have always hated the cold beyond reason.
wish I could melt away.
was born in Provincetown, a weird little place on the furthest tip of the fist
of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I was born on the edge of nothing that is Provincetown
in the winter, two weeks after Valentines Day, my mother alone in a drafty
bed by the sea.
are moments that are the size of life, as if life were one certain hope. You can
cram that moment full, keeping everything tiny and understood, or you can fill
it chaotically with one spindly empty thing, letting that spindly thing swell
blandly until everything around you loses meaning, like staring at the word "the".
parents met at the Old Colony, the last scratchy bar in town, when my mom was
working around the corner at the Surf Club. She ended up in Provincetown that
summer by a process of elimination, slumming it, running away from her arty, self-righteous
parents. Her father was an art dealer in New York City and her mother was an opera
singer. She had just missed the end of her junior year at Sarah Lawrence, lost
the thread. In the bare blue and white ammonia mopped rooms and sun-bleached decks
of the Surf Club, my mother became an average girl of wholesome beauty with some
minor wild habits that, in Provincetown anyway, made her feel sexy and not depressed.
She started me that summer, meeting up with my father night after drunken night
in the Old Colony.
father belonged to another family. He lived with us just once really, my mother
and I, one time, one week of my whole life.
one time he came back from fishing and the locks on his real house were changed.
I dont think they were ever locked before. No one was home and there was
no fire in the stove. It was twilight in the two-room apartment at the top of
our shaky flight of stairs that afternoon and I sat on the floor next to the heater.
I was almost
four at the time and my mother says I cannot possibly remember these things.
I do. I can see the ice forming on both the inside and the outside of the flimsy
kitchen door. I can feel the blizzard coming, through my knees pressed on the
linoleum and I can see that wet circle clearing in the middle pane of glass, my
fathers ruddy lips breaking through, mouthing something funny to me.
always knew when I was looking at him, like when you catch someone staring at
you in a rearview mirror, his crazy black cell of an eye always finding mine,
He was still in the thick plaid jacket caked with all sorts of gunk and blood
that he had worn alone on the boat for the last few days, his black beard matted
with snow. He stood just inside the door and stamped his boots on the newspapers,
lowering his head and looking a little sheepish.
is not so much that I know my dad that well, although I remember all of this true,
like it happened yesterday, but the thing you have to remember is that I know
my mom like she is me. My mother always says we have no rooms in our house, only
passageways, whatever that means. She says stuff like that all the time. Shes
a slogan queen.
proud of those passageways. She thinks it makes her a good mom.
course he came all the way in and of course my mom made him dinner. I am so glad
that I have not inherited those female cohabitation skills my mom seems to be
so expert in. She may not get it all right, but she has that ability to move right
on in with these guys, or move them in with us, with this annoying confidence
and within hours were open for business. Just like that.
night my father arrived it began to snow, one of those solemn and deranged winter
storms on the Cape; the snow falling horizontal across the bay, pushing its
way up beneath the flashing of the windows and into the house. By noon the following
day, the power was out in the whole town.
electricity in Provincetown is connected to the nearest civilization by some wire
and a wobbly series of poles. Route 6, the only way out of town, stretches over
a landscape that consists mainly of wind with some sand mixed in. If the weather
didnt do us in, one of the frequent car wrecks, even 30 miles away, could
leave us without power for up to a week.
6 was littered with small shrines to the reportedly happy and healthy victims,
usually (it seemed) families and small children. Of course there were always a
few of those tragic loners the outer Cape seemed to specialize in as well. Sometimes
there would be just a little cross staked in the brush, some fake flowers piled
up, faded and dead-looking as if they were real, sometimes there were words, a
poem. Nailed furiously to a tree about a quarter mile out of town right now is
a seemingly dead teddy bear, its head lolling to one side. I always see
it after I pass, in the corner of my mind.
we had one of those coal stoves in our apartment and we were used to using it.
In the later afternoon of that first full day of our family life, I remember singing
in the kitchen, the floor cold, following light and then dust and then one broken
crayon rolling, salmon pink, deep into the corner. I pressed my face and ear against
the wall. I breathed in the soft mute of the outside and let it go. I slept and
then I woke. In the corner purple light became blood brown and then half black
as I listened to my parents voices muffled and rocking in the next room, where
they had remained, constant and continuous as the snow, across the night and into
the time my mother tumbled out of her room, all fragrant and shiny, I was cold.
