It’s late December and I’m walking with Andrew and Ali by the nature preserve where I used to walk the dog when we still had a dog. We are talking about memories. It’s getting dark, but we keep walking because Andrew wants to see the deer that come out at dusk. And we need a change of pace after days and days of slowly sinking into the couch and into our books. We need to remember what’s real.
This reminds me of when I was fourteen and I was grounded for months and I would escape by walking the dog. The town of Rye is small so whomever I wanted to hang out with would walk with me. I remember being thrilled when I could go to a party for the Oscars (or was it the Superbowl?) after being grounded since the beginning of November (or was it the end of November?) Either way it felt like an eternity at the time. I was grounded because I had a “boyfriend” and I lied to my parents about it. I saved all our AOL Instant Messenger chats mostly because I couldn’t believe someone liked me and I needed to re-read them to believe it. It was 2004 so it was a shared family desktop so of course my parents found them.
Andrew recalls how he and my sister were called down to a family meeting. They were like, “Caroline said mean things about our whole family and she needs to apologize to everyone.”
I had completely forgotten about this part. Yes, I say. And I had only said, “signing off now family time lol,” or maybe even “my parents are annoying and making me hang out with them.”
That’s so normal for a teenager. That’s not even that mean. Right? Maybe I just don’t understand because I don’t have kids. How will I try to keep control over my own kids one day? Will I track my children using their cell phones? What if no one is? Or worse, what if everyone is?
We are walking and we are fourteen and twelve again, except my brother wouldn’t have been there then because he would have been with Ryan.
When Ryan’s parents, Gary and Maureen, came to my birthday dinner I found it hard to explain to close friends who’d never met them who they were. Do I just lead off with “their son was best friends with my brother but he died when he was fifteen but they basically grew up together so that’s how we know them” or “they are kind of like my aunt and uncle” or just “they are friends of my parents.”
“It’s an inter-generational party!” It was normal at my wedding (of course) but is it weird for my thirtieth birthday party?
“Who are the four people with the same last name?”
“No the other ones.”
“Oh well they are family too, but technically because they aren’t blood-related. Same with the Adamsons, who we now just call Gary and Maureen. But sometimes I want to call them “the Adamsons” for old times sake, you know? I wonder if they’ve noticed this change. Anyway the Brunners have two sons and they are basically my cousins and Mary is my mom’s close friend and she did the flowers at my wedding.”
“Got it.” (They probably didn’t.)
“The Brunners and the Adamsons (Gary and Maureen) are really important to me and have always been there to celebrate my birthday since I was like…twelve. Because late December is a weird time to have a birthday and people are always out of town but they were always around.”
After dinner I make everyone who hasn’t been to Rye before walk to the boardwalk, by the nature preserve, where I run everyday when I’m home and I sometimes feel fourteen again but not as much as when I walk with Ali and Andrew and we talk about the past.
Sometimes when I show people how nice my hometown is I want to start explaining how my parents came from not a lot and were both valedictorian and escaped their small town roots and somehow ended up in Rye but weren’t the typical Rye people. (I often think my mom’s story is the one I should be telling instead of my own.) I want to tell them I didn’t grow up rich, at least in comparison to most people in Rye. But then I sound so privileged trying to somehow justify my privilege and then I hate myself for even trying in the first place.
Anyway we walk quickly because it’s cold and I say, “I’m thirty!” but I’m also fourteen and twenty-one and making all those mistakes and running from my parents’ punishments and running back to them and calling them my best friends and just running to get outside and keep my heart pumping and to remember what’s real.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.