Thursday, July 23, 2009

The top floor

But before this conversation, after I stopped eating and after I decided I would never have a relationship with my parents again, I started cooking my own food. I started cooking my own food because I didn’t think my mother should have to cook everything. And, I could make sure that there was no fat, no fat on my boneless breast of Dijon chicken. My mother was in a good cook, anyway. I started doing my own dishes; I thought everyone should do their own dishes, it shouldn’t be my mother’s job. I did my own laundry, and shut my door so that the housekeeper didn’t have to clean my room but then she always went in anyway.

My mother opened my door, I’d go into my room and there she was reading my journal at my desk. What are you doing in my room? I’m reading, I like the light in here, I’ll get out of your way.

But okay, the beach, and two sets of pictures. First, 1984, I’m squinting at the camera but I don’t look like there’s too much pain. Maybe it’s the way the sun in skin can somehow cover. There’s my mother’s pale arm to the right, I guess that can’t be my father lying in the background with his ribs showing, although he did have a bathing suit like that, maybe even those shoes, but no there’s someone’s tan arm leaning over that body and my mother’s pale arm is over here. But wait: here we are in our condo, Steve Daniels and my sister are kind of grinning for the camera and I’m looking over at my sister, there’s that lost look in my face again and my jaw, always my jaw is this tense it’s still this tense, maybe I’m upset that my sister has jumped into the picture, she has a look in her eye like she’s a cartoon character.

In the other set of pictures there’s that strange person who I can barely recognize, 1987 and I’m in shadow, the beach is behind me. My hair is feathered back, layered down with mousse yes that’s my hair but maybe 1987 is still before, before I’ve figured out who I want to be. I guess this is right before high school, and if I look close at the t-shirt I’m wearing I think it does say Generra. But didn’t I get rid of Generra already, maybe this is just for the beach because in my junior high yearbook pictures I’m already looking as tough as the Clash but maybe things take longer, longer to transition.

Back to 1984, here’s my sister, squinting in the wind and she’s listening to something on her Walkman, she’s nine but she’s already a teenager. No, wait -- I’m nine -- I guess my sister’s seven, but she’s already a teenager. Here’s my mother, separately, smiling for the camera and she looks angry. Who is that girl in this one picture, 1985, digging in the sand -- it’s true that girls could go shirtless up until a certain age, but she looks older than that age, building an enormous hill in the sand oh wait it’s shaped like a heart. It kind of looks like Cindy Daniels, but I don’t remember Cindy digging in the sand that much. How did my sister choose these pictures, these pictures are from my sister, after I asked her if she could find some for me, to find some in the house from that transition. She gave them to me as a birthday present.

I want to tell you about the beach, if I keep digging in the sand then eventually I’ll get to China. Sometimes I find water, and then I remember oh, there’s a lot of water, so much water I won’t be able to swim that far, in the darkness under the sand. The best part is when Steve arrives, and then I can go deeper into the water without my father nearby. My favorite thing is to jump up into a wave and float over the top, but Steve likes to go under. I’m worried about choking from that salt in my mouth, but then eventually we both end up getting pummeled anyway, sand coating the insides of our bathing suits that later we’ll have to turn inside-out. Or the undertow pulls us in too far and Anne Daniels gets worried, no one else is paying attention. The only way to get back is to let a wave hit you. I think Steve likes getting knocked over, but sometimes, rolling around underwater my head into the sand I get scared like maybe I’ll be buried with the sand crabs and someone will have to dig me out.

The good thing about the sand crabs is that they go right back under. They’re so fast. And the tiny little baby clams, you can watch them pushing water away to get back underneath the sand. There’s so much to watch, as long as those flies with the red eyes aren’t all over the place like right after a storm, when there are huge horseshoe crabs littering the beach and even stranded sand rays. Sometimes the horseshoe crabs are still trying to live, and it’s sad. In the water after a storm, there are too many jellyfish, you have to keep dodging them; even if it’s raining, you want to be in the water.

This is the Sea Colony, really a colony the way they built eight nine-story condo towers right on the beach, in this tiny town that barely even has a boardwalk, not like Ocean City with huge glittering towers like a big city or Rehoboth with a lot of people but no Towers. This really is a colony, it stretches on across the street which is really a highway, whole neighborhoods with different names and lakes and tennis courts, there’s always a new development -- on the other side, you can get a whole house for cheaper than a condo on this side, but my parents chose this side because of the beach. We can go on our balcony, and right outside, past the elevated cement walkway that goes from one building to the next, is the beach, nothing but the beach and the ocean and it’s fun to sit at the glass table we got with the chairs you can sit on when you’re still wet and just listen, listen to the ocean.

They’re always trying to reclaim the dunes at the end, but we’re not exactly sure where the dunes went. It’s better when the Daniels are there; then my parents don’t argue as much. Even my sister is quieter, and then there’s the beach, all that floating in the ocean sometimes I try to swim out as far as possible, just to see if there are any islands, but not too far because I know it’s not fun to drown.

When do we get to go out by ourselves, Steve and Cindy and Allison and me? Walk into Bethany for miniature golf and peppermint ice cream, salt water taffy, the video arcade with the local kids who wear all black and smoke a lot and don’t talk to us? Except when one of them leans over me while I’m getting the high score on Galaga, he says are you a boy or girl? One of my favorite things about the Daniels: no one ever asks me if I’m a boy or girl.

It’s like we’re our own little family, Steve tries to act like a parent but Allison won’t take any of it; I try to help Cindy not to feel bullied. There’s a time near our house where we go to this Chinese restaurant on the Rockville Pike, right near the video rental place, and either we have our own table or our parents leave us there. This is when we share knowledge: there’s a show on TV about ice, the new designer drug, and Steve saw it once. Does it really look like ice?

We lived in Rockville, but went to school in the city, so we never knew any of our neighbors except the ones next door and that was only because their dog would come over to play with us. We lived in Rockville, but we didn’t call it Rockville, because we lived in a neighborhood called Potomac Highlands, which was in Rockville but not really like Rockville. Rockville was subdivisions where all the houses looked the same, but in our neighborhood every house was different and the yards were bigger, kind of like Potomac, the wealthiest neighborhood in the DC suburbs, at least on the Maryland side, and since our neighborhood was even called Potomac Highlands, Potomac sounded better. Our mail would get sent back if we wrote Potomac, 20854, but most of the time it worked out if we wrote Potomac, 20850, which was the Rockville zip code, so that’s where we decided we lived: Potomac, 20850, all by ourselves. Actually, I decided that, and then everyone went along -- do you see what I mean about power, power that’s not really power at all? This is what privilege did for me: it kept me there.

Sometimes we would drive around -- DC, Maryland, Delaware, wherever -- we would drive around, looking at houses. I was always planning some kind of escape, some kind of escape to a house where there weren’t problems, maybe something bigger or more modern, like the new development down the street from us, but it wasn’t really like a development because there were only six houses and they were all different. Even better would be one of the mansions on Embassy Row, where I could have my own entrance. Later I would look at any high-rise, it didn’t matter where it was as long as it was tall and I would think about my own apartment, my own apartment on the top floor.

No comments: