Versatile Hearts

It was an eventful weekend.

Earlier in the week, Jade had called and said she was in New York.  Clementine had had a baby seven weeks prior, and Jade was in town to for a visit while Clem’s husband was briefly out of town.  They were headed to the beach, where the family was to spend the summer.

I wanted to see them; I had intended to come see the baby a few weeks ago when he was brand new, but they’d not been feeling well the day we’d set for a visit.

Did I want to come to Long Island instead?

My heart caught in my throat at the mention.  Three years ago, right after Clementine had bought the house, Jade and I had joined her to the beach.  We’d sat in traffic all night that Friday night.  My heart sat heavy in my chest, because back then, Jade and I had been growing apart, and because my marriage was really, truly coming to an end.

Since I had always dwelled more in the realm of Nicole Diver rather than Daisy Buchanan, the destinations Out East had never held any kind of special draw for me.  For instance: my Long Island had generally consisted of a couple of a martini-soaked Christmases under an electrified fir tree in Andrew’s mother’s ancestral home.  Or it had been the endless drives out to Riverhead where Andrew came unglued about ordinary household things.  It was all hellishly mundane.  Except for that obvious, extraordinary moment in August, 2009 with Jade and Clem, when we went to the lighthouse at Montauk, and when Jade and I argued.

But I accepted the invitation anyway. 

I packed up the dog, and rented a car and drove.  Here’s what you do without a car in New York:  you rent.  You wait in the queue with the other heavy-sighing New Yorkers till you get up to the sticky counter, and you try to forget that your ex-husband took the Jag, and you hand over your Amex, and they hand you the keys to some generic American behemoth, and you drive.  You take the Queensboro Bridge without thinking, because that’s how the livery drivers always take you to JFK, and after seven years in New York, you can do things like that without thinking. 

That’s how you get to Long Island.

I made it to Clementine’s house a few hours later, without getting lost, on the roads that were barely marked — Wainscott; East Hampton roadposts were unreadable until one was just upon them, as if to say: If you can’t find your way then you probably don’t belong here.

That always made me laugh.  Particularly because finding a GPS signal out there was torture.

When I arrived, the baby was asleep.  Roo gave him an obligatory, curious sniff, then trotted off, like he’d been around babies his whole life.  He met up with Clementine’s dog, who he was also meeting for the first time, but acted like he’d known forever too.

And that was it, really.

We were older, wiser.  Clementine had a son.  Jade and I had both been through the relationship fire and lived to tell the tale.  At some point, Clementine put the baby down for a nap, and went to nap herself.  Jade and I sat out on the back patio, and I lamented having forgotten a bathing suit.

Here, I have an extra top.  Just sit out in your underwear, Jade offered.

I’m not sure what possessed me to take her up on her offer, but I did.  We laid out in the sunshine, me in an American flag bikini top and my underpants.  We talked about the course of the last few months; years.

How had things changed so much in the three years since we had last found ourselves on that same deck?

A while later, Clementine emerged from the house to find me half naked on her deck, drinking a Corona, chatting with Jade about the past and the future.  She held the baby close to her and chuckled.

Was it really half a lifetime ago that we were in school — little girls in hooded sweatshirts on a bus to camp, singing songs, and stopping for breakfast in Buttonwillow, CA?  Laughing while we ran out of a Denny’s as the sun rose over the San Joaquin Valley?  Was it so long ago that Clem and I were listening to Clarence Carter in her red Jetta, speeding up the 405, after a dinner at Chin Chin on Ventura Blvd?  Did we do that on the night that my high school sweetheart left for Boston?

Were we ever so young?

How could those high school dances, and strange encounters, and years of talking and not talking, and all of those adventures have led us to where we were?

And was it so long and so short ago that we were sitting on that same deck, with Clementine engaged, and Jade newlywed, and me contemplating divorce?

We had lived a lot of lifetimes in the course of our friendship, it seemed. 

So we sat in the sun and talked.  Clem with the baby, and Jade with her sun hat, and me without trousers on.  It was all as if it was nothing at all; as if we always sat around in that patently natural and overtly absurd manner.  But that was it — we were stripped to essentials.  My past few years had been a process of sanding off the layers of bullshit acquired through a difficult decade.  And, down to only what mattered, surrounded by fierce women and faithful dogs, I remembered that even before the lighthouse, before the boys, and the men, and the damaged hearts, there had been drives and dances; sunrises; beautiful, fragile, durable things.

On the deck, I remembered that the absurdness of our moment together was the story of life.  It was sometimes serene; shockingly beautiful; unexpected; often nostalgic; and, of course, life occasionally caught you with your pants down.

(East Hampton, 2009)


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