Tuesday, August 2, 2011


(the Cherry Grove beach, in the spring)

Yesterday, I woke up and kind of... needed a break from the kids.  Kathy and I had anticipated this happening, with the kids' summer vacation and me being home all day, not to mention A being with us full time instead of 60% like her siblings.  But yesterday's feeling was different than the run-of-the-mill feeling of "when does school start again?" that parents who stay home often experience as summer begins to wane.  It was like I woke up with a wet blanket on my chest.  I felt like I was being smothered.  Usually these days come after weekends where there has been a lot of family togetherness, so the manifestation of this feeling is a complete intolerance for the kids.  In the time I've been living with the kids, we've worked out sort of a vicious cycle. Usually, I cope with my intolerance by locking myself in my room and "reading," which also involves long periods of staring at the ceiling mentally cataloguing their faults.  Then, because I have been locked away, when I emerge to get food or go to the bathroom, they are ready to pounce, wanting to know what I'm doing in there, why I'm doing it, and how much longer until I can come out and play.  As if they have ESP, they can also throw in an innocent, offhand comment, that somehow sets off all of my anxiety and insecurities.  Something out of the blue like, "You know, I think it's important to have a job you really like."  Or, "Why don't you have as many tomatoes on your plant as so-and-so?"  I'm not kidding.  I reply to these comments with some barbed comeback, and then stomp back off to the bedroom. 

I realize that this is not their fault.  That doesn't mean I can grow patience where I have none or force myself to interact when all I want to do is hide.  I just... can't.

So it was with a deep-seated melancholy and some desperation that I decided to go out to Fire Island and have some time on the beach by myself.  Kathy didn't like it.  She observed, correctly and with disappointment, that I was running away from my own life.  But, I argued, when life feels like more than you can handle, there's nothing wrong with trying to escape your own life a little bit, right?  RIGHT?  And since it was supposed to be a high of 88, the sun was blazing in a perfectly clear sky, and I was 3/4 of the way through a book I really liked, the beach seemed like the perfect place to hide (from) myself.

I set off to the city with Kathy as she headed in to work, thinking for some reason that taking the Long Island Railroad would be more efficient than driving to Sayville to catch the ferry, although we typically do drive down.  I took the Metro North train to Grand Central, then walked across to Penn Station to catch the LIRR.  By the time I arrived in Penn Station, my t-shirt was completely soaked with sweat and my back was aching from carrying my 97 pound laptop from 2003 around.  I had a newer laptop, but I put it on the floor next to the bed after ordering stuff of Netflix one night, and the next time I went to use it, it turned out that someone (likely me) had stepped on it and cracked the screen.  Never mind, I thought, I will use the ancient and incredibly heavy laptop I used for most of law school.  All our computers have the same cord, so I wasn't worried when I couldn't find the actual cord that goes with that computer -- I just had Kathy give me the cord out of her briefcase and off I went. 

I got on the LIRR train to Sayville.  Did you know it's on the same line as Westhampton, Hampton Bays, Southampton, Bridgehamption, and East Hampton?  That's right, the Hamptons.  Directly in front of me were several families, all with children, headed out to the Hamptons.  I quick survey of the people getting on the train assured me that there would be no escaping massive numbers of children on the entire train.  It was like the Hampton Express.  So much for my break from kids. 

Never mind, I thought, I can sleep/read my book.  Which I did, for the most part ignoring the shouting and wrestling around me.  At least it wasn't up to me to shush them.  It's remarkable, though, that their parents didn't think it was up to them to shush the kids either.  I arrived in Sayville, gratefully got off the train, took the shuttle over to the ferry stop, and got on the boat.  The sun was shining, and the wind cooled me off as I rode the 20 minutes across to Fire Island.  I started to feel some tentative optimism about the day stretching in front of me, in spite of the fact that it was 1:45 and I had left the house at 9 am -- and driving only takes about an hour.  Oh well, I thought, I would still have my beach day.  I also had sentences spinning around in my head, and was looking forward to coming home from my day on the beach, getting carry out, and writing and writing until it was time for bed.  The next day, I would return to real life, with sentences written and darker tan lines, and hopefully some peace displacing irritation.

I went to our beach house, put on my swimsuit and sunscreen, and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I grabbed my towel and book and headed toward the beach, eating my sandwich and delighted with how weightless I felt not carrying sandcastle making toys, a football, a frisbee, a blanket, enough water for 5 people, and all the other accoutrements that going to the beach with children requires.

