“Nevermind favorites, you’re allowed to have one, the point is you’ve been mine.”
Meet Joe Black
I keep having this dream. Not the apocalyptic one (not sharable), but this seemingly mundane dream that haunts my days. I am at our favorite island off the coast of Georgia and we have run through our time–down to the last few hours–and I had forgotten to rent the bikes. This, my friends, is not good.
You see, my island is bracketed by rocky, violent waves and inlaid with calm fishing docks. It is the serendipitous balance of chaos and peace. We spend our time at the ocean flying kites, skim-boarding and crab chasing, but our magical memories were always built against the whirl of bicycle spokes–in and out of moss-laden oaks, sweat dripping from our temples and pine needles crunching under our wheels. Me and my boys. They were so little when we first headed to the sea, my Jacob still on training wheels, and I was still grappling my way through feminist theory and and “who I wanted to be when I grew up.” I can still see these moments:
Pulling into the tabby gates . . . boys hollerin’ something fierce at the idea of freedom and wind and crab cakes. The only rule was sun screen–and even that one broke against an impending sunset and no where in the world to be.
Our traditional “first night” of shrimp, Shirley Temples, island raccoons reaching out for fry bites, no-see-ums and the smell of lemon balm. Local bands playing Van Morrison while the eldest tried to affect a look of aloofness . . . and tapped his foot under a plastic table.
Me, wine in hand, books scattered across a tattered blanket and dusted with sand . . . the only thing between me and a doctorate . . . Jay, freckled and fearless and running at me with a bucket and my heart pounding in my ears that one day . . .
That night in ’04 when we stayed too long in the historic district and we ate in a Georgia mansion on a veranda to the sound of crickets and the tune of several hundred bucks–Zach begging me not to spend it, my voice telling him how worth it he was . . . and not knowing that island street lights were forbidden, that we would be in total darkness on the way back. Holding onto faith, the sounds of our voices and the headiness of early summer all the way back to the hotel. (Dear gods, can I have this moment back.)
The year we found the secret trail and ran over an alligator–terrified. The year Zach brought a friend and dropped his cell phone in the pool and called me a bitch for the first/last time and made me laugh/cry. The year I brought my mother and saw her eyes set with the sun in a beaded shirt and not enough time. The year my sister met us there and we shared our first Corona and a slice of familial honesty. The year Zach’s bike handle twisted and he rode it anyway–regardless of a torn knee. The year I sat, bags packed, and vehemently argued Capitol One into an increase so that we could listen to the ocean just One. More. Night. The year Zach was in bootcamp and I sobbed in my new husband’s lap as my son turned eighteen in lockdown. The year I saw that husband with both boys holding fishing poles against too much fog, no fish and so much testosterone-fueled bravado. The year my sister, Jillian, came with us and fell too hard for the sound of 1800 and the creak of a haunted step and her son embraced water for the very first time. Margaritas that cost too much and taste like living, salt against your lip, lime over your tongue. The last year when deer ran alongside our bike trek in the dark and we stopped and stood with them until we couldn’t breathe. That night when a stag stood, brazenly, in an open sand path under the Super Moon and everything was blue and gray and white. And I drew a pentagram in the sand that evening, so alone I believed, and drew down the moon, so alone I perceived, until I heard my youngest playing his guitar on a rock and against the wind for me. Supporting me. Smiling at me. In the middle of the night, at a pentacle of my faith, and joined me in my circle. I’m with you, Mom. I’m always with you.
In the dream I forget to rent the bikes. It’s too late, my heart is broken, and I can’t withstand the grief of forgotten fucking bikes.
You see, I’ve loved many people in my life. I was my grandma’s favorite (though it cost me almost everything) and I believe that I was (at least) close to being the same for my father. They are both long gone. I’m not sure that I’m anyone’s favorite anymore, most certainly not within what is left of my blood family (that post just cannot happen). But, and here’s the gist: these faces that turned to those of men, these arms that slung themselves around my burnt shoulders on beach walks under moonlight, these hearts that clung to mine in the dark of a strange and haunted island are mine. They were the best part of me, the best part of a life that has been marred by holding the black sheep position for a family un-united. They healed me. Pancake Sundays, Harry Potter Saturdays, Halloween chocolate kisses and sweet puppy-sweat scented hugs are my best thing. They are grown, now. Don’t need me in that same earthy, desperate way that boys do when their mother’s blood is the only scent on a path. But oh. I once tread Camelot. I keep going back, driving toward that ocean in search of my best thing.
And the truth is, I always rent the bikes at first daybreak. So. What of the dream? Or better, what of my nightmare?
Ah. I am growing older. Not sure how long I can ride those bikes with them. Not certain how long they will ride those bikes with me. This year, our bank statements do not suggest the viability of Camelot–but I promise you this: if I have to sell everything I have to be there in May, I will. Let me tell you a story that’s not really mine to tell that changed my life.
My father was my heart. His heart belonged to my mother. Once upon a good life and very, oh so very far away, it was his anniversary and so he set about making the night perfect for my mother. Appetizers in the oven, champagne on the counter, the hot tub bubbling. And him, in the backyard, planting a flower for her before the requisite shower and shave when a vein burst in the back of his head–this fateful bastard vein that had lain in wait for his best day. They say he didn’t see it coming, didn’t even put his hands out in defense before he landed on his face and dirt and fire ants. And I don’t buy it. Not for a second. I don’t buy that the man who would drag my mother from her lawn chair and spin her out into the dark to the tune of “Brown Eyed-Girl” didn’t see it coming. Not the man who would wake us up at three a.m. to ponder a banana spider against a cool, Florida dew, take my sons to wonder at unfenced alligators instead of going to Lowes, spend all of his lottery money on souls without soles, paint sunsets and trees and waters and dirt, lay in the floor for hours and Legos and snotty boy children until castles stood on carpet, hold my daughter up upon a broken leg and against a fractured family unit so that she could drop icicles on a Christmas tree, teach us all to love hot dogs with a fierceness that only a baseball purest could entertain and talk my sorry ass into getting a doctorate degree when there was no money and no time and no promises . . . a man like that didn’t see it coming?
Bullspit. He had rented his bike at daybreak, people. And ours. Had ’em all lined up and ready to fly like there was no tomorrow. Because, damn it, there wasn’t one.
There never is.
We don’t have time to waste on folks who don’t get this–personally, I’d rather be flying down a sweet, Southern trail in dirt and sweat and squeals over alligator tails and risking hard turns over knotted, ancient roots. I’d rather be fishin’. I’d rather hear the break of an Atlantic tide with a Van Morrison backup. Granma’ didn’t raise no fool. I know there ain’t no tomorrow. I know that Camelot is rare and the stuff of make-believe and dreams and that it slips away like a lizard in a forest if you blink too hard or think even a little. And I plan to chase it, every last chance I get.
Boys, grab yor’ sunscreen. May’s just around the corner, the catfish are jumpin’ and Momma’s hocking her wedding ring for one more ride through the forest. With you.
You were always my Best Thing.