Time is linear. Yet there are moments when we are lost in a cycle of hours and days lacking consciousness of the distinction of one day to another. Grief produces this experience as it exercises conscious sedation on the soul. It induces amnesia and clouds the mind diminishing vigilance and perception of time’s passage. This is Erika’s experience of the days immediately following James’s funeral. Grief sedates her such that she cannot dedicate her concentration to anything in particular. The hours pass slowly and yet each day arrives in succession. Her expected return to work looms.
She thinks about the awkward conversation with her boss about James’s terminal state and the pending need for time off. A policy of three days off for the occasion of mourning a close relative felt so hurried. In her first year as a nurse, she took neither vacation nor sick days. On account of her dedication her boss allowed a week off. Sunday arrives too suddenly and Erika sits beside her sister and reflects upon her return to routine.
“Society expects that we return as we were after our emotional stability is demolished. My life is different and I am different. I am not who I was, but now I am not sure of who I am”, says Erika.
“But there is something curative in returning to work and to friends and to everything that invites us to feel better” Jen responds.
Erika absorbed in thought nods, but maintains her silence. She considers “These two prespectives are correct.”
The sisters decided to have coffee together and eat with Anna on the last day of their mourning. They rest seated on a bench in front of the ocean. Constitution Beach, on the east side of Boston is not exactly a tourist destination. It has its endearing qualities but no one is going to grant it the title of beautiful. The size of the tides in the northeast United States is impressive with a maximum of four or five meters. The life guards are very diligent enforcing the borders of the swimming area. During low tides it is almost impossible for one to submerge oneself in the water. A visitor faces a long approach to the water’s edge speckled with little stones to a cold and opaque pool. Once in the water the opacity of the ocean floor puzzles the swimmer; they are never sure of what they tread upon. But, it is a safe area for families that hardly sees waves. The only waves are from the sound of reggeaton that sometimes permeate the air. The view includes Logan Airport. It is a matter of opinion whether or not this is captivating. Erika enjoys watching the airplanes take off and land; all these people coming to and fro from destinations all over the world. Since childhood, she envied people in their opportunity to experience other cultures, and speak multiple languages. The airport ignites her imagination and interest.
“Why did you take me to this haggard beach?” Jen breaks the silence with a complaint, the type you only use before life’s most familiar people.
“Because…..it is free, shade and a bathroom are close by. It is across from the airport and I like to observe the take offs and landings. More important, Dad parked his boat here. We spent many hours together as a family here.
James kept his boat at a yacht club in Orient Heights. The Connolly family spent many summers with rides up the north coast of Massachusetts and within Boston Harbor. Anna always blamed the drinking culture of the club for James’s alcoholism. The abundance of alcohol and low prices certainly did not help him; but to be an addict is more than economics. Erika associates the spot with summers, eluding in their length that ended and started with the same suddenness. Ten years ago Jen and Erika were sixteen and thirteen respectively. They were between girls and women. Every summer they reunited with friends, a little less as girls and a little more as women.
Jen and Erika grew up in the same house, but their differences in personality always distanced them. Physically Jen is a mix of the two parents, of average height with hazel eyes. She is cautious and conservative like Anna. Her three years in age over her sister give her the advantage of a more established life, and mature beauty. She is dedicated to her job in accounting and has a boyfriend that could win a Mr. America pageant. In fact Mr. America is Erika’s nick name for him, but his actual name is Patrick. They met at University, while involved in Greek life. He went on to law school while Jen is currently studying for her CPA exam. Patrick is the type of man that every mother wants as a son in law; handsome like a J Crew model, tall and limber, intelligent and hard working. Upon his graduation from graduate studies, Erika is sure he will propose to Jen.
Jen enjoyed collegiate life in a dormitory in pursuit of her Bachelor’s degree when Erika decided to stay with her parents and attend a nearby university. She still lives with her mother in Revere Massachusetts. Jen lives with friends in Somerville.
“I think it is time I more to my own apartment, Erika begins. I see you living with friends and I think this would be healthier for me I will not remain in the same house like an old maid caring for her mother. It is time for me to go.”
Erika leans back against the bench arms akimbo.
“Perhaps I will be an old maid, but there is no rule that I cannot live independently.”
“Do you have friends to move with? If not are you willing to take on a roommate? Rent is expensive in this area. It is almost impossible to save money while paying housing costs. Why are you leaving so quickly after dad just died? Mom appreciates your company and support.
“She told you that?”
“Try not to forget us Jen. I know you have your social network, your job, Patrick. You are free and living according to your own whims. Mom demands a lot of help with the house. I should not have to take everything alone. We do not blend as you and she do.
Jen sits there pensively.
“Erika, I would never forget about you. We are all having dinner together tonight, are we not? Also, you truly believe yourself to be an old maid? You would find someone if you were to look.”
Erika has only had one boyfriend, Marcos with whom she confused lust and love. She was completely naïve in matters of romance but wanted to alleviate her insecurity and emotional solitude. Finding this particular man, who was ready to participate in carnal pleasures came with a price. Marcos perceived the insecurities in Erika and capitalized on them. Initially, the attention from a man’s desire encouraged her. But after being so charming, his true self was revealed and wounded her more with insults and sarcasm.
James disliked Marcos. He saw his daughter victim of his spell. The problem with addiction is that you become less and less capable of providing support to others as you become more and more dependent on the drug. “With periods of sobriety becoming shorter and shorter, James lacked the ability to give his opinion on the situation. He did not believe Erika to be in any physical danger, only knew she could do much better. It was the eventual occupation with studies, work, and James that separated her enough from Marcos that she had no time for the intense cycle of passion and contempt. The young woman lacking in confidence, is tenaciously focused and goal oriented. Her tenacity is her shield against lust, flattery and insults. Unable to manipulate his way past this, the relationship between Erika and Marcos ended.
Anna still complains about Marcos in the context of his frugality, and lack of a clear career path. Rather than support Erika in telling her she can do better the customary conversion is summarized as follows.
“Erika, look at your sister and Patrick. He is handsome, motivated, polite….Men like Marcos are a waste of time. Is there no one better that you can attract?”
Looking from the shore back to Jen, Erika begins “where should I look for him?”
“For the” boyfriend that you and Mom are suggesting I find.”
Jen and Anna liberally share their theories with Erika as to why she is single. Generally it involves offers to seek more fashionable and feminine clothing, wear make -up and heels. Or a modification of exercise to stay fit, but discourage muscle hypertrophy. Erika feels the emptiness in all of this. She wants to believe that her functional clothing and lack of make-up give her an approachable quality. High heels simply hurt feet and at her short stature, two more inches do little. Erika developed a love for sports during her high school years. James taught her to lift weights to improve performance and she continues with this hobby. It is not long before she discovers this to be repellent and counter cultural. The struggle to accept herself a woman scolded for her nature is great. Her perceived inadequacy melts only with the attention of men.