The pond was tiny, at the base of the steep slope that separated our yard from theirs’. A spout on a flat tan rock above it fed it water. Goldfish did abrupt about-faces that upset the soothing simpatico of eyeing their slow, cautionary investigations.
The Cappadonna’s were younger than my mother by at least twelve years. Tom was a loud Long Island Italian who’d brought Doris here from Stuttgart after the war; Doris sang opera, and had her vocal coach Clara over for lessons. Their son Tom played the violin, and Christine, my first friend, played the cello. The spewing spout, the flitting fish, Tom Sr.’s boisterousness, Doris’ arias, Tom Jr.’s violin, Christine’s cello, and Clara’s parked car, were a world apart within my own; a part of mine that made my own more mine. I could feel what I wasn’t supposed to, what was, and could be mine, through our proximity. Two Commack colonials beside each other, the one above, beside itself.
My father was dead before one of my earliest memories–Tom Sr. watering his garden and calling my name as if I were an endeared, local live-wire. “Pe-daaah,” his exaggerated salutation counterpoint to the steady spray, pulling me into him beside a spectrum in the mist, a tactile, sound-tracked, variegated bliss.
He was ambitious and restless. He had a summer house built in Montauk off Old Montauk Highway on a president street–Jefferson or Washington Ave.–‘Ave.’ seeming as incongruous, a quarter mile from the roaring Atlantic Ocean, as a Lexington Path parallel to Park Ave.
A two-story box house with tan-orange shingles, thousands of grey stones for a driveway which ran along the left side of the house; bedrooms on the first floor; a carpeted, waist-level-walled staircase to the second: living and dining area and small kitchen in the front, overlooking the street; a den with room only for a love seat a few feet in front of a television in the back, where sliding glass doors opened to a wooden staircase, which led to a small yard, and the front of the driveway. The walls were dark-paneled in the den. The rug in the living room was green.
Once every ten years or so, I smell, somewhere–walking past a furniture store in New York, in an old retreat house, en route to a spartan room–the crisp, distinct smell of wood that encompassed the small front room on the ground floor where I’d sleep, the stillness and dark surfacing the terror of tight-lipped grief at my father’s loss, and, worse, the possibility of my mother being taken in the same unannounced way, another un-nameable hijack, another disappearance dismissed; a parked hearse forever a death-chauffeur whose dispatcher is God, processions, regardless of the occasion, eliciting emotional upheavals that presage the slow-push of a cloth-covered casket down a church center aisle.
The black of that wood-wafted room–a soundless cell summoning the void of what my own family could never be; the endless confinement that would surely follow my violation of our collective silence, something I couldn’t imagine complying with, even as I did.
The Cappadonna’s, vivacious, engaged and unpretentious; the committed, cloudless blue sky out their windows; a walk across a heat-drenched Old Montauk Highway to the roaring ocean. Nothing could offset the certitude of being privy to a doubly-punishing, singular dread: emoting its extremes grossly burdened others; withholding it confirmed its harrowing hold.
Within a day or two, I’d call my mother. With my head in her lap and the bottom of the steering wheel against my forehead, I’d collapse in the certifiable cushion of her existence, the steering wheel caging me in it, emboldened there by our dread-mitigating unification. Disgusted by dread’s greed and insistence, I was determined to thwart it. Each westward landmark fleetingly observed–CW Post Southampton, the Hampton Bays Diner–incredulously confirmed our escape, the caged-in cushion of her lap returned to with a victor’s satisfaction, coupled with a relief that could never be evinced.