The Only Place That’s Ever Felt like Home
If I were to squint I could see the paddleboats on Fort Pond. The sun lay heavy on the Sunday sky and my skin was starting to burn, I needed to put more sunscreen on. I have to be careful nowadays; otherwise I’ll have to get another mole cut out of my back. It was beautiful here; it always is, on the hill looking out over Montauk to the sea.
“Promise me you’ll visit.”
My mother said to my sister and me. I could tell she was anxious. I promise to visit, but only after I ask if she’s okay. She assures me she is. I relax again. My sister is staring at her phone, she doesn’t handle solemnness well, but my mother is too anxious for silence.
“Look at me Ciara! Promise me, promise you will visit me.”
Finally, she promises. My mother and I are staring out over the pond; Ciara looks back at her phone.
“I can’t go back to Ireland, you two won’t ever be able to visit,” she said as she turned to look at me with her half-serious-half-joking face she’s always made, “and I will not be buried in New Jersey” with a dramatic pause after each word.
“I love Montauk,” she says seriously but calmly, “after thirty years it’s still my favorite place in this country. It’s the only place that’s ever felt like home in America.” She tells me that she’ll be buying her plot this week. I turn to squint at the paddleboats before we drive away.
The whole day was surreal. From the moment I woke up in Boston and kissed Tess goodbye, it all felt like a dream; she always calls this feeling “periwinkle.” I-95 is empty on a Sunday morning so I was able to get the ferry in New London a half-hour before planned. Every seaside city in New England smells like fried fish, carbon, and salt, I’m always bewildered by how much I enjoy it.
Inside indoor seating area, while waiting for a cup of coffee that will be overpriced and lukewarm, a young woman asks fretfully into her phone, “why didn’t you call last night.” While something is ending, something is beginning, I think to myself after taking a sip of the distressingly tepid coffee, as I watch two teenagers awkwardly flirt while trying to avoid the watchful stare of both their respective parents. An average journey on the cross-island ferry, I suppose.
I go up to the top deck to sit and watch the Connecticut shore shrink, the water is just a shade greener than the grey sky promising an afternoon shower. The ship had ferried soldiers across the channel on D-Day, a blue plaque with three gold stars at the top and bottom informed me; I suddenly feel a little haunted by a man my age, maybe sitting where I was sitting staring out at the water just like me, that this was one of the last things he ever knew –hopefully without the dismal coffee.
The ferry slowed down as it entered Orient Point harbor, if I were to squint I could see the people milling about, waiting to pickup a friend or a cousin. I went down to sit on the hood of my car, which was one of the last to board so it was right on the edge of the water. I wanted to keep breathing the sea air, but impatient and dangerously wasteful motorists turned on their engines, filling the belly of the ferry with carbon dioxide and the stench of gasoline. I get in my own car and leave the engine off.
My dad and I are shucking the corn in the kitchen and marinating the chicken while sipping dark-n-stormy’s, it’s his new favorite drink for the summer. I ask him what he wants us to do when he dies. He laughs.
“Thomas I don’t give a rat’s ass what you and your sister do with me,” he’s still laughing, probably from the rum, “cremate me and just throw me anywhere.”
“Mom wants to be buried out here you know”
“Oh jeezus,” he enunciates the “e” and then mutters something to himself I can’t quite make out.
“You know what,” I’m just goading him now, “I’m just gonna toss you over mom’s grave, as punishment for being so flippant about all this” I’ve had too much rum to realize the irony of this.
The chicken was a little burnt by the time we were done bantering. After we’d cleared away all the plates and said goodnight to my great-aunt, she’s in her eighties now and doesn’t stay up after dinner often, I sit out on the deck and look out at the stars. I can’t see the stars in D.C., but I can see the capitol building from my apartment, it’s apples and oranges though, I think as I stare at the milky way, the way I’ve stared at it every night in Montauk since before I knew how to write.
The night air is cool and salty. I watch a comet burn thirty thousand feet above Montauk. It’s the only place that’s ever felt like home.