6:15 p.m. –and still over an hour before bedtime. The boys are restless. They are going nuts: They need to get out of the house, and I have to act. We set out for a car ride in search of Sankaty lighthouse. On our way up Polpis Road I sing with my three-years old T. one of Bob Marley’s most famous choruses:

“Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights. / Get up, stand up / Don’t give up the fight”

With the first lines of the lyrics (“Preacherman, don’t tell me / Heaven is under the earth”), we stop. “Sorry, papi,” says T., “I don’t know this part.” “I don’t know it either, son, don’t worry.”

What I really don’t know it’s our way to the lighthouse. So I take a left at some point between the Sesachacha Pond and Sankaty Head Golf Course. “We are going in an excursion,” I say to the boys. And they of course love the idea and yell loudly in excitement. We end up at the Sankaty Head Beach House. It is almost quarter to seven and not a soul is around us. The weather changed for the worst yesterday; it has rained in and out the whole day. Now a thick mist has fallen over Nantucket.

We get out of the car and walk down to Sankaty beach. The beach is completely deserted. Soon the fog has become so thick that you can barely see thirty feet ahead. Suddenly it feels like we are at the end of the world. No one knows where we really are. I left the house in the hurry of a slight parental crisis. So K. and her mother C., who is today in the island with us visiting, could not guess for their lives where our excursion has taken us. If a giant shark monster, or an alien octopus, like those on Sci-Fi Channel, B-movies I love to watch all the time jumps out of the ocean and devours us with its big scary mouth way open, in just one bite, and takes our screaming bodies with it into the bottom of the ocean without leaving any trace of us behind, no one will never know what happened to us. No one would ever know.

I get kind of scared… Scared is not really the word: a feeling of uneasiness, rather. It’s the imposing isolation and solitude of this place, of this deserted strip of sand. The lighthouse is nowhere to be seen. No wonder—we can barely see the ocean roaring in front of us, five feet away. We can hear it, though. A thick blanket of grey that has grown like solid concrete structures surrounds us. I feel we are in a little square of sand soon to be engulfed by water. Yes, soon we will be walled up by the ocean and the fog: there will be no way out of here—other than going ahead into the wild waves.

I have R., a year and a half old, on my left arm. I hold T.’s by my right hand. “I think it’s time to go back home now,” I say to T. He, who usually fights every decision I make (I have come to know that parenting is basically a constant battle of wills), and dies to get into the water every time we set foot in a beach, looks at me and acknowledges: “OK, papi, let’s go home.”

We run back to the car. The interior suddenly feels as safe as an atomic bunker. The moment of irrational panic passed, we ride back home as happy as clams. We are exultant with our improvised excursion. But we promise ourselves that we will find the lighthouse tomorrow. R. grabs his feet and dances on the car seat to the tune of Marley’s “Redemption Song.” When we get back to Quidnet Road, T. wants to listen to the song again: “Play it again, papá. I like this song.” Great choice, son: Bob is the man. So I happily play it back. Three minutes later, as we are driving into the grass in front of the little cottage we are renting, Bob is singing:

“Cause all I ever had / These songs of freedom / Songs of freedom…”


[An excerpt from a longer essay, “The Island” — September 2012]

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