Kelly Salasin, 2007
Sound of sails in the wind, rigging clanging, lures me down a funnel to summers at the sea–even if the sound is only a flag pole outside the American Legion on the oceanless High Street of Brattleboro, Vermont.
Calls of blue jays and crows become seagulls, and I smell fries cooking in the galley and the seaweed in the bay. The sun kisses my skin as I slip back into the easiness of childhood—-tossing coins in the boat shed– heads or tails– but they were all his: this curly-haired adolescent boy who somehow enjoyed or tolerated the daily company of my seven-year old preposterous self, and always let me have the nickels I won even though I never anted up. At lunch we’d have burgers– with or without reconsitituted onions– and that’s all there was…
So, why won’t that sound of the sails leave me then? Why does it feel less of an invitation and more of a lure down an alley way of memory? There’s some place that I need to go, but I don’t want to go, like to the doctors to get an immunization. What is this vaccine I need? What am I immunizing against?
I peek behind the sails flapping in the wind, but I don’t see anything more. There’s just the shed and the burgers and the boats. Tentatively, I head inside, ducking under the dip of the velour rope to access the hidden rooms upstairs. No youth gatherings happen here in these thickly carpeted spaces with lush budoir bathrooms –gilded mirrors and fancy chairs–in stark contrast to the day to day activity on the docks.
There among the paintings of Commandeers that circle the entire great room in grand fashion, I see my grandfather’s face and those of his friends. It’s my own “Poppop” who taught me to play chopsticks on the piano downstairs. Who knew he could play? Who knew there were two parts to that favorite song?
I recall the stories of his dancing– the way he twirled and flipped the women under his arms, over his shoulders and between his legs.
I feel my Nana’s drunken affection lavished upon me in front of everyone, holding me hostage on her lap—-the same affection bestowed by my own drunken mother.
At 13, I help out as a “waitress” at the annual meeting of the Ladies Auxiliary Club. While the ladies enjoy their pie, I enjoy a whipped cream fight in the kitchen–and the beginnings of male/female cellular exchange.
During coffee, the teen staff huddles in the galley, waiting for the “meeting” to be finished so that we can buss the dessert dishes and cocktail glasses– and go home. Hearing my grandmother’s voice above the rest, I shyly ask, “What are they fighting about?”
“About our wages,” the tall boy beside me whispers and then uncomfortably explains that my grandmother is raging against the raise.
For years I mourned the loss of her that following summer; but upon being lured into the past, I thank God that I didn’t have to grow up under her shadow. Her strong male energy and mine would surely combust. Would I have preferred our love affair end that way rather than under the weight of a Mack’s truck’s tires on the Burlington/Bristol Bridge?
In this relief of my lifetime longing for Lila, I am flooded with images: the beauty salon hair dryer in her room… the early uncooked dinners… the screaming… the baths with cousins… the accompanying photos… the powdering of our bodies on her bed…the swan seat on the toilet and the counter swan that held the cu-tips. What was the swan doing there under our butts and in our ears?
If my husband gets this job, I want to go back to writing. I want to pull my voice up from anchor (chills.) I want to set out to sea (goosebumps.) I want to unloosen the rigging and leave the dock– the past, the weight of all that family– all the ways their world defined me. I’ll head off into the sea with “me”… to the sound of my own metal clanging and the flap of my dreams in the wind.
THIS is what the luring is, a luring back into ME!
The strange dream I had last night suddenly makes sense. That pimpish looking guy, the one standing across from me up atop a runway ramp at a cocktail party, asks me to sing. And I do–just like I danced a few bars for that other mother at the beach, or endured Lila’s drunken grasping, or played a song on the piano each time my parents asked or did everything that was ever expected of me because I was the oldest cousin, the oldest sister, the manager, the teacher, the mother. I was the one who had to set an example.
When I open my mouth to my voice, that pimpish guy slips something to the back of tongue, like the tiny yellow valium my Aunt Jean once gave me for a migraine. I kept it in my jewelry box for years– in case I ever needed it. I run from this drug pusher, pulling the pill from my mouth, and then turn back toward him in a fury, only to find that he had a purpose in administering it.
He tells me that my voice, though beautiful, is stuck at the bottom of my self, achored in my gutt– and that this pill will help me pull it up, and release it into its fullness… and release me from the hold of the past.
Right away I understand; I feel his meaning and know it to be true– I HAD held back. I DID need untethering, but not here, not with a cocktail in my hand, not where others could watch and observe my undoing. I’ll save that passage for some place private. I thank him and leave.
I wake then, get dressed and go to work. Heading down High Street toward the wifi cafe where I search for strategic planning proposals, I am stopped by the sound of sails-and I search for them instead–without even finding a flag.
Peeking around the corner of my memory, I ask, “What? What? What are you trying to tell me?” and I let this sourceless sound echo inside my body, and follow it there– where I find more of me– and retrieve her– the true lure of my days.