Every year I looked forward to visiting my father’s relatives. The only time I ever feel like I actually have a family is when I’m with them.
My parents divorced about ten years ago, when I was eight and my sister Althea was six. It was as ugly as a separation could get. My sister and I had grown used to the yelling and the arguments that had gone on between Margaret and Carlo for years. Fights at the dinner table and late night arguments that thundered through the house were the norm, but even those had not prepared us for the fights that broke out after my mother filed for divorce. In the end, Mom got everything she wanted – except full custody. So every other weekend our father had us all to himself. Plus the two trips to the sea we would take each year to visit his mother.
I was thrilled by this. Every kid has a favorite parent and I was a daddy’s girl all the way. My sister however, was not. My mother and father had been complete opposites, but Althea and I were far worse. From the outside we could have been the same person. A smooth, tan complexion, deep, emerald green eyes, a mane of dark, wavy hair, and a petite frame. Some people joked that we were really identical twins instead of two years apart. We shared the same looks, the same bathroom, and the same last name, but after that? You’d swear we weren’t even related.
Where I was friendly and outspoken, Althea was completely unapproachable and silent. She was all sharp corners and stormy skies. She never had a smile on her face, even when she was happy. Somewhere along the line I think she had somehow already lost the ability to enjoy life. She had absolutely none of my optimism. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it, I always say.
If I lived for those weekends with our father, Althea loathed them. As a young child she had done nothing but whine, cry and pout to go home to Mom. When we got older she showed her disdain through silence. By the time she was fourteen, Althea had started attending less and less of these weekends until she just stopped coming completely. I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to realize that your daughter, your own flesh and blood, had no desire to see or spend time with you. It must have broken Carlo’s heart and I hated her for that.
“… though I’m not sure if that’s what’s best considering the time.”
“I’m sorry, what?” I hadn’t realized my mother was speaking and I tore myself away from the view outside my window to look at her. “Can you repeat that?”
She sighed. “I was saying that the GPS is giving me one set of directions, and your Grandmother another, but I don’t kno-”
“Take exit three,” I instructed without waiting for her to finish, “it’s faster.” I had taken this trip by myself numerous times and by now I knew the route by heart.
“Alright,” she said slowly. “If you’re sure.”
The car lapsed back into tense silence. My mother, Althea, and I were driving down to my Grandmother’s house. Together. For the first time since the divorce. To say it was awkward would be an understatement.
Since my sixteenth birthday I had been slowly growing further apart from my mother and sister. Like the way Althea had pushed away our father, I pushed myself away from Margaret. I wasn’t happy at home, but I was happy when I was with Dad. I started to spend more than just those few mandatory weekends a month with him. My mother and I, we were too different. The same thing with me and Althea. We just weren’t good for each other. My mother and my sister had stopped really feeling like family a long time ago.
I let out a sigh and turned back to the window. In front of me I could see Althea sprawled out in the passenger seat, headphones in, cellphone out and feet propped up on the dashboard. I felt anger simmer to life in my stomach. I wanted to kick her seat, force her to sit up straight. She looked like she was on a road trip with her feet up like that, not on the way to a wake. She didn’t deserve to be here. Neither of them did.
I began to relax though when the familiar features of my Grandmother’s old, seaside town came into view. I gave my mother block by block instructions and soon we were pulling into Grammy Corina’s gravel driveway.
“I haven’t been here in years,” my mother said softly. “It’s so much bigger than I remember it being.”
Grammy Corina’s home was beautiful. It towered over our car with its three stories and steep roof. It was reminiscent of a Victorian style house, with bay windows, a widow’s walk, and a wonderful round tower on the second floor. The outside had bright purple painted scalloped siding, light purple trim, pink embellishments, and a white porch. It was a “painted ladies” house and I loved it. My favorite thing about the house though? It had a path that led straight from the driveway to the private beach beyond the house.
I led the way around the back. Even though the ocean was a ways down the sandy path we walked now, I could still hear it. The crash and roar of the waves filled my ears, seagulls squawked in the distance, and the wind whispered a tune through the beach grass that covered the sand dunes. It was such a familiar chorus of sounds, the soundtrack to so many of my moments here.
Slowly, reluctantly, I led the way to the back door. Being here was already harder than I thought it would be. I took a deep breath and walked inside without announcing our presence – we were expected.
*Thoughts? Should I continue? Should there be a part 2?