“This is rock city,” you say. But Cape Cod is no city and no one here plays rock—only salt and pepper bluegrass and the kind of jazz that has the aftertaste of failed dreams. But I smile because this is my home too and I love it and it would be nice if we lived in rock city. You love it more than anyone I know—our little peninsula stays with you always, its arm-shaped outline tattooed across your back.
You say you have to hate a place before you can ever love it. 6A is littered with your landmarks—here, the baseball field where your front teeth got knocked out. There, the place you smoked pot the first time, with a bowl one of your friends fashioned from a Coca-Cola can. Here, the clam shack you were fired from in high school for losing your temper and calling a customer a cunt. There, the ramshackle house your parents rented the year of the divorce.
You spent most of your middle school years outside the Mobil, among blue bottles of anti-freeze and old cases of Snapple faded by the sun. Banished from the beaches (teeming with tourists) and the one café in your town (which kept loitering kids at bay with a high-pitched soundbox meant to repel anyone under the age of 25), you and your friends watched the stoned high-schoolers move in and out of the store, carrying bags of Twinkies and Hot Pockets and slurping on half-melted green cherry Icees.
When we left and went off to school or Boston or New York or anywhere but here, people would ask, like people always do, Where are you from?
We would hesitate before saying Cape Cod, because the reaction was always the same: Oh, that must have been a nice place to grow up. And it was. Not because it was beautiful, not because of the beaches, but because it housed our childhood, all its moments.
* * *
Eight years ago I was nearing the Sagamore Bridge with my life stuffed in my car. Having lived on Cape Cod my entire eighteen years, this was my first return home from months away at college. I had spent most of high school dreaming of my departure from that tourist-trap peninsula (as I often called it); but as the bridge became visible in the distance, I was flooded with feelings of nostalgia, hit with a barrage of memories. Not specific memories I had actually experienced, but a montage of images that suddenly felt like “home”: summer days on the beach, excursions on some anonymous sailboat, dusky evenings at the drive-in; my friends and I salty, sunburnt, passing around a bottle of Jack.
Since then I’ve lived in the Latin quarter of Paris, in one of the last pensions left in the city. I’ve lived through the harsh cold of three Boston winters, writing for a second-rate daily and feeding my landlord’s two hungry cats. I’ve lived in Southern Vermont and Western Massachusetts in autumn, hibernating in cozy cafes with plush couches and overstuffed armchairs and big ceramic mugs. I’ve lived in Akron, Ohio, where there’s drive-thru liquor stores and brown sugar in hamburger patties and a serious shortage of decent pizza.
You live in Brooklyn now, working as a moderately successful tattoo artist, but you’ve missed this life—this life of sleeping in your clothes wherever you end up, of small-town adventures. You want to be productive, but you are happiest like this: sneaking joints on the beach at night, falling asleep on a couch with your friends around you, talking and drinking and watching TV. It’s how you sleep best. Sometimes it’s how you’re able to sleep at all.
You love coming home, you say, to the crash of the tides and the swell of tourists, to midnight bonfires on the beach, your big black boots digging in the sand. You’re up there making a pit for the fire tonight and I’m down by the water trying to coax out whatever it is in me that goes hiding when I’m far from the ocean.