I was in it for the little visits in the front room, rocking in the chairs on the porch, swirling my spoon in a bowl of local clam chowder and noticing how fresh clams aren’t uniformly shaped like the canned ones I use. Each turn of the spoon churned up bits of skin pulled away from potato—or is that a clam or bit of bacon?— all of it luscious, velvety goodness.
I envisioned cool mornings at the kitchen table with a pot of coffee on and banter about how we slept, plans for the day, or nothing at all, which was everything. I had hoped to get a lobster roll, the warm kind on a crispy buttered bun, full of meat drizzled with butter. The days didn’t disappoint.
I didn’t expect someone would bring a frisbee and there would be the ideal side yard for tossing it. Or how much I’d delight in my son’s familiar energy—which always reminds me of my own—and repeated invitations to throw it, and how wonderful it would feel to toss a frisbee together in a quaint little side yard of a weathered shingle cottage in a coastal Massachusetts town.
I didn’t expect the layers this big life brings to peel away so quickly and usher in a simplicity I’ve been craving, one I think I must have given up on, or relegated as being from a time long ago. It’s not the lobster roll that I will most remember and crave again, but the little moments that added up. I allowed myself to wander more and move in the direction of things I enjoy. I was back to being that little girl who loves walking ahead in an airport to the luggage conveyor belt to see if she can be the first to spot everyone’s bags.
The one who would have the chance to follow a sign for fresh eggs, walking on foot one afternoon and meeting the egg purveyor himself, who presented a dozen eggs collected that morning, plus a tour of his backyard, refurbished coop, outdoor shower, and deck. People take pride in their homes. As well they should. That person who is filled up by farm stands, as if seeing them for the first time, bursting with gorgeous vegetables neatly stacked, homemade pies, breads, and flowers scattered around. But wait, do those heirloom tomatoes have a grown in Canada sticker on them? No matter, their beauty travels and looks and tastes divine here, and besides, I’m all in.
Getting away demands that the noise of the city and the rooms in your house and in your head, the ones that yank your attention this way and that, take a break and make space for whatever pops up or nothing at all. This place and its cool temps were ripe for coffee in a warm robe and fuzzy socks. Always pack your robe.
I didn’t expect the intermittent toothache I brought with me some 918 miles as the crow flies to ramp up and bring a suffering so intense that my memories of natural childbirth would seem like the cake walk it most assuredly wasn’t. Warm coffee and chowder consistently set the tooth off, awakening it from the many-Advil-a-day slumber I’d worked so hard to achieve. I was left instinctively cupping my right cheek, as if turning my palm into some form of dental brassiere would cradle the pulsing tooth and lessen the pain. It did zero. Weeks earlier, I’d seen both an endodontist and ENT, and neither could definitively diagnose me with a sinus or tooth problem, but the ENT at least sent me off with an Augmentin script in case of infection.
On the plane, the tooth reared its ugly head, leaving me in a puddle of tears, a real spectacle. There is no crying in airplanes, but the pain had nowhere to go except out my eyes, and so I let it. A flight attendant and woman in the row in front of me offered mothering eyes which said, oh how I wish I could help you, you poor dear, but they had to ride it out just like I did. I didn’t want them to also carry this slice of hell and assured them the Advil should kick in soon.
The front door of the weathered shingle cottage opened into the living room, and a screened door brought in early June breezes and sounds of people walking by and cars passing. The adjacent sitting room had a small TV mounted up high in the corner (fortunately perched bottom of mind as we have visiting to do, not shows to watch) and a space heater we could wheel between these rooms. The yard was simple—a few chairs and a table, fire pit, outdoor shower, and picnic table. The bird bath was popular and we were delighted it had occurred to someone to fill it. If this long joyful bath time was any indication, Martha’s Vineyard birds might be better bathers.
A few blocks from our cottage was The Crossroads Gallery. Owned by Michael Blanchard, former CEO-turned addict-turned photographer-and writer, the gallery displays Blanchard’s stunning photos he’s taken around Martha’s Vineyard and sells copies of the two books he’s written. We were greeted by resident labradoodle Brodie and soon after, around the corner appeared Michael. The space was welcoming and warm like Michael’s smile. With his dog Brodie and cat Rocket Man, Michael now calls the Vineyard home, but life hasn’t always been this storybook existence. Michael’s past struggles with addiction took a toll on his work, family, and livelihood, and he doesn’t mind talking about it. We talked about how life brings many of us challenges that change us but connect us with one another too. Talking with Michael was like chatting with a good friend, and he exuded a comfortable familiarity free of judgement or fear. I talked of my own health challenges and another person mentioned a difficult time they’d also experienced. Also, we loved his photos and bought three.
His book, Through A Sober Lens, artfully captures scenes and insights from his experiences, and three quotes in particular spoke to me:
- “A shared human experience may be the only point.”
(Amen and what I am increasingly finding feeds me the most.)
- On speaking of his addiction, “The only way to stop is to starve it.”
(Think of all the ills we feed knowingly or not, and how putting the brakes on their fuel is how we not only survive but thrive.)
- “Above all else, don’t die with your music still in you.”
(Please, no! This may be the greatest injustice any of us could face.)
Over the course of our five days, we saw sailboats and ferries, rabbits and wild turkeys, and of course, plenty of The Black Dog swag. The cliffs and beaches and lighthouses and window boxes and pickets and farms were bursting with charm, and my ailing tooth danced in and out of pain through all of it. I never knew what it would bring—sometimes the heartbeat and heavy pulsing ache, and other times it was as if someone with a serrated knife had made little slits all around the tooth’s gumline and squirted lemon juice (or was that battery acid?) in the cuts. At times, both things happened at once, and then my hand rose to cup my cheek and I went radio silent. My silence a rarity, it became clear when I was mid-flareup, so people knew to just leave me alone.
A few more bowls of chowder later and I was back on a Delta flight. “Ladies and gentleman we’ll be saying goodbye to you at echo 31. E as in echo.” Nothing to watch on TV, but I’d brought books, two I’d been trying to finish for months. It was dark in the cabin, so I lifted my window shade to find an explosion of color stretched out before me on the horizon. It was a show I’d nearly missed, like one of those beach sunrises you give up on and walk away from, but when you turn around to look just in case, you are stunned in the best of ways. So much is not reliable, but nature? She just goes right on doing her thing.
Maybe I should have brought home some big takeaways, but instead I’ve got little ones:
Find some stillness. Listen for the quiet. Go to more farmstands and eat a huge salad every day. Take lots of pictures and buy some photos from a small gallery owner if you can. Keep calling your doctor if they don’t call you back, and if your tooth feels as I’ve described, schedule yourself some relief. The root canal happened the day after I got back, and the pain is now gone.
One last takeaway: if you find yourself at dinner overlooking the water, look up because something spectacular might be sailing by. Happy 4th !