For a moment I think Ill fall. I dont know how to find my way anymore in a tilted landscape; the world around me is as unstable and disturbing to my body as the pitch and roll of a dory lost at sea. The metal step that juts from the threshold of the truck-sized station wagon is high, higher than feels right. The friend called Jethro is sitting in the drivers seat, and puts out a hand to steady me and at the same time lifts me up, until suddenly I am sitting in the wide seat beside him. Three little girls sit on the frayed maroon seat behind us with their mother, Donna, who is pregnant. A small boy freckled and stocky, with a crewcut the color of sand, sits astride the gearshift. His name is Nolan, named for the Hall of Fame pitcher; the new baby will be Dewey, after the Red Sox right fielder. The girls have names as soft and as meltingly sweet as pink cotton candy: Tiffany, Brittany, and Ashley.
I hardly know these people, although I have spent many long days sitting near them at the beach. I have never said more than a few words to Jethro, although I believe, in this dream state, that I know him well, and I have tender feelings for him. He is a large man, like the TV character for whom hes nicknamed, and has strong, capable hands. Like many of my brothers friends, he seems to have stalled in a more attractive station in life than full adulthood, somewhere in the long passageway after leaving high school.
He came to visit Mark once in the hospital when I was there. I was sitting
quietly next to my brothers bed, and it was just the two of us,
a peaceful corner. Mark was drifting in and out of sleep, and I was
Jethro walked into the room; I had never met him, and because he was so large and because I was half dozing myself, I was startled. He looked at the bed, and then sat down in the other chair. He said gruffly: "Hi, Im Paul, Im a buddy of Marks." I introduced myself as Marks sister, and Paul said, "Mark talks about you a lot. Youre from New York City, right?" He said New Yawk, the way some people in Massachusetts do, and in that slightly awed tone most of my brothers friends used when they contemplated the idea of living in such a big, unfriendly place. I confessed that New York was my home, and we fell silent. Then, less than two minutes later, Paul stood up, and said, "Well, tell Mark I came by. Ill catch him next time." And he left.
When Mark woke up, I said your friend Paul came to see you. Mark shook his head to wave away the chemical dullness and said, Paul who the hell is that? Then he laughed, and he said, was he tall, and kind of heavy? I nodded, and Mark said, "That was Jethro!"
Jethro is driving the head car of the procession. The motor makes the chassis vibrate like a mastiff on a choke leash as the big Chevy lurches off the dirt road. The tires paw deep ruts as we idle for a moment while Jethro does something with the gears that will allow the animal inside the machine to run free. Suddenly, we roar into action, and the car surges forward; we roll along for a mile or two, slowly now but with all the power and grace of Hannibals great beasts of war. We rise to the crest of the highest dune, and Jethro releases the gas pedal as the ocean swells to meet us. The bottomless blue is blinding, too beautiful to take in, and I turn my head to look behind us.
The long train of jeeps, dune buggies, and pick-up trucks ripples in the sun, the light flashes off the flanks of solid metal and sheets of color shimmer and melt into rivers of warm, pale sand. The cars far away at the end of the line move in fits and starts, catching up; a parade of salt-beaten chrome and enamel sparkles in the early morning glow of this sad and brilliant June day.
I see Holly and Richards white jeep with the bleached-out canvas top, and the world starts to swim around me again, sucking me deep into a vortex of loss and grief so thick and airless that I gasp out loud. The white jeep: Holly had given us a ride out to this very spot just two weeks ago.
It was Memorial Day weekend, and Id left New York at four in the
morning to beat the holiday traffic. It had been cool and overcast when
I got to my mothers house, but Mark was already up and dressed in
his jeans and his sweatshirt, sitting in his wheelchair, ready to go.
Mark said, call Holly, were going to the beach. I looked at him
dubiously as it didnt really look like a beach day to me, and I
knew his whole crowd was planning a beach party for the next day, Sunday.
He glared at me and
At first I was nervous, anxious that Mark would be too cold, the weather
would turn on us, and rain would sweep in, thered be nobody to give
us a ride back... But finally, I stopped worrying and let the glory of
the day carry us forward. The sun rose in the sky and the thin clouds
dispersed, the sand heated up, and we unzipped our sweatshirts. We sat
there on the beach, looking at the water, listening to the waves lap at
the shore, and we watched the piping plovers skitter along in the tidal
Mark died five days later.
The trucks and cars have all come to a stop on a strip of the beach that
is wide and flat. The tide is low, and children are hopping down from
the jeeps and leaping off the backs of pick-ups. The grownups move more
slowly, they are more reluctant to join the gathering that begins to form
at the slope of the dune. The plateau called High Pines shelters us from
the light wind that flutters the tall dune grass. It is a bright green
this early in the summer, not the sun-washed gold I associate with
I look at the faces around me, and although they all seem familiar, it
is as though they are made of cardboard, like masks, or painted in tempera,
like a childs mural in a school corridor. I have a poem
And then I scatter his ashes.
The friends go back to their cars and trucks and there is a low growl as the sparks reawake the slumbering engines; the big wide tires creep forward as the drivers maneuver their vehicles in the sand for the return journey. This time, Jethros car is last in line and I sit beside him and I stare out the window at the ocean. The sea has turned to the color of lead as a caravan of clouds obscures the sun for a moment, and I feel the chill as we move slowly away from the ceremony of sorrow. I look out at the dull sea and in a futile gesture, I grasp my left hand with my right hand and I dig my fingernails into my skin so hard that white crescents rise from the mounds of my palm. The solicitation of pain does no good; it is as though I, too, have departed from this world.
I am a writer and editor by trade, specializing in medical and health
information, but recently have begun to explore memoir writing. I have
been published by the online journal Brevity and accepted for