Then, I encountered possibly the worst string of luck I have ever experienced in my life.

As I crested the top of the dunes and headed down to the beach, I saw a group of women that Kathy and I met over the weekend.  They seemed fun.  I did not want fun.  I was not there for fun.  I did not want to talk to them, or explain why I was there alone, or even, really, be recognized.  I turned back, deciding to go to a different part of the beach so I could be well and truly alone.  As I headed back, a raindrop splattered on my sandwich.  I looked up.  In a matter of minutes, the entire blue sky was blacked out with heavy rain clouds.  Thunder rumbled ominously.  I stopped again and headed back for the house, hoping as hard as I could that it would blow over. By the time I got home, about 3 1/2 minutes later, the rain was falling fast and furious.  Clearly, nothing was blowing over.  I was sticky with sunscreen and the air was so thick I felt like I could watch it swirl and eddy when I moved my hand through it.  I sighed, flopped onto the couch, and pulled out my book. 

I finished my book in about a half hour.  I guess reading the entire 2 hour train ride wasn't the best idea.  I paced, and looked out at the sky.  The rain was still falling, hard, and though I was hoping for blue sky to the west, the sky was a low dark dome.  I paced some more.  Bathroom.  Livingroom/diningroom/kitchen.  Bedroom.  And back.  I decided to write, so I pulled out the laptop I had painstakingly lugged with me, and the cord Kathy had given me.  Which, of course, did not fit.  Apparently she got a new computer for work, with a different size cord, and didn't realize it.  Since I hadn't used the old computer since 2008, the battery was completely flat, and the thing was 12 pounds of uselessness. 

So I paced some more, and looked out at the rain-dark sky, wondering when it would blow over.  I muttered something to myself about how this thunderstorm didn't seem to be all that isolated, and walked the tiny house.  I had nothing to do, so I resigned myself to chores.  I bleached the bathroom, and swept the sand off the floors.  I threw away three McDonald's toys, a crab claw, a sea sponge, and a rock.  Still the rain fell.  I mopped the floors, moving every single piece of furniture except the couch.  The rain stopped, then started up again.  I paced, leaving footprints on the floor, since the air was already so heavy with humidity that the floor stubbornly refused to dry.  I squirmed, uncomfortable in the combination of sweat and Coppertone.  I paced some more, and tried to start a second book, but it was boring.  Finally, I gave in.  I flopped my sticky self on the bed and cried.  It had been raining, off and on, for the entire three hours I had been at the "beach."

I cried because it was raining.  I cried because I was sticky.  I cried because I couldn't understand how someone who grew up in a family of five was finding it so hard to be part of a family of five.  I cried because I was lonely, and I cried because I wanted to be left alone.  I cried because when people ask me what I do, I say "nothing" and yet sometimes I feel crushed by the responsibility of all I do.  I cried because of my bright future, which I threw away, and I cried because the bright  future was so dark I had to get away.  I cried because of the unsolvable paradox of my unhappiness.

I heard the neighbors come home, and was suddenly humiliated by my crying.  I showered, giving up any hope of time on the beach, and walked to a restaurant.  While on my way there, I saw the group of women from the beach in the distance, laughing.  I changed my course, and set my heart on a hamburger.  Kathy told me once that one of the joys of adulthood is getting to eat what you want, or at least not having to eat something you don't want to eat.  Since she has said it, I have steadfastly agreed.  I decided it would be just my luck that they wouldn't have hamburgers, so I checked the menu posted outside before I went in -- hamburger and french fries, $10.  I sat down, ordered a drink and opened the menu.  It was full of $25 seafood dishes, and not a burger in sight.  When the waiter came over, I suppressed the urge to scream, "WHAT THE F---?!" at him, and instead said, "Um, don't you have hamburgers on your menu?"  "Aw, sorry, sweetie," he replied.  "Only for lunch."  I ordered an entirely unsatisfying appetizer, that I did not want. 

