Sea Water

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My mother and I had lived in the two bedroom, brown-shingled cottage on Walnut Street for several years. It was in this house where I discovered my fear of the wind, my obsession with all that encompassed the Disney character Pocahontas, and my best friend Claire who resided just across the street from me. In this house, I turned four and had a Barbie birthday party, complete with a pink frosted cake and two calico kittens lying calmly on the living room couch. We named them Fern and Chloe. Chloe drooled whenever we pet her, and Fern ate too much for her tiny frame to handle.
When my mother went to her part-time job at Droll Designs, designing and painting pottery to sell in Salem, my 19 year old babysitter Dawn took me on drives around Annisquam, pushed me on our tire swing, and made me surprise snack plates that usually consisted of M&Ms, black olives, and carrot sticks. Dawn filled the spot that I imagined an older sister would be in, and Claire filled the spot of where a twin would be. Or so I'd like to think. When Dawn wasn't around to take me on little adventures, I would look both ways and cross the street to Claire's house, up on a hill of granite and surrounded by oak trees. It was here where we took bubble baths together, attempted to braid our dolls' hair and have tea parties with pretend food and acorns as teacups.
Sometimes on Sundays, the young town lobsterman who was a dear friend of Claire's parents would stop by and give us penny candy of all sorts. We called him Jerry but I'm not sure that was even his real name. He smelled of lobster traps and seawater. Jerry filled the spot where an older brother would be, at least to me he did.
Back then I was determined to gather up as many family members as I could. To me, our family that consisted of my mother, myself, and two odd kittens just wasn't enough. I wanted everyone to be in our cottage at all times, whether it be neighbors or friends, or even animals. Mrs. Potts who lived down the street brought us Christmas cookies and I showed her my gymnastics routine right in the kitchen, an attempt to get her to extend her meager visit. In the summertime, I begged Claire to sleep over nearly every night, and when Dawn came to baby-sit, I tried my best to make her stay even long after my mother arrived home from work. It was a strange habit I had gotten into, wanting more and more people in the house at the same time. I didn't care who they were. I wanted phones ringing and people drinking cocktails on the rickety porch and Van Morrison blasting on the stereo system. I wanted younger kids running around our clover-ridden backyard and older ones playing hopscotch on Walnut Street next to the rotting tree. Sometimes when I couldn't sleep, I would crawl into my mother's room and turn on the TV, muting it so she wouldn't wake up and turn it off. I liked to watch the pictures dance across the screen, the blue light streaming into the dark room where everything else was still.
Today I live in a yellow house. My quiet Walnut Street has morphed into bustling Washington, complete with a school bus stop on the corner. Fern and Chloe no longer grace the kitchen floor with empty Meow Mix cans or kitty litter paw prints, and Dawn has her own children whom she gives surprise snack plates. Claire still lives just around the block, but our days together are spent discussing boyfriends and Jersey Shore, taking trips to the mall instead of bubble baths, and planning dance parties with friends instead of tea parties with acorns. But the size of my family has not changed. It is just the two of us, my mother and I, as it has been since my fourth birthday party. I am not looking for neighbors, friends, or babysitters to transform into family members now. My love of having people bustling around the house, cooking chili and laughing and chatting on the deck is still alive. But when it comes down to it, at the end of the night, I never have the urge to turn on the TV just to feel less alone. I never beg friends to stay over for more than a night. I am content sitting by the woodstove, with just my mother, listening to her complain about her secretary who is a pathological liar and laughing at her when she burns the enchiladas.





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