Thirty-Five Wishes

I have looked forward to celebrating my 35th birthday in Nantucket for well over a year.

I imagined a hand-picked group of my closest, oldest, most gregarious, and strongest friends sitting around a blazing beach fire, full from a three course feast of lobster, potatoes, corn on the cob, all washed down with numerous pints of Cisco Brewers’ Whales Tale Pale Ale. A few of us would strum our acoustic guitars. Fish would tap on his bongos. Everyone would sing. Finally, I would find myself alone beneath the harvest moon as it plunged into the glassy Atlantic.

The invite went out in May. “Save the date!” it read. “We’re celebrating in Madaket.”

The town of Madaket, nestled on the southwestern corner of Nantucket Island, is my quiet place. There is no scene there, no aristocracy, no Range Rovers or Beemers. Madaket is modest cottages tucket into pine covered dunes. Madaket is a sudden fog, a gentle drizzle, and a thousand shades of blue and green.

It’s no wonder, then, that when the pace of my life grows dizzying, and when the frenzy of New York and the sublime rediculousness of MTV grow overwhelming, I retreat to the quiet side of the island. My busiest day there might include a six mile run through Sanford Farm, a trip to Cisco Brewers and Bartlett’s Farms, and a long walk on Smith’s Point. Within a few days, without fail, I am refreshed.

The best laid plans of mice and men, it is said, are subject to collective interpretation. No man is an island. Until I’m adopted by a Forbes or a Kennedy, then, my grand plans are subject to compromise.

For various reasons, many of my friends couldn’t attend (for starters, Nantucket is not Newark: even a modest B&B runs in the low twos with a three night minimum). Other confirmed, then lost their room at the inn due to extenuating circumstances. And so the weekend found me celebrating with my mother, my brother’s family (now counting four, including a five-week-old), Abbigail, Rob and Claudine Perreault, Tod “Fish” Salmonson, and longtime family friends Diane Zuckerman and Michael Hite — great company, all — in a three bedroom cottage facing the furioius Atlantic.

The celebration was a slightly more egalitarian affair: chips and salsa, turkey burgers with all the fixings, cole slaw, and corn on the cob. And beer, plenty of beer.

After dinner, Fish and I performed a few songs, dipping into a collective catalogue that extends nearly twenty years. Edward napped on Jennifer’s shoulder. Ethan shifted restlessly on the floor as I began strumming “Dear Elizabeth.” Then Fish dipped into his backpack (while keeping the beat, of course) and produced a handful of percussive fruit: plastic apples, plums and bananas filled with beads. He handed an avacado to Ethan, and showed him how to shake it in time with the song. Ethan saddled up next to me, expertly navigating the dyanic shifts of the performance.

Afterwards, I made two wishes, and blew out a thirty-five-year-old’s candles with an three-year-old’s assist. When we’d had our fill of second and third helping of blueberry and apple pies with homemade ice cream, we began singing again. Through a Cisco Brewers’ haze, I struggled through ancient originals (“Anna’s Lost Her Mind,” Another Saturday,” “Debris”) and covers (“Here Comes Your Man,” “Brown Eyed Girld,” and — with a significant assist from Fish, “Adelveis”). Ethan rocked them all.

Someday — perhaps my fourtieth, or fiftieth year — I will rent an entire neighborhood of gray shingled cottages. I will fly my friends in from all over the country: Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Philadelphia, New York, D.C., and Boston. We will run and ride, we will surf and swim, we will juggle babies on one knee, and pints on the other. When the sun sets, we will build a fire pit in the sand, and gather around our great circle of friends. We will sing, and laugh until the harvest moon plunges into the Atlantic. We will stumble back to our cottages, rest our instruments and our bodies where they fall.

Tonight, though, I will relish the memory of Ethan’s big eyes looking up at me for musical direction. Tonight, I will bask in the glow of the fire, and the smiles of those around me. Tonight, I will roll these memories over and over in my mind like a stone in the sea until it is smooth and luminous like glass.

Related Posts