• by Robert P. Barsanti •
The good news finally arrived this weekend. It came over with a wedding party on a rocking ferry in a thick, thirty-degree fog on Friday. We had prepared for more bad news this weekend; we lined up polar fleece, long pants, sweaters, and a favorite novel for the cold and clammy Saturday. Instead, the wind came in from central Mass and blew the fog out to sea and the stars emerged for the last phase of the crescent moon. By the next morning, fear had burned off and hope lit a cloudless sky.
Which is how it should be. In the spring, hope and the cherry trees should both be in full blossom. The calls are coming in for work, the rentals are finally moving, the restaurant tables are filling, and everyone has a jig in their step. Good fortune falls about us in a white and pink squall of petals.
At least one couple took advantage of the flurry of good fortune and got married. The vans were parked on Federal Street, the parking posts were out and the sidewalk was littered with anxious men in Nantucket Reds and yellow ties peering down the road. They are only a little ways west of where they beached on Cambridge Street last night.
One of the more amusing hobbies downtown is grandstanding the weddings at St. Mary’s. I stood with a veteran group of gawkers when the inevitable Model A arrived with bride and bridesmaid in the back. Both were lovely, both were resplendent in lilacs, both had glowing smiles as they whisked into the church. The father accompanied them, pulling up the rear, still smiling, still anxious, and still hopeful. He had stuffed his fears into his tackle box, then buried it in the trunk. Appear Happy.
He wasn’t the only Dad forcing a smile. Another drove his daughter and her date to the Nantucket Yacht Club that night for the Junior Prom. The young lady was a vision in blue taffeta, with blue tips on her fingernails and baby’s breath in her hair. Strapless, yes, but the hem drops all the way to the ankle. As for the boy, he has the nervous smile, the braces, and the matching tie for her dress. She gives Dad a kiss and runs squealing to her friends, trailed by the bedazzled boy—“It is going to be The Best Prom Ever.”
And it may have been. I haven’t been to all of the proms for the last fifty years, so I don’t know how it rates. It seemed very nice. Photos were taken of the couples inside the door, the tables were decorated in blue and white, with large glass columns of hydrangea and water in the center. The dance floor was crowded with dancers and grinders (I know it looks ridiculous, but I can’t be a Dirty Dancing Dad and wag my finger just yet). The refreshments were up against the far windows, before the famous harbor view. Outside, and across the water at the White Elephant, the other party, the wedding reception, was also in full bloom. Two competing DJ’s blew the dance music up the indifferent harbor.
From his daughter’s angle, the Junior Prom looks a lot like wedding practice. Everyone expects her to go and everyone expects her to have a date. Then she starts spending money so fast that the prudent and cautious parts of her brain turn off. Tickets and flowers and hair and nails and make-up and dress and shoes. Shoes! New shoes that come off minutes after the picture gets taken and kicked into a corner so that she can dance barefoot. There is a boy and there are friends and there is this incredible setting and everyone is beautiful.
From that angle, the ceremony of Junior Prom is about stepping out and stepping away. For the first time in her life, her parents expect a boy with her. They wrap that date up in as much romance, taffeta, and observation as they can, but it doesn’t change the fact that she will dance slowly with her arms around his neck and her head on his chest.
Eventually, the night becomes just her and her friends. The teachers drift off into the corners and the parents go home to the Red Sox and the night opens up before her. For the first time, she has license to have fun outside the watchful eyes of those older and wiser. She and her friends leave the Yacht Club and its muted lights for a house or a beach or Gibb’s Pond and she is on her own with good decisions, bad decisions, and curfews. Freedom intoxicates; she comes home soaked in it.
From Dad’s angle, another white mile marker passes at the door to the yacht club. Starting at her first breath, the markers have passed with the click of a shutter. The albums record each passing highlight: first step, first words, first birthday, first day of school, and first date. To her, sixteen years stretches to the edge of doom: to him, it happened yesterday. Two days ago, she was out of diapers. Yesterday, she was waving at the fish from the back of the boat. Today, she is in taffeta and pearls. Tomorrow she is in college and the day after she is married. He knows how close the White Elephant is.
If he is lucky. Dad also knows how fragile this life can be. Hard work, good fortune, and heart ache brought her to the yacht club this evening. There are children who never made it this far. They were abandoned or they were hurt or they died in an echoing silence. And he knows how dangerous it is to let your little girl drink Freedom. Cars crash, boys get violent, and the police knock very politely at your door in the early morning hours. Fathers and mothers and teachers and adults know an ugly secret. Everybody gets hurt. Scars bloom on the most beautiful and delicate of faces. They come without reason, cause, or provocation. But in the morning, they are there.
But not tonight, we all hope. Tonight will be accustomed and ceremonial. They will be beautiful and they will be well dressed and there will pictures and there will be a Prom King and Queen, then there will be a few sips of freedom out of sight of adult eyes. Mom and Dad will stay awake and stare at each other, remembering the birthdays, the trips, the night time feedings and the doctor visits. They will fear the ringing phone.
Until that door opens in the dark of the morning, they wait and hope and pray. Let her be a cherry tree. Let her bloom and let her be beautiful and let her drop her petals in the wind for children to race through. Then let her life fill with rich green leaves to feed and clothe and house her. Let her grow strong in the summer so that when the storms and the frost come, she can cling deep into the sand and hold fast. Let her be beautiful and let her be lucky, but, most of all, let her be strong.