Friday, October 16, 2009

Fire Island

From our wooden bench, we watch the ferries come and go.

The August sun is fierce; doubled by the glare off the water of the bay. “Why can’t our eyes handle light?” Katie asks. “Why do we squint?" With her hand across her forehead like that, like a visor, Katie's eyes seem to glow-frosted green, like beach glass, flecked with gold, each iris outlined in bright purple.

“Too much light burns the retina," I explain.
“That’s not what I mean. "She looks away, across the bay. ”I mean, if there was going to be so much light in the world, light like this—why can’t we handle it? We’re badly designed.”

There's this new thing I do now. I look beyond and between things. I watch the energy oscillate, forming and un-forming. I don't understand yet what I'm seeing. A cloud of light around someone's head and shoulders, a field of matter organizing itself into an object:

I stare at the weather-worn wood planks, supporting the dock; the water, flowing beneath it; the little boat that floats, bobbing up and down, the gentle waves lop, lop, loping against the pier.

My daughter wears white plastic flip flops; her toenails are painted sky blue. A little girl walks by, dragging a navy blue suitcase bearing the insignia of the New York Yankees; its wheels bump, bump, bumping across the wooden-planks of the deck. It’s the last day of summer.

We and I are on ‘vacation simulation’--a ferry ride, ocean swim, lunch at Maguire’s, overlooking the bay--before ferrying back to our car, parked in the "day-tripper" section on the mainland. We've arrived--after dropping Max at college on Long Island, visiting my in-laws-- on a whim, without towels or sunscreen, though Katie just happens to have a bathing suit bottom in her purse. At the Sandpiper, one of the shops on the pier, I purchase a black Anne Cole tank suit almost identical to the one in my dresser drawer at home.

We let the waves lift us; we let the waves set us down.
“Look at that color, there!” I point. Katie turns toward the wave, backlit by the sun, a translucent blue-green. "That's the color of your eyes."

Later, as we walk barefoot on the hot sandy path, I tell her, “I’ll be okay when you leave home.”
“I know,” she nods, looking perplexed, as if she doesn’t quite believe me.

The first time we came to Fire Island, Katie was four; her brother, Max, six. We were there for a wedding--my sister's, held at a rented party house in the Pines. My husband's client, Joe, offered us his beach house for three days.

A tiny gem with sandy floors at the edge of the Atlantic. Joe’s house had three bedrooms, and a bright open kitchen/living area' the deck wrapped the house front to back. On the first day, I stood there all afternoon, staring. It thrilled me, the vast ocean, the sky--so close. I watched a lightning storm sweep in- a curtain of rain hanging from a low-lying dark cloud. It hit suddenly, sweeping the narrow island so briefly that, afterwards, the still-hot sidewalks sizzled steam; wet patches on the dunes just shrunk away.

That night, after the children were snuggled into bed and Matthew had fallen asleep reading, I came out to the kitchen and sat in the dark with the windows open, letting the wind whip through the house, riffling the pages of the magazines on the coffee table, rocking the ceiling fan.

Two years later, when we returned, I stayed on the deck all weekend. I saw Matthew and the children in flashes: Running up the wooden steps to the beach, whirling a Frisbee, grabbing a bike from the shed. I was reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book about a man who weaves in and out of the lives of his wife and daughter like a shuttlecock—suddenly appearing and then, without warning, dissolving before their eyes.

“Let’s visit the house,” Katie says now and we turn back.

But afterwards, after we've pushed open the wooden gate; after we've been invited in and offered Vodka Gimlets, cheese and crackers; after we’ve toured the new second floor, added since last we stayed, after we've walked back to town and found this bench beside the bay, Katie falls quiet.

“We shouldn’t have come.”
“It’s never the same when you go back to a place you’ve loved,” I say. “We’re drawn back... but we can never recreate the feeling we had here.”
“That’s true.” She turns toward me, opening like a flower.“But it’s more than that. I don’t like visiting places for a day, I don’t like feeling like a tourist. If I go somewhere, I want to stay for a month, a year. I want to get to know the place with the people who live there.”
“I know. Me too. But this is how we’re doing it this year. This year we did other things with our summer. You went to Boston. Max worked—and went to Montreal. I’m finishing my book. Daddy’s working.”
“I know,” she sighs. “And I loved this summer…”

A seagull hops along the dock, jumps to a boat, jumps back to the dock. “I’d like to put a motor on a rowboat,” Katie says, “Boat culture is definitely missing in our lives,” I nod.
“Boat culture?” she makes a face and we both start laughing.
“I mean, I always wanted to take you and Max on boats. Make that happen for yourself.
“I will, Mommy,” she smiles, patting my thigh. “Stop worrying about my future. I get it.” She pulls my book of short stories from our beach tote and begins to read aloud.


Scott Sheperd said...

So well done!! You are a master painter. Truly.

Trish said...

So beautiful.

I actually say this all the time "...I don’t like visiting places for a day, I don’t like feeling like a tourist. If I go somewhere, I want to stay for a month, a year. I want to get to know the place with the people who live there.”

I don't travel, I move. Most people can't relate to that.

I loved seeing it here in this very evocative story. I do like armchair travel. Thanks for the mini vacation.

Amy Oscar said...

Thank you, Scott. Your comment means a great deal to me... My mother is a painter, as is my sister... my other sister, a sculptor. Coming from a family of visual artists, married to an architect and now, it seems, having raised a filmmaker, I could feel like the odd man out. But the truth is, Ive always had this sense of painting with words. Its just that I paint my imagery on the canvas of the mind and imagination.
Your comment made me feel 'seen'. :)

Amy Oscar said...

My daughter would totally relate to your comment--she too, would rather move to a new locale and live there for years than visit all the sights and tourist attractions. When we've had the good fortune to travel somewhere, she immediately settles in and starts living... even if, as it was in Fire Island, it's only a long weekend, or the day trip I wrote about here.

Thank you for reading, and remarking on, my post.