In the beginning…

My life before- I’d gorge on Nutterbutter Sandwich cookies
across the street from the market. I’d stagger the terrifying path on sheet ice to the high school from behind Briarcliff. At my first dance, I listened to the girls in the next stall over brag about how many bowls they’d consumed. and thought they were talking about gobbling down too much brownie dough…
Everything changed the day my father walked out of the Mtn. Lakes Club after a business meeting with his bosses. He’d just gotten home from rehab (what did they call it then?) so we are all excited about life going back to normal. He came out of the Club, found me in the parking lot. I’m sure I was on my way in to charge cigarettes or make a call, and he shook his head. For the first time, in a long time, I approached my dad without an agenda. I wasn’t thinking about hitting him up for a new record, or some guilt cash, or a ride. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen him look defeated. I walked toward him even though I really wished I had somewhere else to go, or was anywhere else in the world. He said to me “Julie, it’s over, I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.” I just stared at him. I think I was waiting for him to spin it, or change it, blame it on them, or tell me how over meant he had a new beginning lined up. “I don’t know, Julie, it’s done.”

I guided my dad to his car, a rented Cordova, black with red stripes, eight track, fully loaded, before he wept. I couldn’t see if there were actual tears, his head was bent over the steering wheel, his shoulders rose and and fell, and he didn’t make a sound. I don’t remember how we got home or told Mom or Jim or spent the rest of the summer.
I remember my own body pitching forward with pain, like I’d been punched in the gut. I grabbed for his arm and tried to say something right. And I remember, even though I had nothing to say, that somehow I spoke words outloud. I said- ” they are wrong, it takes time, it’s too soon”, he lifted his head He wiped his pale, pale blue eyes on the back of his hand. And while he listened to me ramble, my body still bent with the new weight of the world, he straightened up. He believed me. My words seemed to give him strength, and courage, and by the time he got to the car, he looked like the man I knew. And I wanted to believe that someone was back. “Fuck em all,” he said, “It was too soon!” he announced.
But I knew as I watched his eyes scan the parking lot, as I watched him try to figure out how to get home, it was done. Tennis matches. Fireworks. Egg catches. Trips to the market and slippery walks to the high school. Cocktail hour. And that magical sense that whatever came up, Daddy could fix it. That afternoon, I’d fixed Daddy. And I knew within an hour he’d forget where he worked, or lose his keys, or wonder why the rug was beige.
So when I remember Mtn. Lakes, it is mythical. Soon after he made his declaration, we had to move to Mt. Tabor. We were lucky someone in his office caught on early; his final days with early onset Alzheimers were covered with insurance.

My first memories of Mountain Lakes are golden, they are colored by that magical belief that my parents could solve every problem in the world. I remember The Club, and egg throwing and the fishing contest at Birchwood. I remember Hap, the king and dictator of The Club, and musicals and baiting my hook, or having my Dad do it for me.

I was so lucky. We were so lucky. To have all those moments of utter confidence that the world was kind, that Easter was about catching a hardboiled egg, and that someone would always be there to help with the nasty business of fishing.

At a point, it turned. Dad got sick, I grew up, the fish stopped biting, the eggs stopped flying, I don’t know the exact moment. I trace my steps, we trace our steps, here, or while we try to sleep, or search for the right words for a eulogy, or a christening.

It turned for everyone, the things we remember are not the things that exist these days.

These days are different. Let us celebrate them, what is to come, and what is past.