so sweet that we forget the ocean’s chill. We huddle under a blanket. M. packs the cool sand into a plastic cup, turns it over and Z. gasps with delight. He starts to makes a trail of them – around us and down the beach.
Z. takes off her socks. Lifts her round naked foot over one of the tiny castles and brings it down hard. Giggles. Does it again to the next one. She looks down the long row of them and her eyes widen. The fingers of her small hands start to twitch as she sees, all at once, the possibility. M. looks up at her and starts working faster. She looks at him for a moment, lets him see her there with her foot raised – poised, ready.
And then she is off! The laughter spills out of her – high-pitched and gleeful – as she stomps down the sand towers, one after the other. M. is packing sand in his cup carelessly now, throwing down the little mounds, backing away from her toward the water’s edge. He pantomines fear, his eyes wide. She moves toward him as fast as her legs can take her, a trail of destruction in her toddler wake.
And so it goes – the two of them, receding into the distance, the sounds of her giddy exuberance. The yellow sun up high – shining down on us all.