One of the things about a beach house is how much you see each other, and how much you see of each other.
It is all family here, now that my mother and Robert have exchanged rings, but I didn’t quite expect to see so much of his feet.
When I spy them in his sandals I tell myself to look away. Everyone has a right to wear sandals. But there they are totally bare on my coffee table, now sort of his coffee table and I think back an hour or so when I bent over that same spot eating my breakfast. I want to unsee them, and uneat the food.
I have cleaned cat turds and toilets, imagining that the various species shit came from my immediate family, but there is no saying. There are many of us in the house.
It is not all body parts and fluids, it is love too. His 17 year old granddaughter and her boyfriend lie on the Chinese daybed for three hours during the party. We are celebrating independence and they have given up theirs. She has a literal twin who is in the room, but she has conjoined herself with this boy instead and they are just two. The generations of guests brush by them, we have stopped looking after a while because our noticing changes nothing and so eventually we stop noticing.
My cousin and his girlfriend here are together on the deck. His hand is in her hair. They are alone but on display through the plate glass window. Prettier in that moment than any picture, her face tilted to his, the waves crashing in the background. The fourteen year old and I watch them, on either side of that love.
A few hours later we are in Provincetown and the 14 year old plays her violin on the street. She is, I guess, my step niece now that my mother considers herself married. As she plays her bare feet, looking nothing like her grandfather’s, work the pedals of her amp, looping her own sound, setting up her own accompaniment from music the moment before. Other people listening thinks she is playing along to recorded music, and in a sense she is, but she is dependent on no one to create it. But still on her father to get her to town to play it.
At the party friends gather around, endlessly reciting the declaration of independence in unison. My mother has passed out copies and has failed to predict how long this will drone on. We look to each other, and seek rescue from the recital and eventually it comes. “I think thats enough” she announces and no one will dispute that. Released, I circulate. There are many widowed women in various stage of grieving, and functionally my mother has left their ranks. I hear two joking about J date. A third silently cries. I mention eating outside and she instantly wells up. After 60 years of marriage everything must carry an association. She is not quite celebrating independence day.
They each have someone with them, a daughter, a friend, but more than someone with them they have someone not with them. The absence alive, unlike their partners.
As part of our party prep my boys and I made an Amarecian (Leo’s spelling) flag out of berries. About 20 minutes into the party he brushes past me in tears of his own. They are EATING the flag he tells me. I see is is upset but I can’t quite figure out how to help him. Later Steve tells me he imagined it the cake at America’s birthday party. Topped by sparklers. I didn’t know. America had to settle for pie and brownies and cookies prepped by the 17 year old twins.
At night we settle into the living room to talk over the party. There is not much to say, not many stories we can tell all together like this. A decade ago their were fewer of us and so there were more of them to talk about. Now there are so many left at the end there is no one left to tell tales about. We are all here in the room, family by declaration, but not in practice, we aren’t ready to tell each other’s stories.
After Robert and my mother leave we do laugh a little. Inevitably at them. They have left the dog behind when the went to his house for the night. Steve points her out on the floor and for some reason this is the funniest thing ever. The two of them leaving behind the dog, their only remaining dependent. So she has their own independence day.
It is the slim hours of the morning that these family members, new and old, feel like strangers. I have my odd stomach pain and I am up for several hours pacing and breathing into it. I see the fourteen year old sleeping on the floor, legs long, and it feels wrong to see her pretty toes sticking beyond her borrowed quilt. The little boys are in the bunk room, twisted blankets and sleep breathing. I hear the leftover dog on the tile floor above me.
There are 15 sleeping bodies in this house and me. An unhappy sentinel waiting for day to break and provide a new batch of cat turds, young love, looped music, and very old feet.