This house makes me sad.
We’re at the Bachelor family’s beach house for the week—the same beach house that I heard about at length at Rich’s grandmother’s funeral, her friends speaking not so much about the woman who had passed but about her vacation house (see: graciousness of, relaxation therein). Of course, I’ve heard stories from Rich as well, about how the house provides everything you want, even if you don’t exactly know you want it, and all the friends he’s brought here, and all the ladies, and all the fun they’ve had.
And still I must repeat: this house makes me sad.
It is a lovely piece of 1960s-style architecture, never really updated or remodeled (except in the barest of nods of modern conveniences—the dishwasher is a recent addition, for example), and thus charming in the way that most vacation homes are charming, I think; they have the feeling of something you’d once loved and then almost forgotten about—like a jacket you wore every day in high school which has been sitting in the back of your parents’ hall closet for the past 15 years, and now miraculously not only fits but is somehow in style again. The house is cozy and familiar, but the grounds are what really make it special, I think. Rows of close-clipped hedges form a path from the deck to the street, and at the back of the lot is a waterfall, mostly hidden from view and a good 10-foot drop from the line of the yard. The deck is large and weathered and sunny, offering a view of the ocean, just across the street, only seconds away.
Rich’s uncle and father have decided to sell the house this summer rather than continue to maintain it. It’s possible that this is the reason for the unhappiness of this trip. The house, thus rejected, has decided to not provide anymore, thank you. It is under contract, and escrow is set to close in about a month. I wonder about this, as it’s not the way my family would do things—or perhaps I flatter myself to think so. In fact, to my memory my family has never owned a beloved piece of land to sell, and maybe that’s the difference. (In fact, it’s true that I have no idea what my family cherishes above all, if anything. I have a feeling it’s nothing, since it surely is not, once you examine it, real property, most things, or other family members. Ahh—I know: Money, and an unexamined feeling of betterness.) But still. I can’t help but feel that it’s wrong to sell a place that provided so many generations so much pleasure, a place that has defined (according to speakers at the memorial service, anyway) Bachelor hospitality for decades. (Oh, but what do I know about such things? If I’m honest with myself, I’m probably best suited in life to become a meddling, overbearing matriarch, and nothing good has ever come of that kind of thing.)
“The ocean is life and death and everything in between,” Rich said yesterday. Walking along the beach, one first notices millions of scattered bits of what used to be animals: A scene of carnage. Crab shells separated from their legs, the occupants long since plucked out by sharp-eyed, long-beaked birds; broken sand dollars emptied of their gooey contents; mussel shells, the little guys who once lived inside now in the belly of some bigger guy; pinkish-grey husks of ghost crabs, only some of them rent apart and bleeding orange guts as their legs skitter futilely in the air; the rest completely empty, like the rest of the surrounding exoskeletons. But the rocks—covered with mussels and barnacles and starfish—now uncovered as the tide goes out, are alive—and singing. Rich and I make up things that the animals say to us as we pass by, including “It’s a living!”—popularized by any animal unfortunate enough to be forced into labor at the Flintstone residence—and “Kindly remove your paw from my ass or mouth, sir,” when Goofus steps on a contracting sea anemone.
On the subject of marine life, the beach house has provided a lovely manual titled Beachwalker’s Guide: A Pictorial Introduction to Marine Life of the Pacific Coast, notable primarily for its unremittingly judgmental stance on the creatures of the sea, and only secondarily for its black-and-white photo of dead things, including a skate (said to be a “smelly prize” to the boy holding it—and, dramatically, his nose) and a sea gull. The brown pelican is described thusly: “A grotesque, awkward appearing gawk of a bird … its tail is too short, its feet too big. It is a creature to inspire amusement.” A hermit crab without its shell: “A sad looking creature. The front end is well developed … but the rest is travesty. It consists of a misshapen, grub-like abdomen, twisted to the side, bare, and having a swollen appearance. No wonder it seeks a sturdy home in which to hide this monstrosity. The poor hermit needs a shell to preserve its dignity and to protect its person as no other creature does.” When the nudibranch washes up on the beach, “their color is completely lost, and they appear brown, dingy, and repulsive.” And an interesting bit of anthropomorphization, this time on the subject of the captive octopus: “Other times it gathers the luckless crab beneath its tentacles and broods over it as if in anticipation of its meal.” It’s almost as if these creatures developed with flagrant disregard for author Dick Smith’s needs and aesthetic tastes! Boo, brown pelican! Next time, think about a smaller beak, eh?
But the death Rich speaks of I think mostly refers to death to thug dawgs, or death to us, if the waves get too high. Da thugs like the beach; not so much the water. Or, that is to say, they seem to like the water just fine when they can comprehend the waterness of the ocean, but mostly to them it is just a loud thing rushing at them. When it is not a loud thing rushing at them but is instead comprehensible water, I get nervous. What if a big wave sweeps over them while they aren’t paying attention, and it drags them off to sea? I am not a strong swimmer, I tell Rich. I cannot save them. But no large wave comes in, and I have to admit the thugs’ primary threat is in the self-inflicted drinking of too much salt water.
What is in between life and death is anyone’s guess. Here’s mine: Change.
And this is why I’m sad, I think. This past year has been all about change for me, but overall the changes have been good ones. (Aside from the new gray hairs and the creeping colonies of cellulite, I mean.) This said, I miss the tiny mountain resort town I left behind, and my friends there too.
And now a new wave of change is coming: Rich is moving in with me this week, or maybe staying out here at the beach, until we can find a bigger place—one with room for two people who sometimes can’t sleep in the same bed (one of them a ridiculous clotheshorse, though I will make you guess as to which of us is incredibly vain about his collection of haberdashery), and Goofus and Gallant and a to-be-determined kind of cat, named (I say) Sir Pancake Millage or (he says) Kiisa, a cat that I hope is round and plush and orange and white. This isn’t a bad thing, this moving in together, but it’s a change. Yeah, you say—but is it a good change? And I—heartless realist that I am—have no answer for that. We all hope that things work out, whatever that means, that, at the very least, feelings won’t get hurt and we will be mature and kind to one another. And, gosh, I have been through relationships before, and I know that this is not only the least, most insignificant kind of promise that we as people can make to one another, but it is also an impossible promise, a foolish request. And still I promise: I will love your misshapen, grublike abdomen, even if you do sometimes misplace your shell. If I see the pieces of you scattered along the sand, I will pick you up and love you anyway.