Anyone who knows me knows that Nantucket has a special place in my past—and I’m referring specifically to the time in the summer after 7th grade I was on a month-long bike trip of the Cape and islands and drank some sort of home brew grain alcohol out of a local’s bottle at the bottom of Cobblestone Hill on July 4th and almost got sent home from the trip.
The island is known to be haunted—widow’s walks atop cedar shake mansions on hills harboring ghosts of whalers’ wives moaning for their seaborne husbands to return, no doubt—but for me, it had a few specific ghosts that required exorcising.
The ghost of my wedding day to my gay ex-husband notwithstanding.
While you digest that for a second, let me point out I was beside myself with excitement to go back to this enchanted place with Chad, someone who has singlehandedly made me fall 100x more in love with places I’ve already been when I revisit them with him.
I liked Charleston better with Chad. I love Florida more with Chad. So I wasn’t harboring any anxiety or dread about it, and saw my prior visits only as educational, making me a better, more knowledgeable tour guide this time around—a trip with someone I actually wanted to go there with. Outlook: good.
P.S. For a more informational look at our roadtrip to New England, I suggest you check out bae’s post—he hits all the high points like meals, stop-overs, and includes a fully interactive map of our bike route—we biked like over 55 miles on the island, yall. Or, hop down to the bottom here and watch our video recap.
The weather forecast was horrible for the weekend we’d be there, but it all shaped up to be pretty spectacular until the last day—wind aside—and eerily similar to a weekend almost 8 years ago to the day, when on the eve before I was to get married, a storm terrorized the Grey Lady, causing window panes to rattle in their frames. Our weekend was sunny, bright, cool. We left on Saturday morning as the sky grew dark and the fancy, higher-rate-paying weekenders arrived with high hopes and expensive cashmere. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. We had the ferry to ourselves and bellies full of roasted duck and local cider.
Note to newbies: Be wise and go on the shoulder seasons. As a seasoned visitor to the island, that is absolutely the most valuable info I can impart upon you.
[Beers on the (brand new to me) ferry!]
I was later asked after the trip how it went (read: Was it hard to be there?), given everything. Were there any land mines?
Of course there were. That was a beautiful, perfect day, but it’s done and I’m glad it’s done. It’s refreshing to have those expectations off your plate, and out of your system. Been there, done that—don’t want it back, want what’s next. That kind of thing. It was time to fill the place with new memories, and that’s what we did.
[Above: Having an over-the-top lunch at Topper’s at the Wauwinet, about the only place to get food and drink on that end of the island that time of year. If you can get over the sticker shock, I highly recommend it. Fabulous wine and food. Was my first time there, and it was tres charmant!]
[See: $19 shallow bowl of chowder. Ha! I couldn’t resist; we’d just biked 19 miles. And it was divine. Wagyu beef burger not bad, either!]
With closure in mind, I’ll share the one land mine, but it wasn’t what you’d think it would be. It was the long black fence along the bike path in Polpis where I was photographed in my dress in the late afternoon light while my mom looked on. It was the roadside by the Sankaty golf course, where two guys in a cart saw me posing in my dress and yelled “Don’t do it!”—which at the time, cracked me up. Incidentally, it’s my favorite photo of me ever taken. And I should have listened to them.
Seeing this spot really dug my stomach out with a spoon—and not for longing or heartbreak or even regret. It made me mourn that person I was for a split second. Not because I want that relationship back or I want to be her again (wouldn’t if you paid me), but because I realized that I’d had that memory, that image, that moment stolen away from me. A past forever left in the past. It didn’t belong to me anymore.
I’ll never be 27 again. And neither will you, or any of us, but I lost the right to fondly remember that self, on that day. It got taken away from me—or rather, I had to let it float out of my palm like a seed.
I’ll never be a first-time bride in a white dress again.* I’ll never be that innocent again, that fresh off the petal. There won’t be first-time toasts from my father made in earnest; no being “given away” again, in all of its archaic glory. I don’t get to keep those photos in frames to honor that ghost of a girl. Do you understand? It had to be erased, because I wanted it erased. My friends who are my age now, with three kids, looking back at younger, different versions of themselves in those photos—that’s not who they are anymore, either, but they own that self on that day—it belongs to them. It’s a chapter, a monument, commemorated and conjured on command. Their chapters were pages turned; mine was pages ripped from a book and burned.
Mine just isn’t mine anymore, but I get to rewrite a new one.
[Greydon House bar—new and subtly fabulous. I sat at the bar by myself and had an Old Fashioned, because Chad wasn’t feeling well. I ended up chatting with a couple there on their 35th wedding anniversary trip, and got on the subject of my Nantucket story, how it ended, and how I was rewriting it that very weekend. And with tears in her eyes as she left she squeezed my hand and looked me in the eye and said “Be well.”]
Alas, that’s the nature of closing the book and moving on, and being ok with that. People have reemerged from worse: the loss of a child, death of a spouse, dismemberment… they smile and laugh again. It doesn’t dishonor the memory; it’s life.
I’m ok with it because if that version of me had persisted, I wouldn’t be this version: free, happier, stronger, eyes wider, heart more open, prouder, and forever grateful for what I do have.
So, yes. I’ll never be a first time bride in a white dress again, but I get to redefine what that means for myself. I can control what the future looks like, what commitment looks like, what love and family looks like. No, I’ll never be that innocent again, but I’ll be wiser and more aware.
[RIP Polpis mouse. RIP old me.]
They say it keeps you young to see the world through a child’s eyes, but I’ll take seeing a place you’ve been before through the eyes of a newcomer any day over that. I saw more and did more on this trip than I’d done in all the times I’d been before—new corners uncovered, new perspectives, and a totally new outlook.
That outlook? That this wasn’t “a place I’d been before”—it was a newly checked box on an endless list of corners of the world I want to see with this man.
Nothing to see here, just getting teary-eyed at my desk.
*Maybe it can be a different color.