Her rock star hair tossed to one side of her head, her bleary eyes squinting,
she faltered only slightly when she found me lying there, under the window with
the dog. I could feel her. I could feel her with my eyes shut, filling the sky
above me, her skinny, ringless fingers quivering, holding her crumpled kimono
opened my eyes for her against my will. I couldnt help myself. She lifted
me to her hip and attempted to brush away the dust and dog hair that clung to
my zippered pajamas. She pushed her hair behind her ear. A sour and familiar smell
sweated from her in the cold.
gonna be good here, yeah, were gonna be good, were gonna make a nice
fire, shit, what am I doing, Linda . . . shit . . ."
dug through the rough wooden box with her scoop, pushing the lumps of coal against
the side and then dropping them as she attempted to fill the stove. She set me
back down on the floor and stuck both of her hands into the soot, stuffing the
gaping belly of the stove, black dust rising and clinging to her sleeves.
door of my mothers room was left open. I moved across the floor and inside,
away from the mess of my mothers fire and into the low fluttering of my
fathers breathing. I walked slowly in a wobbly diagonal, approaching the
misshapen pile of blankets, clothes, books, empty boxes and crooked bottles that
was my mothers bed. I walked past the miniature futon that belonged to me,
one heavy foreign boot leaning against my pillow, the other fallen beside it,
slightly tipping the remains of last nights kale soup. Both beds were on
the floor, my mothers and mine.
father laid in my mothers bed, long and naked, despite the cold, his wooly
torso stretching out of the blanket. He stared up at the ceiling, staring up at
the ceiling, his arms behind his head, eyes open for a long time and then closed.
Without looking at me, he stretched one hand in my direction, palm open, flat
and still, as if it were holding water, trembling. I turned to run when another
giant hand shot out from beneath the covers and yanked me into bed, my body balling
up into a kink.
you, Ive got you, got you right here, darlin dont you go anywhere,
come right here with your daddy.. " His hard face pushed into mine then scraped
against my belly as his two palms crushed my ribs. He held me above him. I looked
down into his swollen eyes.
week went on. My mother laughed and cooked more soup. I wandered from room to
room. My parents drank and pushed their bodies together. In the bedroom, on the
kitchen table, against the wall. They fell down, broke things. I remember the
phone ringing suddenly. They didnt answer it. Instead they turned on the
TV, fitting my tiny body perfectly in the opening between the two of them.
about the fifth morning, the sun came out and I sat at the table with my father.
We were silent, listening to the drip and crack of the ice moving outside. I was
eating a hardboiled egg that I had watched my father score crosswise several times
with a fork. My mother was sleeping. My father listened intently with his eyes
downcast and almost closed and I practiced being like him. His lips pressed hard
against each other. One hand stirred his coffee round and round.
sat this way for a long time, ice creaking and clock ticking. Once in a while
he would reach across the table and touch my face with his fingertips, then he
would take a breath and glance over his shoulder. Leaning across the table, he
would begin, as if rehearsing for a play, or as if he thought he was on TV, ".
. In this savage world. . ," but before he could continue, he would laugh and
shake his head and take another breath, looking behind himself one more time.
Only this second time, he would somehow manage to look over his shoulder without
moving at all, as if his eyes could turn inside his head. He would disappear inside
himself for a brief second and become almost invisible, a thin line of smoke,
then haze, in front of the hard light of the flats of sand on the bay, inside
the brace of blank windows.
happened several times. Now I know that this was just a trick of the brightness
of the day, but then I didnt know that.
wasnt sure who he was talking to.
we had sat for a while, and my mother still had not woken up, my father picked
me up, holding me under one arm while he wiped the crumbs off the table with a
sponge. He placed our dishes in the sink, balancing my bowl delicately on top
of the already heaped and tilted pile. He continued to hold me as he turned on
the radio, tuning into a local weather station and turning up the volume. He lifted
me up and placed my stomach on his shoulder and twirled me around a few times
before entering the tiny bathroom, setting me next to him on the toilet as he
removed his shirt. He proceeded to prepare himself for his first shave since his
arrival. Scavenging under the sink, he dug out a beat up aerosol can of Barbasol
that had rusted to the back of the cabinet and checked out the edge of my mothers
pink disposable razor in the light. He winced and kept looking, but not without
first bending down and handing me a shimmery bar of hotel soap that he had found
as well, still in its ripped, gold embossed paper wrapper.
