Held fast to the stern

The wet walk up Thorn takes 25 minutes, twice that if you’re doing it right. It curves wide around the cypresses, tall wonderless sentinels. Past the trees, it descends, then levels out to the water.

The path fades where hundreds of feet have beaten it out into a wide delta that slopes down to the dirty water. Blades of grass improbably cling to life on the fringe, defiant as they poke through the mud. An empty square bottle rests against the sedan-sized boulder at the shore.

I bent down to pick up the bottle, and my imagination rewound a night of teen rebellion. I considered carrying it back, but instead set it back where it was. My laziness anointed it a tribute.

Why was I in such a hurry to leave? It was a question that had more than one answer — the right one, and the ones that I had constructed to avoid that first one. Neon lights are banned on Nantucket. That kind of pretension keeps a person artificially closed off from life’s relentless scratching at the soul.

I wondered why I had worn these sneakers knowing the walk would be a sodden punishment. They sank deep into the silt, and it made me feel good.

At least I was playing music again. Then, again, the pang of honesty: What I was doing wasn’t playing music. It was reciting notes. It was filling in the blanks in a meaningless, emotionless, artless form that would move everything along, push the wheels, sustain the pace. Some people couldn’t tell the difference. Their unvarnished wonder was built on a misunderstanding. That wasn’t their fault, but it didn’t cheer me up.

I turned back toward where I knew the path would pick back up. My shoes squelched in protest as I sucked them from their comfortable bed.

The beauty of self-redefinition is its constance. Nobody says goodbye to themselves, but nobody has to keep running into the part of them that leaves them hollow and horrible and eager. A very old friend told me the man who laughs is the man who knows, but I don’t think he knew what that even meant. Happiness is trigonometry; it’s a delicate and sometimes unattainable balance of chemicals whose variables constantly warp and melt and overflow. Plug in those most common denominators — sunshine and sex and whiskey and money and achievement — and it will still let you down without a little equilibrium.

Shoes ruined, heart full, cold settling in to my chest, I left Thorn behind me again.  If I hurried, I could be home in an hour, but I knew I wouldn’t.

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