But the roof was still a nice sitting spot, at any rate. Even if my adventures in the outside world, my God-knows-what, started and ended there.
Work, despite my mother’s assurances, did not improve. In fact, I’d come to realize that the cold treatment I’d received initially was actually Bethany and Amanda being nice. Now they hardly spoke to me at all, while keeping me as idle as possible.
By Friday, I’d had enough silence to last a lifetime. Which was too bad for me, because my mother was down at the coast for a weekend developer meet-and-greet conference. I had the entire house, every silent inch of it, to myself for two full days.
She’d invited me to come along, offering the opportunity to lie on the beach or by the pool, all that fun summer beach stuff. But we both knew I’d say no, and I did. It was just one more thing that reminded me of my dad.
We had a house at the beach, in a little town called Colby that was just over the bridge. It was a true summer house, with shutters that creaked when the wind blew hard, and a front porch that was always covered in the thinnest layer of sand. While we all went down for the big summer weekends, it was mostly my dad’s place. He’d bought it before he met my mom, and all the bachelor touches pretty much remained. There was a dartboard on the pantry door, a moose head over the fireplace, and the utensil drawer held everything my dad considered crucial to get by: a beer opener, a spatula, and a sharp fillet knife. Half the time the stove was on the fritz, not that my dad even noticed unless my mom was there. As long as the grill was gassed up and working, he was happy.
It was his fishing shack, the place he took his buddies to catch red drum in October, mahimahi in April, bluefin tuna in December. My dad always came home with a hangover, a coolerful of fish already cleaned, and a sunburn despite the SPF 45 my mom always packed for him. He loved every minute of it.
I wasn’t allowed on these trips—they were, traditionally, estrogen-free—but he often took me down on other weekends, when he needed to work on the house or just felt like getting away. We’d cast off from the beach or take out his boat, play checkers by the fire, and go to this hole-in-the-wall place called the Last Chance, where the waitresses knew him by name and the hamburgers were the best I’d ever tasted. More than our old house, or our Wildflower Ridge place, the beach shack was my dad. I knew if he was haunting any place, it would be there, and for that reason I’d stayed away.
None of us had been down, in fact, since he died. His old Chevy truck was still there, locked in the garage, and the spare key it was always my job to fish out from the conch shell under the back porch had probably not been touched either. I knew my mom would probably sell the house and the truck eventually, but she hadn’t yet.
So on Friday afternoon, I came home to find the house completely and totally quiet. This would be good, I told myself. I had a lot of stuff I wanted to get done over the weekend: emails to send out, research on colleges to do, and my closet had gotten really cluttered. Maybe this would be the perfect time to organize my winter sweaters and get some stuff to the thrift shop. Still, the silence was a bit much, so I walked over and turned on the TV, then went upstairs to my room to the radio, flipping past the music channels until I landed on a station where someone was blathering on about science innovations in our century. Even with all those voices going, though, I was acutely aware that I was alone.
Luckily, I got proof otherwise when I checked my email and there was one from Jason. By the second line, though, I knew a bad week had just gotten much, much worse.
I’ve taken some time before writing back, because I wanted to be clear and sure of what I was going to say. It’s been a concern of mine for awhile that we’ve been getting too serious, and since I’ve been gone I’ve been thinking hard about our respective needs and whether our relationship is capable of filling them. I care about you, but your increasing dependency on me— made evident from the closing of your last email—has forced me to really think about what level of commitment I can make to our relationship. I care about you very much, but this upcoming senior year is crucial in terms of my ideological and academic goals, and I cannot take on a more serious commitment. I will have to be very focused, as I’m sure you will be, as well. In view of all these things, I think it’s best for us to take a break from our relationship, and each other, until I return at the end of the summer. It will give us both time to think, so that in August we’ll know better whether we want the same things, or if it’s best to sever our ties and make this separation permanent.
I’m sure you can agree with what I’ve said here: it just makes sense. I think it’s the best solution for both of us.
I read it through once, then, still in shock, again. This isn’t happening, I thought.
But it was. The world was still turning: if I needed proof, there was the radio across the room, from which I could hear headlines. A war in some Baltic country. Stocks down. Some TV star arrested. And there I sat, staring at the flickering screen, at these words. Words that, like the first ones Jason had read to me from Macbeth, were slowly starting to make awful sense.
A break. I knew what that meant: it was what happened right before something was officially and finally broken. Finished. Regardless of the language, it was most likely I was out, all for saying I love you. I’d thought we’d said as much to each other in the last few months, even if we never said it aloud. Clearly I’d been wrong.
I could feel my sudden aloneness in my gut, like a punch, and I sat back in my chair, dropping my hands from the keyboard, now aware of how empty the room, the house, the neighborhood, the world, was all around me. It was like being on the other side of a frame and seeing the camera pull back, showing me growing smaller, smaller, smaller still until I was just a speck, a spot, gone.
I had to get out of there. So I got in my car and drove.
And it helped. I don’t know why, but it did. I wound through Wildflower Ridge, cresting the hills and circling the ground that had just been broken for the newest phase, then ventured farther, onto the main road and toward the mall. I drove in silence, since every song on the radio was either someone shrieking (not good for my nerves) or someone wailing about lost love (not good, period). In the quiet I’d been able to calm down as I focused on the sound of the engine, of gears shifting, brakes slowing, all things that, at least for now, were working just as they were supposed to.
On my way back, traffic was thick, everyone out for their Friday night. At stoplights I looked at the cars around me, taking in families with kids in car seats, probably headed home from dinner, and college girls in club makeup, blasting the radio and dangling cigarettes out their open windows. In the middle lane, surrounded by all these strangers, it seemed even more awful that I was going back to an empty house, up to my room to face my computer screen and Jason’s email. I could just see him typing it out at his laptop, so methodical, somewhere between condensing the notes he’d taken that day and logging on to his environmental action Listservs. To him, I was a commitment that had become more of a burden than an asset, and his time was just too precious to waste. Not that I had to worry about that. From now on, clearly, I would have plenty of time on my hands.