There’s no place on earth for me like Cape May, New Jersey. While not exactly what I refer to as a “God place,” it is a life place. A place that reminds me of every person who’s ever meant anything to me, yet a place that reminds me of none of them. There is no residual pain in Cape May. Blessedly, any good thing that’s ever happened to me there is a living, tangible part of me. Somehow the bad, while it is inside, has helped shape who I am, is quietly tucked away, a learning tool rather than a knife that stabs each time I reach the end of the Garden State Parkway. My parents bought a house there in 1971. Or, as Mom tells it, Dad came home from the gas station and announced a customer came in and offered him a house in Cape May for $10,000. He went to see it, slapped down the cash and walked away with the house and everything inside. Seems the wife wanted no part of it–furniture, dishes, linens. Several years later the decision would be regretted and the happy couple returned, wanting to buy it back, but Dad said no. Over forty years later the house remains in the family, the only house that has been in my family for almost my entire life. I have had eleven primary residences; the house in Cape May has been my escape home through it all. At one point my name was even on the title as owner.
I’m here now, celebrating another Fourth of July holiday with members of my family. Three main components are gone now: my father, my brother Drew, my niece Jessica. The last time I sat at this table just three months ago–when I came home for the Easter holiday–Jessica was beside me. I had been trying to write something then, too, and she was chattering on, perusing her phone for hockey Bleacher Creatures for me. We were laughing at the various faces, the likenesses or lack thereof of the players they were supposed to represent. No laughter for me at this moment, only tears, but this will be my first published blog since her hospitalization and passing over a month ago. I knew if I could finally open a vein, it would be here.
The room I’m sleeping in was “hers.” There are five bedrooms in this house, and six children to claim four of them. One room is considered Lani’s, one Stephen’s, one shared by Ashley and Jerry, and one Jessica’s. “Excuse me,” I used to joke with my mother. “Where’s mine? Grandchildren get rooms before I do?” I had been living in Vegas at the time of room claiming, which my stepfather Robert always debunks, “No one has a room here but your mother and I” although we all know the front bedroom is irrefutably Stephen’s. So I vacillated between the rooms of my babies: when Jess wasn’t here I stayed in that room. When Stephen wasn’t here, I stayed in his. When I first climbed into the bed of the “Jess” room Thursday night I found myself whispering, “I guess it’s mine now.” My strongest memory of that room? When Jess’ father Dale died and she was in Florida while I was in Cape May. Distraught, she kept texting me about sitting vigil beside him while he was in hospice, waiting for him to pass. I usually turn my phone off when I go to sleep–no good news arrives between two and eight a.m.–but I told her I would leave it on all night. She could text or call me whenever she felt she needed to. The last text came in at three and we made arrangements that the moment I was back in Tampa I would drive down to Palm Coast to be with her. Palm Coast. Now there’s a city that brings me to my knees every time I pass through on the 95. Even before Jess died I would sob like a baby driving through, “Oh, here’s where Jess and I stayed, here’s where we ate, here’s the restaurant she took me to that was a favorite spot she shared with her dad.”
But this is about Cape May, not Palm Coast, and as I sat on the porch yesterday drinking my Wawa coffee and witnessing a landscaping truck rip a street sign right out of the ground when it skimmed it with its trailer attachment, I realized I couldn’t recount the highlights of my time spent here in one blog. I would need one for each decade of my life. So this will be a multi-part series, recounting the good, the bad, the beautiful. The simple. The times that stick out just because they were so underwhelming. Like the time my friend Sue and I put together an Andy Gibb puzzle in the front parlor, drank Mt. Dew and ate Townhouse crackers, listening to my brand new Tracy Chapman cassette. Yes, we were barely into our twenties, putting together an Andy Gibb puzzle I bought while I was in fourth grade. We put it together every year. It was tradition. Or like the time Drew came parading through the living room in a skimpy bath towel in front of my dad’s girlfriend (a former nun) and her uptight sister. See, the only usable shower in the house at the time was downstairs, through the living room, through the kitchen, through an indoor porch, practically outside and spider-ridden, with a stop sign blocking the window so people couldn’t see in. Even the house itself has undergone quite the transformation in the past forty years.
The rest of the day is wide open for me. It was supposed to rain off and on; not a drop yet. I am showered, dressed and caffeinated. I have broken the seal on my writing. I have performed my daily cry. I am ready to create more Cape May history. And in a few weeks, I’ll be ready to share it. Hopefully without the tissues.