You arrive on a Sunday. The house is white with a purple porch swing; the lane is unpaved, historic, and one-way. Once the ferry docks, you debark the boat and follow the road to the right. Soon, you turn left onto the small, sandy lane. When you get to the purple porch swing, you have arrived at your vacation. You are on Okracoke Island, in North Carolina. It is a vacation spot so remote that only a ferry will deliver you, and that is what you came for. You did not come for construction noise.
Regardless, at 8a.m. Monday morning, a large blue forklift backs down the narrow lane, squeezing impossibly between branches and picket fences – Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! It begins its loud loading onto the second floor of the house across the street and down one. To say you are aggravated is to understate, and not only because the job your husband is vacating for the week involves construction.
On Tuesday, your toddler rubs sunscreen in her eyes, and cannot stop doing it, because it is slathered across her hands and arms, as well. (Your husband now knows that she is too young to wear sunscreen on her face and hands.) It is not an enjoyable morning at the beach. On Wednesday, your daughter wakes up with welts the size of vaccination reactions; her left leg has been the choice meal of no-see-um bugs, and (you might as well prepare yourself) the scratching isn’t going to stop until after you arrive back home next week. On Thursday, your daughter wedges her arm between the slats of a chair and nearly passes out from the fright.
You look at your husband and shake your head. You lay the toddler down for a nap, pour some rum in your orange juice, and sit out on the porch swing, forklift be damned. Life, it would seem, refuses to be vacated.
Once upon a time, before my daughter, I arrived at beach trips laden with books, mostly novels. I read through one, two, three, more, cover to cover – and woe to the husband, fellow beach bum, or noisy neighbor who interrupted me. I set up my umbrella and chair at the shore for the day, and my world was my own – or so I thought.
In her book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about getting away to the beach to recharge, to be alone. This is necessary, she says, particularly for women. Also, she exults,
“How wonderful are islands! Islands in space, like this one I have come to, ringed about by miles of water, linked by no bridges, no cables, no telephones. An island from the world and the world’s life. . . . People too become like islands in such an atmosphere, self-contained, whole and serene; respecting other people’s solitude, not intruding on their shores . . .”[i]
I laugh. Either I am not actually on an island, or Okracoke did not get the memo. It has been one year and counting since I read a book of any length, uninterrupted, with a view of the crashing waves.
The Okracoke Walking Tour and Guide Book tells me that at the first island census in 1790, there were only nine family names on the island.[ii] The house with the purple swing belonged to one of these families. There are photographs throughout the home of the original owners. In a particular black and white framed photograph, an elderly man and his wife sit on the porch. An accompanying notecard thanks the couple for welcoming a passerby onto the porch for conversation. The elderly man grins from the swing; he looks game. His wife sits on an adjacent rocker. She looks how I would feel: intruded upon. She is not work; she is at home. I am not at home; I am on this porch swing, on vacation. I assume my sternest “Stay away” expression, but neither the forklift nor the no-see-ums notice or care.
On day four, your parents arrive. This is new territory, a grandparent visit interjected into the usual long, solitary rest-week. Each of you must carve out space for the other. The first morning is rocky. How to converse over that first cup of coffee when, till now, you have spent three days constructing a tenuous reverie? You question the wisdom of four-and-a-half introverts choosing to vacation together. Surprisingly, after that first, fourth morning, you quickly adapt and begin to enjoy each other. By the time the grandparents leave on day seven, your emotions have traveled so far to the other extreme that you feel desolate without them. You discover that this is how life goes: all interruption is not unbeautiful. You discover that this is how love goes: all noise is not interruption.
Before they arrive, you give your parents directions to the house: Pull off the ferry and follow the road to the right. Pass the first shop-and-restaurant block and turn left at the one-way sandy lane. When you get to the purple porch swing, you are in the middle of nowhere. Except, in this world, you are always somewhere. The street leveler crashes its weekly run down the lane, and construction workers turn up the music. Bugs bite, the sunscreen stings, family arrives, and the silence is interrupted.
Still, I’m game. Are you?
[i] Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Gift from the Sea. 34.
Rebecca D. Martin received her MA in English from the University of Georgia. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in The Other Journal, Kinfolk, the Equals Record, and The Lamp-Post, and she is a staff writer for The Curator. She lives with her husband and daughter in Southwest Virginia