At eleven at night, the occupants in the car were totally oblivious of my predicament. Ashley and Tiger had long fallen asleep, and Corb, utterly proud of the fact that he had discovered a shorter route home, had valiantly tried staying awake until the final leg of the journey, at which point he let his head drift down to his chin, and in no time at all, he was dead to the world. They pretty much stayed asleep as I hopped out of the car to pump the gas.
The gas station was pretty much the only place open for business at that time of night in the sleepy town of North Eldredge, and the bright lights served as a beacon for every insect in the area. I shut the door and moved to shove in my credit card and fill up the tank, and I realized, as I stood there, minding the hose, that my particular area was infested with large moths, all the color of sand.
As I watched the odometer turn rapidly, I couldn't help but watch the moths hovering around the pump, dancing in the sky, and fluttering up against the pump. My gaze was particularly attracted to two moths, located by the gas nozzel. One was quite still, and almost appeared dead. The one next to him, however, was quite active, and was almost dancing around the lifeless moth, fluttering its wings and moving in drunken circles.
At first I thought it was some kind of weird moth mating thing, but as I continued to watch, it became clear to me that that wasn't the case at all. It was almost as if the moving moth were trying to wake up his friend, who had grown weary of the fight. His friend kept trying to move underneath him, to lift him up, and then, being unsuccessful, would circle around, and try again, at another angle.
Anyway, for some reason, their dance reminded me of the day that I had just spent, which had flown, way too quickly. Today was the day that my parents held an annual Independence day celebration at their litle beachfront property in Tiverton. The day had been enjoyable, even if my father had been somewhat stand-offish and cold, because Corb was there and Josie wasn't. But most in the cast of characters had been on hand, same as they always were for my parent's celebrations. Cathy and Jim, and Cathy's mother and crazy sister, and Jim's brother and silent family, and all my parent's teacher friends, and of course, I brought the kids and Chad (Annie's former boyfriend, now reduced to friend status).
And twenty years ago, I was the age that Annie is now, and driving down with my parents to the same location, which has not, truthfully, changed much in almost two decades. And then, flash forward five years, and I'm driving down with Josie next to me and Annie, just a baby and with a thin swatch of hair barely covering her head. And then, five years more, and Ashley's added to the mix, and then Tiger, and then, two years ago, I'm driving the brood with Chad (this time in boyfriend status) in tow on a hot summer day, and "You're My Best Friend" comes on the radio, and I look over toward Josie and I try not to cry, knowing that this would be the last time that we would all of us be together like that, and wondering what the future would hold.
What I've discovered is, that the future holds more of the same, only slightly reshuffled.
The same rituals still exist. When we first arrived, I had annoyed Corb by saying, several times, "You see, in this land, my people do things this way..." But it's true. Rituals are the glue that holds the whole experience together. A pot of bad chili placed out for snacks at the start of the day. Paddle boat rides. A swim to the rock in the middle of the lake. Cheesburgers and hot dogs on the grill. The same outhouse with pictures, covereed inside with pictures of topless women. Card games, especially an obscure game called Maniac. A bonfire on the beach. Fireworks blasting across the shore, in different locations. My father, growing tired around 9:30, gently but firmly letting us know it was time to go.
The rituals remain, even if the faces change and alter with time. Jim's brother has two boys. I remember them coming to the beachhouse as infants, and swimming, naked, in the water. Now they are grown, the youngest is Annie's age. Bodies change and mature, reach their prime and then start to fade.
And things change. Josie has not been for two years. My grandmother, such an important part of the grouping, is no longer with us, and her homemade red clam chowder is now just a memory, too. Cathy's mother walks with a limp, but she still remains a bright light, with her pocketbook filled with mimeographed pages of lyrics to songs that were popular when she was a girl. Her husband passed away when I was in my teens. Jim's father, the man who supplied us with fireworks ever year, passed away over a decade ago.
If only all of this could coexist in the same world, could come together into one big party. If only past and present and future could collide, and the day could be vivid and colorful and absent of any sadness or distress. If only Nana could be back, with her pot of red chowder, and Jim's dad with the fireworks, and the hundreds of people who have taken off their shoes and have enjoyed this beach sand between their feet, could soak up the sun for one long summer day.
If only. But like moths, we are only given a finite time frame, and it all passes by and changes so damn quickly. Here I am one moment, young and tan and horny and good looking, and then, there I am, years later, and...well. I guess some things just don't change.
But they will. And something occurred to me, tonight, as I was sitting next to Corb, with Tiger on my lap and my mother by my side, as we watched the bonfire start to die down on the beach, and my mother and I sang patriotic songs while Ashley danced with sparklers in her hand. Suddenly, Cathy moved toward us, with a camera in her hand, and snapped a picture. And it hit me, like an automatic reflex. "This is the way I want this picture to look for some time to come."
I look forward to this day every year. I want to look forward to it for many more years to come.