Declan’s cousin and her family are on the Vineyard for a week. His parents are hosting them. Declan and I plan to meet them at State Beach for a picnic. We will convene around 11a.m.. I will take Sarah home for a nap around 1p.m. Julian and Marshall may want to stay until mid-afternoon. We promised the boys that we would rent a kayak from the vendor near First Bridge.
Declan and I have been married fifteen years and I think I have met his cousin and his wife just three times: our wedding, their wedding, and his uncle’s funeral. Declan and his cousin played together on the Island, but they live in California, now. Superficially, our lives couldn’t be more different. I see us as old-guard New Englanders. They embrace the California sunshine and its culture. Fancy homes, fast cars, expensive purses and purchased saline breasts are integral to their definition of happiness and success.
I was curious how the visit was going to go. The dynamics of Declan’s parents and me was determined long ago. I am fine with the superficial cordiality we maintain. They like me; they just don’t think I am good for Declan. They feel I hold him back with my all-too masculine ambitions. The importance of all of that was diminished when the grandchildren arrived. It was further diminished when Kelly died. We four adults share the deep loss of a beloved child. I’ve heard deaths can drive people apart. In our case, it has bound us together. If we don’t remember Kelly, who will?
Declan’s cousin, Marcus, is a bank manager. He is a conservative, staid, banker who likes his job, likes the benefits and likes the status attached to his title. Ingrid is the store manager for a Doc Johnson store. Originally, she worked in manufacturing, but the executives saw her potential in sales and management and moved her over to the flagship Doc Johnson store. Maybe it’s because I am inherently a private person, the notion of running a store that sells sexual devices and apparatus to enhance people’s sex lives is anathema to me. However, Ingrid is passionate about her work. She talks about dildos and vibrators like they are nothing more than batteries and lightbulbs. I find it strangely disconcerting to hear her twelve and fourteen-years old girls discuss the merits of silicone over latex. If I work hard to put a positive spin on it, I can say that her girls are well-schooled in matters of sexual health. To Ingrid’s and Marcus’s credit, both girls are wearing age-appropriate bathing suits and they both have come to the beach with sunscreen, hats, books and an iPod. Exactly what most kids that age would bring.
When Ingrid comments on my haircut, I read into her remark that it does not become me. She barely conceals a snort when, in answer to her question about where I found my “cute” bathingsuit, I say, “Lands End.”
“How about you, Ingrid? Is that called a one-piece or a two-piece when the two pieces are attached by that strip?”
“We call it a monokini. Dolce and Gabbana.”
We get busy spreading sunscreen on our children, our husband’s, ourselves. I move under the small tent we have erected for Sarah so that I can watch that she doesn’t put anything in her mouth. My sons, Ingrid’s daughters and our husbands move closer to the water to play catch. Ingrid and I sit in quiet, almost-companionable silence, for a few minutes. Ingrid is the first to blink.
“When my mother died, I stopped feeling for months. I felt like I was wrapped in bubble wrap and nothing, not anything, could touch me. I was too taken over with the pain of losing her. It’s been three years, Julia, and I still have days like that. It’s not weeks or months anymore, I am grateful. But those days sure are long.”
“Thanks for telling me that, Ingrid. I guess I don’t know you very well, so I appreciate the chance to understand you better.” I hear myself sounding aloof and stiff. I am trying not to cry. I keep repeating to myself, “She’s not being nice, she’s not being nice.”
Ingrid says, “I wasn’t really functioning for about six months. Marcus took over the day to day on just about everything. Right down to telling me to shower and get dressed. Be gentle and be kind to yourself. The process of loss - whether it’s your daughter, your father, your aunt or your mother - is different every time. I volunteer at a Grief Support Group. At first, I went to look for answers and help.” She laughs. “After five years, I guess they figured I am sticking around. I talk to newcomers and help them understand our work.”
Okay, I am a little impressed and very surprised.
Ingrid, with her perfect skin, her smooth forehead, blond high-lighted hair, and magnificent figure (her breasts are fabulous to behold and her legs are muscled and lean) has surprised me a lot more depth than I had ever credited her. A day at the beach with a lady in a D & G bathing-suit may be pleasant after all.