I love summer – the sun, the warm weather, the chance to be outside. I love going away to decompress and live a simplified life in my stepfather’s 800- square foot guesthouse. Summer makes me feel invincible. I focus on the day ahead, not the week ahead. I rarely look at a calendar. I’m outside a lot – playing tennis, walking, or going to the beach to swim or lie in the sun.
This summer was different, however. I did think about the year ahead, as I knew Maggie would be leaving us mid August. Neither of my daughters was around as much as I was used to. Ellie was away at camp for two weeks and then worked at the Community Center and hung out with friends. While Maggie was on the Vineyard for most of the summer, she was off with her boyfriend, hanging out at his house, going to parties, and being an independent 18-year-old on her way to college. All very age appropriate. I knew the more I clung, the more she’d pull away, so I kept my mouth shut most of the time and made myself available when she needed or wanted me.
I also couldn’t play tennis or walk a lot because I had injured my back or hip, leaving me in chronic pain and unable to do anything remotely athletic. The pain worsened as the summer progressed, creating many sleepless nights and frustrating days. Perhaps it was a signal for the emotional pain that was coming with letting go.
I had a lot of time on my hands, and I spent most of it with Spray and Ezzie, two of our three dogs. Crazy Splash kept Matt company in Cambridge.
While daily family trips to the beach with tents, umbrellas, picnics and sunscreen were things of the past, I did go to the beach almost every morning with Spray and Ezzie. Getting up early to get to the town beaches before 9am when dogs are banned and before I had to drive Ellie to the Community Center was a challenge. This meant arriving by 7am in most cases.
I am not a morning person. I don’t get up all chipper, looking forward to my cup of tea and a chance to reflect on the day ahead, and summer usually allows me to sleep in until 7:30 or 8. But this summer, I dragged myself out of bed, sometimes threw something in my mouth – a piece of toast – looked over my shoulder at my oh-so-cozy bed and then followed the dogs begrudgingly outside. They were in a rhythm and knew what was up. They wouldn’t let me off the hook jumping on my bed and licking my face.
Once I arrived at the beach, my world shrank to the dogs, sand, ocean, sun, sky and me. Everything else – Maggie leaving home, the book pitch I wasn’t writing, the quilt I was struggling with, Matt’s illness in early August – disappeared.
At Squibnocket, the dogs made friends, meeting and playing with other dogs, including two PWDs, and I made friends, meeting and chatting with other dog owners. It wasn’t what I was used to, but I relished the peace at the beach and the camaraderie among the dogs and their owners.
If I just couldn’t get up and make it to Squibby on time, I took the dogs to another beach with no curfew. We’d arrive just after 8:30 when I dropped Ellie at the Center. I rowed across Chilmark Pond with the dogs following behind me. Ezzie panicked a few times and tried to body surf on Spray, so I usually rowed them back in the boat when they were tired.
Regardless of what beach they were at, they ran and ran. Ezzie’s energy was tested as she lept through beach grass and ran up and down the dunes off the pond, or played with other puppies at Squibby.
While Spray is dignified and not emotionally invested in water – she can take or leave it, Ezzie is a nut for it. She will follow me into the ocean and dive into the crashing surf. She’ll even ride the waves back into shore. She also perfected the art of the dog somersault, by planting her head sideways in the wet sand, wiggling around and then flipping over on her back and wiggling some more.
The dogs grounded me by living in the here and now; they don’t think about the future or worry about the past. They also knew that getting to the beach was worth the effort. Most things are.