Summers in New Hampshire
My mother and I were always likely to get hurt. Me, letting my sister's words settle into the pit of my stomach and slowly eat me alive; Mother, burying insults and pain deep inside until she could vent them out to a pillow, or Daddy. We were fair skinned and blond haired, the golden, perfect girls in our family, but always likely to get burned.
My father and sister were stronger. Lanky, dark and Italian, they dealt with fear straight on, turning on the nearest person or simply ignoring it all together. I envied the way they could so carelessly brush off insults and make it seem to reasonable that it was your fault, all along.
Despite my hurt feelings, every day of those summers was special, from the time spent in the water, to our growing rock collection, to the cookouts and sunsets. But one day always stood out as the most special of all.
On August 25th, 1989, Mother burst into our room with three packages under her arms, mouth already forming into her baby girl tone. "Happy birthday, sunshine! How's my precious, sweetheart, angel, baby girl? Mommy loves you so much!" She attempted to hug me as I struggled to sit up in bed. "I know! Why don't my babies get all dressed up in their cute, summer dresses that Mommy got them?"
I tensed under my mother's imploring glance. No was on the tip of my tongue. I wanted to spend my birthday in a swimsuit, at the shoreline. My friends would come over and we'd collect rocks and build sand castles. Silky lavender dresses with ruffled sleeves and big bows didn't quite fit into the description.
But my friends were miles away in Baltimore and I was to spend the day being sung songs and hearing my mother recount stories about my infancy. I didn't want to disrespect her. "I… I like the dresses."
We found Daddy and the Baileys sitting at the kitchen table, hosting a breakfast of eggs, sausage, muffins, juice and chocolate milk. "Jake, say hello to your seven year old daughter!"
"Happy birthday, Pumpkin!" He held out his arms and I overflowed with joy. This was the special day when Daddy would talk to me as he did when it was just the two of us, when adults, memories and beer were far, far away.
"Look at my golden girl!" He spoke gruffly, playfully, as he bounced me around and tousled my hair.
Later I opened my gifts, clothes from Mother, a doll from Daddy, stuffed animals from the Baileys and nothing from Beck since she was too mad at me the night before to make a card. Mother got to sing her songs and tell her stories, we ate the pink frosted home made birthday cake, and Daddy even attempted to teach me how to fish.
The cold winds did not accompany us that night during our cookout. The air was thick, even as the sun set over my seventh birthday. But the day had gone smoother than any other that summer. Daddy had stayed instead of leaving me, Mother didn't spend the day in her beach chair and the Baileys even talked to me, not just to my parents.
But just as I acknowledged this din of happiness, the lightening bolt came. My sister made her way over to Mother and demanded as loudly as ever I heard her, "Hey, why didn't I get a present?"
Mother took a breath before answering. "Well, Rebecca, you're five years old now. When Eve turned five, she stopped getting presents at your birthday so now that you're five you can accept the same. You don't always need to be the center of attention on someone else's special day."
Of course, none of this registered with Beck. "I WANT A PRESENT! I WANT A PRESENT!"
"Rebecca, Rebecca!" My mother scolded her but she paid no mind. Mother demanded, pleaded and even screamed but nothing could stop my sister's incessant greed.
"THAT'S IT!" My father suddenly burst out of his chair. "I am sick of your goddamned whining and complaining, Rebecca. You get that child under control, Barbara; I've had it! C'mon, Steve, get the boat."
Mr. Bailey looked hesitant but stood by his friend. Like acrobats, the two men jumped on board that big, white boat, looking relieved as usual to get away from us problematic women. As Mr. Bailey pulled up the anchor, Daddy suddenly looked at me, as though he'd forgotten I'd existed. "I'm sorry, baby- I'll be back soon, I promise."
Take me with you! I wanted to shout but of course I didn't. That was the way it had always been, Daddy escaping, Beck demanding, Mother slowly breaking down under her navy beach chair and cheesy romance and me, standing on the edge of the dock, watching Minerva shimmer in the distance.