My cell phone dinged, and there was a text from Kathy.  "Just come home."  I sighed.  "That would be a complete failure," I texted back.  A string of texts later, I agreed to go home.  It seemed like the only answer, considering that I had nothing but a boring book to keep me occupied after my early dinner.  I flagged down the waiter, paid for my food, stuffed some unsatisfying appetizer in my mouth, and left.  I jogged home, grabbed my bag, threw the computer in it, and ran for the 6:00 ferry.  I boarded the boat, and as it pulled away, Kathy offered to pick me up in Queens with the kids.  "Nah," I answered, "I'll just take the train home.  It's going to be a while though." Getting picked up by the whole family seemed like the icing on the failure cake, so to speak.

When I got off the boat, there was a man standing by the shuttle buses that usually take people to the Sayville train station.  "Signals on the LIRR are out," he called.  "Trains are sporadic.  That van is taking people straight into the city for $20."  I was paralyzed with indecision.  So paralyzed that I missed the bus to the train station anyway.  With the prospect of walking to the train station, followed by several hours of waiting for the train staring me in the face, I pulled out a $20 and handed it to the man, and got myself a seat on the shuttle to the city.  The doors closed and it bounced off down the street.  

We pulled onto the Long Island Expressway at around 7, and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper.  At around 8, we had gone all of about 5 miles, and were exiting.  If you've never tried to drive on Long Island, it's hard to explain what it is like.  There are three main highways, including the LIE, that stretch the length of the island.  If anything untoward occurs on any of them, they all screech to a halt.  It's like nothing I have ever seen.  Three long skinny parking lots, packed with idling cars.  Frankly, it was why I thought I should take the train.  The van bounced down side streets and through residential neighborhoods occasionally looping back over the LIE to see if traffic was moving.  It never was.  I periodically texted updates to Kathy. "We are in someone's neighborhood or something."  "I think he is going to murder us all, where the hell are we?"  Every time I sent one of these little texty updates, I had to take off my glasses and set them on my leg.  One of these texts was extraordinarily ill-timed.  Just as the interior of our van/bus descended into total darkness, we hit some kind of enormous rut.  I flew about a foot in the air, and came back down on the seat, with my glasses no longer delicately perched on my leg.  First I felt around the seat with my hands, then I felt around the floor with my feet.  I searched, using my cell phone as a flashlight.   I asked all the people around me.   No one saw the glasses.  Straining to see gave me an unbelievable headache, right around the time that hitting every speed bump in Garden City and Manhasset gave me a horrible stomach ache.  Oh yes.  And have I mentioned that the entire time, a catalogue of pop music that I hate was blaring over the party bus's speakers?

Finally, finally, we were through the Midtown Tunnel and into Manhattan.  When my seat-mate got up, I crawled around on the dirty floor and found my glasses.  I got out of the bus at 38th and Lex and started jogging to Grand Central to catch the Metro North out to Westchester, on the phone with Kathy.  "The train's at 9:10.  You have three minutes.  RUN!"  I hung up, and sprinted toward the train station.  I located the train platform, jogged through the terminal and stepped on the platform, just as the doors shut in my face and the train pulled away. 

I waited the 30 minutes, caught the next train, took a cab from the train station, and walked in the door around 10:30.  Then I cried, again.  "I don't know why I feel like this," I wailed to the woman who puts up with it. 

"You don't?" she asked.  "What are you going to do with your life?"


"Because," she replied.  "You say you're doing nothing, and that you don't know what you want to do.  But what's the rush?  You want to stay home, stay home.  You want to take an undergrad class in Shakespeare, take it.  You want to write, write."  She told me a story about a guy she overheard on the beach last weekend who works selling shirts.  "Nobody is asking him what he's going to do with his life.  He just sells the shirts.  And he was on the same beach we were.  You'll figure it out.  Just relax."

Of course, it's not that simple.  But also it is.  And at last, the nightmare of a day was over.  "What's worse than a really bad day?" I asked Kathy.  "It's a riddle."

"Nothing?" she guessed. 

"No," I answered.  "A really bad day that costs a ton of money."

So let's just recap:
Time spent on the beach:  0 minutes
Time spent writing: 0 minutes
Time spent crying: 1 hour
Time spent on a train, in a cab, on a ferry, or on a bus:  9.5 hours

Metro North tickets: $14
LIRR ticket: $23.50
Shuttle to ferry: $5
Ferry tickets: $14
Shuttle to Manhattan: $20
Cab home from train station: $5
Grand total: $81.50

I would say that qualifies as a really bad day that costs a lot of money.  And that, my friends, is why you should never try to run away from your own life.   Because you can't, and running away is expensive.

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