The denial phase

By John William Waterhouse — Wiki Commons

Dawn and I sat at the top of our yard after we got our things out and talked. I had everything drying in the driveway, the sleeping bags draped over the cars. They didn’t need dried out, I just liked to signal to our neighbors we still did stuff like that. I picked up my shirts at the dry cleaner, a few things for dinner, then fiddle-fucked in the kitchen the way I do after I’ve been away for a while and have to put everything back into its place (the perception of control).

Probably a lot of the reason we went back to the beach was the memories with the kids when they were smaller. I realized that watching Lily with her sister, she still acted like a little girl, Charlotte brought that out in her. They could genuinely be in that place of imagination surrounded by rocks and logs and water. How the hours seemed to spool out with the tide and their chatter, and Dawn would go off with her book and me, to what I joked was my man cave: the lean-to by our camp someone built, that Dawn immediately feared was unsafe for the kids but I didn’t: it was a good 10 degrees lower in the shade there, a kind of tree house vibe, and I was able to keep our cooler deep in the corner of my pack, and more than 24 hours in, the contents were ice cold, allowed for a mid-afternoon beer and music on my phone, the inside of my cooking pot acting as a speaker resonator—and I could lean against a log and see Dawn by the tent reading, the dog at her feet sacked-out exhausted, and hear the kids digging a hole in the sand, their constant chatter. The gulls behind them and the tide, the feeling we out-smarted time.

We saw the German guy picking his way up the rocks with his trekking poles and I noted his pants were the Mammut brand I admired with the articulated legs. He told us about totality in Boise, how they’d planned for it a few years ago, and why didn’t we? And we felt a sense of totality loss, and wondered if we could make Spain in 2025.

It was just us and the older German couple; they didn’t even camp on the beach, they stayed inside the forest, only came out to make fires. They weren’t allowed to in Europe he said and his wife really liked fires (he was apologetic): at one point they had two going at the same time, a lot of smoke, but I didn’t care.

There was a woman we saw picking around the logs who came over to say hi, she’d lost her cabin she said but found a shoe on the beach from a long time ago. And I wondered if she was the ex-wife of the drunk Canadian we met a couple weeks back who told us he was getting a divorce and returned for the first time without his family to see what it would be like there alone, but stayed too long by our campfire complaining, how she accused him of being abusive (impossible, he was a school teacher!) and now here she was, the other side of the story, tanned and athletic but wistful, her missing leather sandal strapped to her day-pack, a piece of driftwood to steal the moment. We had a hundred pieces of driftwood like that ourselves from our trips to the beach, small shapes that looked like faces, transcended beyond themselves: we imagined something grander at the time, but left around the house long enough they just started to look like wood. The memories become unrecognizable, no longer yours.

Dawn asked if Miriam and I had ever been romantic and it surprised me, she hadn’t asked that before. We’d gone to see her and her husband in Italy in 2009, then London several years later. And Shana came up, and the women in between (there weren’t many): and we realized it was all the year 1999, right before I met Dawn, that all my potential lovers came back before the two of us met, as if to tie things off.

And she told me about the film actor she knew who died, they’d had affairs, which explained why she felt so sad about him the night in Germany after the wine festival we were drunk and Dawn cried, but more so for the part of herself she saw in the singer who reminded her of her actor friend, a part of herself that died—and why was it late nights after a lot of alcohol things seemed a lot clearer, when really they weren’t.

I got up at 4 to write, turned the night lights off for the transition to morning. I told Dawn Miriam stayed with me at my apartment on Pill Hill but it wasn’t sexual, she was loyal to the guy she’d just met but the two of us were still quasi-romantic I said, imagining a past we had and wanted to relive, or a future we wondered about still.

When we all got to the beach the first night, the sun had just set and though we were all tired I gave people tasks. I asked the kids to collect wood and Dawn to blow up the air mattress; I was trying to get everything set. I forgot the new lamp I bought for the tent and only had one stick of fire starter (for two nights of fire-building), which was stupid. And the kids didn’t get the concept of kindling so I had to wing it with some larger wood and a piddly amount of paper and Charlotte was quick to point out it wasn’t working, and I burned my fingers on the lighter and resolved to use the fire starter instead.

