Speaking of path, over the past few months many seasoned empty-nesters gave us the same piece of advice.
“If at all possible, don’t go directly back to your house.”
We got this advice from people who went on a brief adventure and were glad they did. We got this advice from people who went directly home and were very sorry they did. Message received. So, instead of flying to the east coast, putting her on the flight with the rest of the teens from the Program and heading straight back to a now-empty nest, we’d stay east for a few days. The pet-sitter was hired for the extra days and the larger luggage was yanked out of the hallway closet.
[Possible gap year project: Determine how hallway closet is portal to another world populated by sentient ski equipment.]
Then the question became, where to go? Daniel suggested a friend’s lake house in Connecticut where I had my New York Times Caucasian Moment. But every time we’ve been there, we’ve been there with the kid. The kid who is now far away.
“So, should I call and ask Steve if we can—“
I barked, “NO!”
Maybe I was a little more emotional about this then I realized. I took a breath and tried to find a pleasant expression that would convince Daniel I wasn’t about to start beating him with a broken ski pole we just found in the hallway closet.
“We should go someplace we haven’t gone before," I said. Which is how we ended up on Cape Cod after Labor Day. Even this neophobe has to admit, it was damn near perfect. Warm air and blue skies during the day. At night, cool breezes and a chaos of forest music (Bugs? Frogs? Both?) that announces a postcard New England autumn is just around the corner. We had a new beach to try out every day. If we had arrived just a week earlier we’d have been crammed between every mental-health professional on the East Coast taking their annual August reprieve from hearing about people’s mothers for profit but now, the week after Labor Day, the coast was, quite literally, clear. Hell, even the parking was free. We had miles and miles of beaches on both sides of Cape Cod pretty much to ourselves — two intermittently melancholic parents periodically asking each other what time it was in France — along with a few die-hards, a handful of locals and a truly bounteous collection of Labrador Retrievers allowed, once again, to cavort on the beach.
[I’m starting to think one of the requirements of closing escrow in the Outer Cape is: “Do you have a Lab? We will accept a Golden Retriever but only if you have evidence that the dog in question once snuck into the kitchen and ate a lobster roll.”]
And there was one other group.
Like all good rats, I have familiar patterns that soothe me. One of them is I must get in 10,000 steps every day. If I don’t, I sleep even worse than usual, which is saying something. I’ve marched the length of my house at 11:45 at night to hit my number. This step thing is somehow both healthy and not-healthy in equal measure. So when confronted with a narrow beach of great beauty and greater length and a pedometer which — because of a time-zone glitch now saw me somewhere below “sedentary,” possibly in “persistent vegetative state,” off I strode. I hadn’t made my number the day before so I had to hit 15,000 today if I had a hope in hell of a REM cycle. I left our nearly-deserted area of the beach and walked south toward Wellfleet, the Atlantic throbbing along rythmically to my left. After about fifteen minutes, I noticed a couple sunning in matching tan bathing suits. I walked a few more paces, squinted.
Not matching suits.
I looked around the beach. Empty save this couple, lying face-up on a blanket, holding hands like some 3-dimensional “Love Is…” cartoon, only with pubic hair. The tide was high, which meant I got to walk entirely too close to them. Close enough that my brain shouted helpfully, “SAY HELLO TO THEM, BECAUSE IT’S WEIRD TO WALK THIS CLOSE TO SOMEONE AND NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THEM! AND THEN COMMEND HIM ON HIS DEFT APPLICATION OF SUNBLOCK TO HIS PENIS!”
My brain and I settled instead on my whispering “Hello” to a horseshoe crab skeleton several feet from their towel. I looked up to scan the horizon. Only a few people as far as the eye could see. Probably just a one-off here. Everyone else would be wearing some version of bathing togs, including the Labs. It’s Cape Cod!
It is Cape Cod and, I came to learn later, Cape Cod has a nude beach but in that wonderful New England way gave no indication you might have just found it. I was torn. On the one hand, I fear the sun so I was dressed in my typical beachwear: a sweatshirt and jeans, and was possibly committing the fauxest of nude beach faux pas and should probably go back. On the other hand, I was nowhere near my steps. On the other hand, I was tired of staring fixedly at the sand, not the least of which because many of these nudists were kind of sand-colored and I had nearly stepped on one. On the other hand, when it came to the human form, I was no naïf. I had seen Harvey Keitel movies. On the other hand, when I looked up, even if I kept my eyes as vague and horizon-focused as possible, I saw things which were, at best, complicated. A naked man wrestled with a folding chair. There were soft bits rushing pell-mell towards hinged bits. I worried about him. Then there was that man just standing there. Having never had a penis, I might be mistaken, but I really do feel he was brushing sand off that thing longer than was absolutely necessary. I wondered if Gap Year Quinn would discover she’s actually the kind of person who practices really thorough open-air genital grooming. I guess the year ahead would tell me. But I’m pretty certain I’d let people walk past without that searching eye contact. Sand-Brusher barely blinked.
I checked my phone. I was at 7,000 steps. That would put me right around 14,000 by the time I got back to clothed people. The hotel room was modest but could be lapped a few hundred times to make up the difference. The tide was rising, narrowing my path among the enthusiasts. I methodically rolled up my pants legs, headed down to the water's edge and hoped my flash of ankle was taken as a sign of solidarity.