It’s been many years since I closed that door, but the pain of that day truly hasn’t diminished. Everyone has to deal with loss in his or her live; some of them are quite painful. There’s the death of a spouse, parent, child, divorce and separation, moving from a beloved home and even the death of a special pet.
I’ve experienced a number of such losses. Many of them have been painful. One cut a very deep gash to my heart.
Since I was an infant, my family had a cottage in what in The Campgrounds in Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard Island, an island off the east coast of Massachusetts. It was and is a very special place. One of my friends commented that it was as if the area had a force field around it, as it was a super safe spot for kids to grow up.
Not only that, but given how close the cottages are to each other, many of my friends were literally a minute outside my door. Living there each summer made for a fun childhood. My wife jokes I grew up, like Christopher Robin, in the 100-Acre Woods.
Summers were always great: Swimming at the town’s beach, feeding ducks and catching minnows at Sunset Lake, and playing all manner of make-believe games with my friends. My cottage had the biggest porch, so we often hung out there. That porch was so many things: deck of a battleship and spaceship, underwater research facility and so on.
Yet, as the saying goes, all good things must end. There came a time when we had to sell the cottage. It wasn’t that we wanted to sell it; however, the arrangement in The Campground is a rather unique one.
Residents own the cottages, but the association that runs The Campground owns the land; the association rents the land homeowners on an annual basis. Thus, the association is able to exert a very large degree of control over the residents.
As my dad pointed out, it meant they could keep out and “undesirable” people. What sort of people do they wish to keep out? Well, I don’t want to “name names,” but as this was the 1950s and 1960s, if you put a little thought into it, I’m sure you can figure it out.
The association also didn’t like “troublemakers,” people that rocked the boat. That was my dad. There finally came a year where the association refused to renew our lease.
We had to sell our cottage. Now, we were able to drag it out for a few years, but there did finally come a buyer who was willing to pay our price and the cottage sold. That last summer, we had to spend several weeks cleaning out the place, packing up our things and taking care of some very personal items. The doorway where we’d recorded the heights of my brothers and me, over the years, I had to record that.
Then came the last day and I walked through the place, pausing in each room, remembering some of the events from the past. Falling asleep to the sounds of the rain on the pitched roof, trying to sleep the night after I broke my wrist, watching television in my parents’ room and trying to get a clear picture, back then we just had the old “rabbit ears” and three channels.
Then there was climbing on the roof. Yeah, that’s right, my friends and I used to climb on the roof of the cottage. How any of us survived our childhood, I will never know.
I stopped in the playroom, a little room off the kitchen. It had one of those split doors, a Dutch door, so my mom could close the lower half and keep me safe while she cooked, but could also look in occasionally to check on me. The laundry room looked incredible, the workbench finally clean, my dad did tend to be a bit messy and the backyard was empty except for our filled VW Squareback.
My dad walked out the door. I paused in the doorway, my hand on the doorknob. My eyes scanned the dining room and living room beyond. I inhaled deeply, the lingering aromas of spaghetti, burnt toast and dog hair blending in my mind.
Stepping out, I closed the door and my eyes, the cool breeze wafting over me. I placed both hands flat against the door. I wanted to feel the cottage one last time, as if hugging it. A deep slice cut across my mind and body. I was no longer a part of The Campgrounds; I was no longer part of my cluster of friends. It didn’t matter that we had my grandparents had a cottage up on the hill; it was too far away to be part of the group.
That day, closing the door to my old cottage meant closing the door to my childhood. It hurt. It hurt a lot.
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.
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