knocked on the door. The sound made my skin hurt. My father bent out of the bathroom,
narrowing his body so as not to be seen. He stepped back in, looked down and flashed
me a smile, holding his finger to his lips. I lifted my finger and kissed it.
The shaving cream made a white scar across his cheek.
where I sat, I could see a boy at the door with a safety orange skullcap pulled
over his ears. He was a teenager, tall and unfamiliar, with bushy eyebrows. He
looked right at me. I could hear the boys boots shift with a sharp crunching
sound. He knocked again.
my father said, his hands resting on the edge of the sink, his eyes fastened in
the mirror. He shook his head once and then twice, stopping in between to look
there was another knock. My father took a breath and nudged the door open with
his shoulder as he walked through the kitchen without his shirt on, drying his
hands with a towel and lifting his chin to the boy. Snow fell on the kitchen floor
as the door edged open against it.
my father reached out, taking the boys hand as if to shake it. He placed
this other hand on the boys shoulder.
did not enter the room but stood outside silently and blinked, at one point stepping
to the side to avoid the melting snow.
it been going? Hows everything?" My father cleared his throat, not once
but twice, his hand scratching his chest. He turned towards the bathroom to pick
up his shirt, talking over his shoulder as he walked.
on in, its ok son, come on in, did you have breakfast?"
twelve oclock, Dad"
yeah, well, yeah, weve been so quiet, I mean its been so quiet, you
know, what with all the snow and all, weve been, uh. " and saying "we" he
remembered me, now standing in the doorway to the bathroom in my pajamas, leaning
my shoulders back towards the wall and pushing my stomach out into the room.
sent me here, Dad. She told me to tell you to cut the shit and come home." He
looked at me when he said the word shit.
father was looking down, buttoning his shirt. "Oh, did she say that? I bet she
did. I bet she did." He pulled a chair away from the kitchen table and sat down,
his hands on his knees. Then, remembering something, he stood and went to the
door of the bedroom, quietly turning the knob and entering.
boy continued to stand outside the open door. It was cold where I stood, staring
at him. He moved his feet back and forth and then up and down. He brought an ungloved
hand to his mouth in a fist, sending as small cloud of breath through his fingers
into the room. Finally he entered, closing the door behind him. He stood just
inside, leaning on one leg and then the other, with his arms at his side. He tried
not to look at me. He still wore his orange hat.
door to the bedroom opened and I could barely see my mothers back, untouched
and still, rolled in towards the wall, a pillow over her head, before the door
closed. My father came out with his boots in his hand. Sitting back down at the
table he began to pull them on. His face was still half-shaven, but the line of
shaving cream was long gone. His mouth lay in a straight line. He tied his boots.
been helping your mom out there with all this snow?"
we just got back last night. Been staying at Nonis since before the storm.
Well some of us, on and off. Mom didnt want her to be alone and Noni said
she wasnt moving. I stayed over at Bobbys a few nights too. We walked
out on the beach, the wharf, when the storm was going on, checked on the boat.
I didnt know if you had come back, figure the Coast Guard wouldve
said somethin but then there was the snow. ."
father slammed his hand on the table.
door was locked, boy. The door was locked. Tell me something, you got a key for
that door?" He looked Jamey hard in the eye.
grabbed his jacket from the mess on the floor, knocking over a tall stack of newspapers
piled haphazardly by the stove. They slid into the middle of the floor. He stepped
on top of them as he leaned forward into the boys face.
door was fucking locked. Come back from the boat and your mother locked the fucking
door. I just bet she sent you looking for me, like Im not showing up, like
I wouldnt show up. . "
the door was open. His hand was on the doorknob. His other hand pushed through
his hair. He walked out. He was still talking to the boy in that loud way. I strained
to hear them as the door slammed shut.