I didn’t take the tent part of the tent (which was deliberate), only the footprint, poles and rainfly, a kind of tarp, “go-light” system, that made Dawn nervous about mice getting in but kept all of us vigilant about keeping a clean camp.

It flapped and fluttered like an organ and I had to brace the poles with a bunch of river rock in the morning to keep the tent walls from pressing in on us when the wind blew.

And the four of us were able to fit on the footprint with the dog pressed in closer than any of us liked, but it was nice.

And the moon was plump and bright, taking the last of the sun (pale gold) and making the driftwood on the beach glow blue-white.

Dawn said we should go inside now and feed the kids, so we did. There was the sound of a cricket by our sports court which was new, but Dawn said we don’t have crickets out here, it’s a frog, and I wondered how she knew.

The moon was out again in our yard and pale with its sad face, but Dawn couldn’t see it from her chair and we had to wait for it to come through the trees.

I caught Lily in the bathroom with a jar of honey that’s good for acne she said, and probably read on the internet.

And with my back sore in the morning I looked old bending over wincing and knew I shouldn’t complain about it but still did as I drove, citing a nerve issue, a tingling in my groin.

The kids made a see-saw out of a log on the beach and dug a hole, ran scenarios where they pretended to be talking on a cell phone and walking along not paying attention, then fake-falling into the hole. And I didn’t take photos so much but got one of them by the tide coming in, like others I had from previous times we came, and thought I should compare the pictures side by side to see how much they’d grown: that’s where time really showed itself even though it had no face of its own, it was definitely in the photos. It found its face in yours.

The sky dropped out and with the wild fires, went to a gray-pink smear. I waited for the bats to come out by the top of the yard and down below, the sound of Van Morrison baying from the BlueTooth speakers, bird caws and tweets, the breeze. We would go to Ireland again and see the Giant’s Causeway, where Led Zeppelin made that record cover with the nymphs crawling around on the rocks like a Maxfield Parrish painting. We would be a part of that painting, and make one too.








Categories: Memoir, parenting, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. Houses of the Holy is a bit like Maxfield Parrish on acid, isn’t it? Though this one is more the scent of pine needles and butter moons.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s some beautiful writing up there, buddy.
    I notice when I’m on vacation, I take fewer and fewer photos, like that’s what I’m taking a vacation from.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agreed with Ross on the writing. And this one felt a good bit longer too. Not sure if that was due to the number of words though, maybe deeper is a better word. Like how you put out the sleeping bags out too, to let the neighbors know.


    • Happy to read this driving in to work this morning. These little bits keep us going, from other readers and writers we admire. Yes, this was longer than normal (about 1500) and I have to tell you, I’m trying to take a cue from you to spend more time on the pieces, to even let them ‘sit’ a bit before sending them off. I went to near-pedantic land editing this and had to step back and not ‘go there’ for fear of undoing it. But I definitely thought about you, and was inspired by your discipline to the process (the “CRAFT”) we’ve often bantered about. So glad it came through for you and Ross, that nice compliment of yours. Bill


  4. I like totality loss. Could be a term we can use to describe a general sense of melancholy, which I understand is going around right now …

    Rilly good stuff. Past and present are always doin’ a do-si-do in your pieces.

    Hittin’ you later on the email machine!


    • Cool, like that you say ‘rilly,’ I get the phonetics in that. And that you seem OK with the time flip-flopping, as I tried more of that here than normal. Thanks Kevin. Bill


  5. Sweet Bill. I always get a sense of nostalgia and a small dose of the prophetic in your writing. Good yin and yang going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. your writing evokes feelings of being stuck in the middle – teeter tottering up and down, back and forth, i like how you slide easily between past, present and the unknown future –


    • I like that you comment on that Beth because I did a lot more of that in this post than normal (the sliding around) and debated, was tempted to, add lines sort of demarcating the time/scene shifts – but didn’t, in hopes it would still make sense. So I’m trying to learn that, sounds like it worked OK for you this time. Thanks for letting me know! Bill


  7. So much here, such beauty and comfort and soft, almost-regret, but the part that resonated with me the most was about how the memories become unrecognizable. Such a bizarre sense of loss that always feels to me, knowing that I used to feel something important about this thing or that, but it’s gone; even if I know what it is and where I got it, the feeling isn’t there anymore, no matter how hard I try to dig it back up.

    Liked by 1 person

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