We pull up to the place that will soon become the scene for a party. It is a hot day out, but stepping out of the car’s AC feels good, like a loaf of bread just beginning to toast. We unload, all nine of us, into the summer air of the Atlantic. We walk through a winding, confusing restaurant to a large, white, open tent along the water, filling up with the families of pride and sacrifice. Today is a day to celebrate and not to mourn (though the possibility is never far enough away). Today I have the boy with me, no matter what hungover, nostalgic, distant state he may be in. We are all tired, but happy to be together. This family is good at being together. Just being, without excitement or complication. They believe in laughter, teasing, and multiple courses, embracing both conversation and listening. Mostly short, but with healthy appetites that are contagious. A proud group, who denies all heritage accept the strongest one. And yet they have welcomed this Irish-American with a simple, “Are you sure you’re not Italian?” Indeed I am not, though it doesn’t matter much.
On this occasion there are other families with us and the tent fills with children yelling, embracing friends, beaming parents in mutual support, and the elderly looking on pleasantly. Lots of excitement and movement, but I adopt this family’s energy of calm, letting the party rotate around us. Are we really the center of it all or is it just a trick of dignity?
At some point I will need to walk away. Social gatherings always overwhelm me with the expectations. I need to remember myself in the crowd. As I walk the dock lined with boats, I notice a boat just like my Father’s and wish he would emerge from the cabin.
There is one thing I forgot. MY family. That’s me. I have my own loyalty in blood that made me. They too are enjoying a summer with sea, salt, and sand, and reveling in their own hopes and fears for the futures of their wonderful children.
This day there will be crabs breaking, cool drinks, and photos of a couple that haunts me, though I never have seen the finished proofs.
The photographer, another artist in the crowd, will bond with me over cities and culture. This is a discussion I can understand and master because it is my own passion. For the first time in what feels like a week, I actually recall who I am. Independent. Female. Artist. Where were you hiding? It must have been the haze of ceremonies, comrades, and humidity that made me forget my individual. A week as big for me as for them. After all my accomplishment was 23 years in the making. Yes, it happens to everyone in all kinds of ways unpoetic and accepted, but this lack of recognition makes me wonder if it happened at all. He is rightly distracted and I am left in confusion. I am only just now finding my footing and can’t contain myself in a place where I am so subservient. I don’t know if I am truly content or just lost and quiet with all the changes.
But the time is now for them and the thing is succeeded for me. I know I want to be with this group of brothers that makes me smile, because I too am bursting with hope for them. We are all sharing something, something I too am a part of—sacrifice. In the obscurity of tearing families apart to make them the strongest they will ever have to be, my sacrifice (that I refuse to call small) is forgotten and that is okay for now.
I will care for this family for long after our bond has been forced to end and pray that their sacrifice will be limited, even while they forget mine ever existed. And I still can’t answer the questions of that day slowly being washed away by time. The place on the bay I will never return to.