There used to be a bayonet palm out front and I used to get scratches on my arms all the time whenever I brushed past it going in to the house. Now there’s a cactus garden where the hibiscus was in front of my old room and a hammock and some sort of Mexican tiki god head by the fence that I think my mom got from one of her students’ family. When I walk inside I have a flash to the old wood tiled floor in the living room before the hurricane, even though I like the post-hurricane tile better, not to mention the newly-recovered armchair Mom’s got since the last time I was home. The front room has mirrors covering the walls and I catch a glimpse of myself getting ready for my ballet recital in one of them.
We called the swingset “the summerhouse” because it had a little…house attached to it, with a tarp roof and a an upstairs and a downstairs. I played that I was Ayla from Valley of Horses but I never played anything porny, like in the book. I played that I was gathering my pharmacopaia, my favorite word at the time. My sister fell and cut her knee once and I hurried to take a fresh leaf off what we called the heart tree and applied it as a bandage. We each had a big branch in the heart tree that we called our horses and you had to ask permission before you could ride the other’s horse. There is a huge philodendron wrapped around the heart tree now,: in my mother’s yard, the sickly house plants of New Jersey suburbs are muscular and luscious and deep dark green.
The Quiet Gardens
It used to be a zoo when we first moved to the island. I don’t remember coming here as a kid, although I have a brief image of the roller rink, which was really just a depressed saucer of concrete somewhere in the back. I bike there on Christmas Eve Day and spend an hour watching the ducks and geese and peacocks and forget to read my book or write in my journal.
Amy’s Old House
Every weekend I slept over. When I walked in the house her dad would yell out “It’s daughter number two!” and I’d yell back “Hello! I am here!” We watched movies and ate onion dip or chocolate muffins and wore our matching pajamas all day. Boys were all in love with her and they’d just show up on the front lawn, asking if they could mow her lawn for her, asking if they could come in and play Tetris or ping pong. She had a boyfriend for pretty much all of high school but it never deterred the boys, who would ride their bikes or get rides from friends and pay the toll at the bridge just to watch a movie with her on the couch. Sometimes they’d cry to me about how much they loved her and why couldn’t they have her and I would sit and nod and wonder why I couldn’t be what she was, which was effortlessly, endlessly desirable. I wasn’t like her but I managed to do some kissing anyway on her living room couch, and I told her all about it the next day at Sunday School. “If you ever get bored while you’re kissing,” she said, “you can always spell his name in his mouth with your tongue .”
The Front Step
I sat there last year at about 12:15 New Year’s Eve, or Day, or whatever. I hung up the phone, wiped my eyes, and went out alone to sit on the step and listen to the fireworks going off and hug my knees and feel the end coming. “My year, it’s going to be my year,” I said, and actually shook my fist at the sky, checking first to make sure no one could see me indulging in symbolism. There was no one to see me because I was alone that night and I thought about his voice on the other end of the continent and wondered how I’d gotten to be where I was.