I. THE BEGINNING
You love exploring the lighthouse when Grandmother takes you. This is the magical place where your small hands can hold anything, from lucky pennies to the slim bottle of milk delivered to your door. With your parents watching from afar, you walk on the beach, admiring glass pieces of stories and collecting them to string around your neck like pearls.
This is the first story you keep: it takes place in an empty room full of sunlight; with a door to the wide sea and the sky for a rooftop. The story is about an old woman who lives with a young boy, and how foolishly he tries to swim, and how the grandmother makes him cool blue soda drinks when he inevitably gives up, exhausted. This story whispers like a mist of sea foam. You pass it from one palm to another. This woman is dying, so is the boy (you don’t understand that, not then and not now). But the room is so bright and blue. And there are the softest towels to dry their tears. There is a hymnal for them in the Bible, too, if you look closely enough in UV light. It is a strange story for a kid to love -- your parents worry -- but you do, you polish it, it swings against your chest.
II. THE MIDDLE
You turn eight and are told to stop going to the lighthouse, because there is school and chores. So you start, with some difficulty, to make up your own stories, beginning with a word of your own on a clean new sheet. LUNILUDE(v.): TO APPRECIATE THE SLANTS OF LIGHT FALLING THROUGH A WINDOW ON A BLUE DAY. It’s a poor imitation of a story about an empty room full of sunlight; with a door to the sea and the rooftop sky, but it is your pale imitation. You show it to your teacher and get a gold star next to your name but not much else. Your mother tacks it on the refrigerator; tries to make sense of it.
Your father reads the newspaper, his tie undone around his neck. His shoes gleam under the table; he does not touch his cake. As you try your hand at spinning stories, he makes you lick stamps to mail Christmas cards to cousins you’ve never met, or wipe the glass until you see your hazy reflection. You learn to be still; not to move the things in your room without asking. You see your older sister at noon, her hair the shade of wrinkles, writing letters to some boy. You learn which drawers secrets are kept in and begin to notice your parents locking them away with care. On your birthday you steal the keys and carry them with the first story in your pocket.
III. THE MIDDLE, CONTINUED
You have grown gangly, face too long, and you hang your formless achings in the laundry room to air while your sister goes out to dance. The living room looks like a still life, the kitchen, the definition of lunilude. All the dresses your mother bought you are folded, exchanged for boy’s clothing. Although your father tells you to, you never comb your hair. You sneak away to visit the lighthouse cat and feed it fish. The voice of your older sister becomes so loud, and your mother’s so quiet downstairs. A baby is born, and you become the new older sister.
You observe that your baby brother is obsessed with the energy of things; heat of the stove, gasoline of the car, electricity of the TV. He takes the bus when he’s two and decides he will be a bus driver when he grows up. Meanwhile, Grandmother needs help wiping her mouth. She is always looking for her glasses. You wonder if ocean breeze will do her any good. Together, they remind you of the first story. You don’t know boys, only have the foolish swimming boy in that story as a point of reference – so you examine your brother carefully, when your parents aren’t looking, trying to figure out if today will be the day he jumps off the pool slide and swims away. You learn how to worry.
IV. THE FOR-NOW END
Your father brings you coffee one day and tells you, you have grown up fine. You cut your pancake slowly; do not feel any different. Instead, you consider taping your photograph of light-falling- through-the- window-on- a-blue- day to the kitchen wall, for everyone to see, when you leave. Your brother wants bedtime stories. In the reading light he looks a little like your sister, a little like you, spirited and shy. When he gives you a drawing of a jellyfish for your eighteenth birthday, you think about the oceans he’ll dive into once he enlists in the navy like all boys must, to become men.
The weight of the keys in your pocket anchor you home, until they don't. The day you leave is the morning after a thunderstorm. The fruitbowl lies in the middle of the lace tablecloth the way it always has. You take down the sunstarched achings from the back of the laundry room and your mother says you should have done that ages ago. Not unkindly. When you see the lighthouse passing by, on the train, you lose the old terror that your parents will call you back from the shore. That night you dream of your Grandmother and a young boy, your father, swimming. You, bringing back a rainbow trout for your brother.