According to legend, King Solomon asked his wisest men for a means of dispelling depression. They thought long and hard on the matter, and finally presented him with the phrase: "This too shall pass". Well, the phrase can cut both ways, can't it? I'm reminded of that other line: "All good things must come to an end". When you're a young child, the idea of something ending, of saying good-bye, doesn't carry the same weight as an adult. It's temporary, it's brief, and it is not for forever. Such is one of the precious gifts of childhood!
Each summer, I would arrive last on Martha's Vineyard, among my clutch of close friends. You see, they lived in far away places like Connecticut and Pennsylvania; and they got out of school earlier than me. So, my arrival was always greeted with much joy. I'd sit in the front seat of my Mom's little Volkswagen Bug, and we'd pull up the narrow little street into the Campground - and go right by Dailis' house. If he wasn't on the front porch, his mom or dad would be, and I'd see them make a beeline for the front door. Oh yeah, they had to let him know I was here!
Up to the corner, right where "Tall Timbers" stood we'd drive; hang a left, and go in front of "The Hermitage" - Jimmy and Eddy's cottage. Out cottage ("The Cricket") was right next door. By the time we were pulling into the backyard, they were standing at our fence - waiting.
And thus began the summer. No sooner was the cottage opened than I was out the front door - shoes and socks lying in a heap in my room. Yeah, the rough asphalt was tough on my tender toes, but I knew they'd toughen up in a few weeks. Of course, that drove my mother insane!
"Would you wash your feet before getting in bed?" she'd say. "Your sheets are black with filth from those dirty feet of yours."
I'd roll my eyes - once her back was turned. I mean, come on, asking a little boy to wash his feet before bed! Was she nuts?
After a summer of fun and frolics, those twin phrases would return to torment me. Jimmy and Eddy left first, then Lisa, Reed, and finally Dailis; and I was alone for my last day on the Island. I always made a habit of walking around all the old haunts; even at that age I seemed to understand the need to say farewell to that which meant the most to me. And to regret having so little time for each.
The next day, we would leave on the steamship. I'd stand at the stern, watching the Island fade into the horizon, and feel such emptiness. It was as if a part of me, a sliver of my soul had been left behind. Yet, I knew that, come the next summer, we'd be back. Again, such is the simple thoughts of a child. Devoid of life experiences, they know nothing of the great losses we all must face. And I was lucky; at that tender age, I'd yet to loose anything or anyone important in my life.
That would change.
First came family. I would hide beneath the sheets and pretend to be asleep, hoping that Mom and Dad wouldn't hear my sobs. Actually, there was little chance of that, given how loudly they were screaming at each other. Funny how great love can change to great hate in the twinkling of an eye. Soon, it was just mom and me, and the house - the place I'd known as home my entire life - was also gone. We moved to Belmont, and I became the new kid in school. Being shy and withdrawn, I didn't make any friends; yet no one seemed to care about that. I guess when you're twelve, you're supposed to be brooding and sullen all the time. Plus, I always did well in school, and that was the only question I was ever asked, "How you doing in school?" Not, "Are you making friends, having you started dating?"
Then came a stabbing pain to my soul. Rex the First, my dog, disappeared. I tried to find her, but I didn't know how, and no one seemed interested in helping. Dad was away, and Mom had her new "friend". He wasn't much interested in my small concerns. I learned real quickly that he didn't want me around; especially after he put his son's name on my bedroom door!
Yet, there was still the Island, and "The Cricket"; they were my anchor.
Now it was Dad and me who went there in the summer. Thing was, Dad had been a general contractor his whole life, but when it came to his own affairs - he was the worst procrastinator on the face of the Earth! Look up the word "procrastinator" in the dictionary, and there'd be Dad's picture. So, he didn't maintain the cottage, and the Camp Meeting Association didn't like that. You see, the Campgrounds are rather unique - you own the cottage, but not the land it sits on; you lease it from the Association year by year. Of course, if they don't renew the lease, what are they going to do - make you move the place? Well, they didn't renew Dad's, and he had to sell "The Cricket". Thus was gone the final "leg" of the "tripod" that supported my psyche - family, home, and cottage. I was a rowboat without oars, lost in a raging Nor'Easter.
Yet, still the Island remained.
Grandmother and Grandfather were now in their eighties; their Island days were over. So, Dad and I moved into their place, and began fixing it up. Well, he pointed; I fixed. Yet, I didn't mind - it was for the cottage, for the family. I knew that someday my nieces and nephews would live in this place; and I wanted them to remember that it had been Uncle Andrew who had cared for it, tended it, and prepared it for their use. You see, I never expected to marry and have a family. I knew I was a shy, withdrawn geek. What chance did I ever have of marriage? No, I was an observer of human life, not a participant.
And then came the good-bye that stabbed me through the heart. Grandmother left us at the age of ninety-three. I didn't know how to react. In my life, I'd never lost anyone close to me. I went in my room, and wept. Never have I felt such a burning in my eyes. Yet, as each tiny sliver of "glass" dropped from my eyes, an ounce of pain was lifted from my soul. Now I understood why grieving was so important.
A few months later, Grandfather was gone, and the grieving was renewed. Now the cottage was well and truly Dad's; and I found renewed strength to work on it. Some family members thought it odd I should still want to spend each summer on the Island. After all, I was in college now; I should be traveling in the summer; going places, seeing things - gaining "experience" (as my brothers would say with a wink). I was too naïve to understand what they meant. And how could I explain to them what the Island meant to me? Back then, I used to say that if I didn't visit it at least once a year, I'd die. Just to see it was nourishment for my soul. To breath its air gave spark to my mind, and to drink its cool, clear water was to invigorate my body.
There's a line from an old movie that says something about people who have drunk from the Nile may never quench their thirst from any other river. Well, that's how I feel about the Island. To live there - even as what the Islanders call a "summer gink", is to never be able to call any other place home. That part of your soul left in the island's spirit, shall always beckon you back.
And each summer through college ended the same way - me on the steamship, looking back at Dad on the dock. And each of those partings became harder and more painful as I grew to realize that there would come a day when there would be no more summers for me. However long I delayed it; eventually, youth would have to end, and adulthood commence. Those twin phrases would not be denied their truth!
Then came more loses.
Soon Dad was gone, and a few years later, Rex the Second. We sprinkled Dad's ashes off the coast of the Island - the same place as his parents, and I buried Rex's ashes near the cottage. After all, that would certainly remain the one constant in my life.
I was wrong.
Times grew tough, prices went up, and none of us could afford to maintain the cottage. We made the decision to sell the place - and I felt a pain beyond anything I had ever known. Someone pummeled me in the guts for about an hour, and then reached up under my ribcage to crush my heart and lungs. But, the worst thing of all was that I didn't die! Oh, how I prayed for death. For what is worse - the death of your body, or the death of a part of your soul?
Since that terrible day - so many years ago - not a single day has passed that I have not regretted doing that. Yet, I knew it was the only thing we could do. Unfortunately, with the passing of youth - with the acceptance of the responsibilities of adulthood - comes the sad realization that you must often do what you know it right; even when it is the single hardest thing for you to do. Once again, those phrases demand that they be obeyed!
Over time, as you age, you come to realize that everything in your life will eventually be taken from you - friends, family, connections to the land, and so forth. Yet, we all go on building those connections. Why? Because, we come into this world with nothing, and we leave it with nothing; the part in between is called life. Those connections, however tenuous they may be, they are the glitter that makes life sparkle.
And so - good-bye.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.