When We Stared Up at the Moon

Written By: Michelle  Tursellino

When we stared up at the moon, it was a golden, delicious orb, hovering over black, rippling waves that churned together memory and legend, longing and the unknown, a feeling that could only be brewed from the defeated resignation we were becoming accustomed to. I thought about how close that moon was, how magical the world seemed, and yet how sad that moon truly was underneath. But most of all, as you often hear people say, it was good to get away from the city and see the stars. What I remember about that night is the closest thing to magic we experienced that weekend in August. My mother, sister, and I traveled to Montauk to stay at our aunt’s condo, to get away from the memories of spring, to make new memories in a place that was full of stories – Truman Capote traveling down the highway, surfers, pancakes, serving at Gosman’s, and how lonely Montauk could be in the winter. These were the tales my father regaled us with as we grew up, and the tales my mother remembered when she desperately sought to go there, 4 months after he died, looking for him in scattered places when we knew he would no longer be showing up at home. My sister and I sat on the balcony overlooking the beach that night, and when she began talking, I closed my eyes and thought about the beach, the water, the hovering presence of my father in the east end. I thought about how when I was little, to me he was a monster, taking off his shirt on the beach to put on his wetsuit, his body racked and slashed with scars. These scars were memorials of countless surgeries that remained on his body while he survived Melanoma, a time that I never knew, as I was the youngest in the family, a baby when it happened. These memories would soon become part of my own. I would hear it, years later, when that disease haunted us for a final time, and when he shared his stories as we sat with him in Sloan Kettering, and he still wished to get into the water to surf the rough, deep waves. We were all forced to say goodbye to someone that made this part of Long Island so special, so deeply ingrained on our spirits, the pieces of sand that won’t disappear between your toes. Apparently it was something akin to magic that kept him alive for 20 years after his first diagnosis. It was something like magic that stopped my brother from doing more harm to himself after he punched a hole in the wall when he found out our father was returning home with no answer, no way for him to survive. It was something like magic that made my fragile, weary mother the strongest of us all when we held his hand for the last time. My mother woke me out of my trance then. We were back on the balcony and she walked out, looking intently at the moon. I stared at her differently. I remembered our afternoon that day, lazily lying underneath the umbrella on the beach, walking among the little shops before heading to the Montauk Yacht Club, my own trip to the lighthouse that this time, I did alone, leaving behind the self conscious twelve year old with thick, long, shaggy bangs who once climbed those steps with her eager brothers. I still don’t know if it was a good idea to go back so soon to Montauk, to retrace moments, and retrace a person, we would never find again. Fiction blurred with nonfiction, sadness blurred with beauty, and we tried to make sense of what it means to start again, when so much is still shaped by the past. I felt that this vacation was now our new story, but it would never be the same without a man that we all loved too dearly, who gave us the magic of the east end, to love too. Sometimes, when my family would get to the ocean late, two hours before the sunset, my father would say it was his favorite time to be at the beach. Crowds would dissipate, the sand was cooler, and as he reminded us, “I just like to sit and watch the waves.” At that moment, we just sat and watched the waves, letting the moonlight and rumblings on the beach wash over us, admiring all the beauty that brought us here, and still kept us together.