by Robert P. Barsanti
By now, we can see the end of something. The Yukon from New Jersey, with all of the Cisco stickers and the roof rack is number three on standby and is ready, finally, to head back. The lines are shorter, the parking is easier, and the fog, finally, has been blown away. In the plague year, some of the stores are closing early for the season. Bargains on sweatshirts and candlesticks can be had.
After six months of sandwiches and isolation, the youngest one will be getting dropped off at college. In this time, we are happy that he is in fact going to his school; it has a plan, an honor code, and a tracking app. They are implementing the Hogwart’s Protocol, complete with mystic spells, a marauder’s map, and dementors. Our instructions are to drop him off, shut the door quickly, and process sedately down the elm lined road. It will be the end of something, as well.
The curse of a parent: as soon as you master a skill, you no longer need it. I learned how to settle a baby, make cheese toast, build Lego castles, and pin a corsage. Now I no longer need to. Old habits remain, old routines repeat. I look for likely playgrounds wherever I go. I make note of nearby Papa Gino’s. I store wipes in my glove compartment. I suppose that the other curse of a parent, a worse one, is to reach a point where you no longer need to learn new skills. I have nothing to offer my son today other than hangover cures and ramen recipes.
According to the rules of Hogwarts, he may not return home until Thanksgiving. So, we are looking forward to weeks of light laundry, a full refrigerator, and the remote control remaining just where we left it (somewhere). For the first time in twenty-one years, the house will remain quiet, dusty, and cluttered. I can play all the Xbox I ever wanted to.
Everything changes, always.
November stretches out there. The leaves will turn, the bluefish will head south, and we may have an election. High school may stay in the hybrid model, or we may be locked down again with our toilet paper, Zoom screens, and canned soup. Both boys may be sent back to the island, or they may, through luck and effort, finish their semesters with grades and a video tan. For sure, they will change.
As will their home. Nantucket has been able to squint and smile under the mask then slip in a summer better than we had wished. But, this was the last normal summer. Leases will be lost, mortgage payments will be skipped, and Christmas might be a little thin this year. And next year? What will the change do for Beef Wellington, “The Wizard of Oz,” and Airband? Restaurants, theaters, and bars may not make it through to the vaccine.
I suspect the future was at Cisco Brewers last week. The future wore a Vineyard Vines shirt, a ten thousand dollar watch, and a visor. He sat at a table with his back to the hops and a Whales Tale pint glass out of camera range while he checked in on a sales meeting in Florida. Outdoors and alone, free of elevators, conference tables, and bagel buffets: his business had gone from dinosaur to mammal and had shrunk down onto the granite pavers in Cisco. He came here on an Urban Flight; he doesn’t have to catch the Q train to Brooklyn.
I have not made that switch. Instead, I remain a dinosaur, wishing for ten cent wings at the Atlantic Cafe and Friday afternoons at Thirty Acres. The past remains around me, hidden in shadow and traffic, but there, nonetheless. If I squint, wish, and clap three times…
And I still wish for the boys. I wish that they will go to Sesachacha Pond with me and will get thrown around in the water in our games: heave-a-chino, toss-achino, and monster trucks all remain waiting for the right moment. Then, watermelon creams, baths, and Monsters, Inc before bed. Those days were just there. They remain as real as Wing Night and the Tap Room.
The future comes, first slowly, then all at once. One Friday night, we are standing in line at the Box then, moments later, we are sitting at picnic tables in the parking lot. We see Jaws in the old Dreamland, then, in the swish of time, we are parked in our cars at the Delta Fields drive-in. One afternoon we stand at the Cruising Game at Fooods while one son resolutely crashes his armored car into everything and in the next moment, he is waving at the end of an elm lined road.
Everything becomes obsolete except us. We wish for the mundane everyday of the past. We wish for the old disappeared normal. The present slips away and, in its absence, we wish for another Brownie Supreme with three spoons.
By Thanksgiving, today will be a wish. We will wish for cinnamon diamonds, a breaking wave, and a Cheese Special on the beach. And they won’t come.
We are at the end of something. He stands in the center of the rear view mirror, waving with one arm and carrying a fan in the other. We fear, and we hope. We fear in the plague ravaged present, locked into a dorm room and an ominous sign in the sky; and we hope that all of the library books, water games, and body surfing will raise him up out of a masked present into a bright future.
The old island has slipped away behind him.
The new one is up to him and us.