August is when we left the island.
We’d arrive in July, curbside, and run to the porch of our house as if we’d appeared there out of thin air. Thin air being: 9 hours in a car filled with children, coolers, cold doughnuts, and noise; 1 hour at the ferry terminal haggling for space, loading carts, buying tickets, dropping stuffed animals into the water, crying, snacking, forgetting; 35 minutes on the boat, smelling the water, lying about sharks, begging to lean out the front, sweating; 10 minutes docking; 5 minutes finding our tram; 17 minutes riding, listening to plastic windows flap, the electric engine hum, breathy anticipation. Then we’d be at the curb, running, Mom fidgeting to find the key, do we even have the key, it’s that one, come on we’re dying. Then through the door, throwing bags down, rampaging into rooms, pretending we’d switch even though we knew where everyone sleeps because that’s what we'd do and what we’ve done.
After unpacking and eating, I’d check the drawers to see if renters had left anything. I once found a Jimmy Buffet book and read it until someone got naked at a party. The naked character’s name was Noel Christmas—Jimmy Buffet has never been accused of being a wordsmith. I didn’t have time for naked people. Sometimes it was only two weeks on the island. Three if we were lucky. It depended on when we got in the car to go. We had to leave by August. August The Decider. August The End.
When we were on the island we were together. I went back to sharing a room with Davos. We’d fight over which of us got the bed with the little table next to it. We’d argue over who had more sand in their sheets. At night, we’d sit on the balcony. Davos would use binoculars to count stars. I’d watch the waves crashing out across the dunes and wonder why things weren’t just dark, but grainy. Then Davos would fart.
In the morning we’d slam pop tarts into our faces and apply sunscreen in teams: Mom and IsaBelle, Dad and Davos, Trevor and me. The six of us, lathered pale, would pile onto the four-person golf cart, our electric brigade, with towels, floats, boogie boards, goggles, shovels, a packed cooler (hotdogs, grapes, canned juice, licorice, more hot dogs). Someone might ride a bike if they were feeling generous. We’d trek like this to the other side of the island, to East Beach, the good beach, the one the day-trippers didn’t know about. The cart would chug along, tested by our great weight, as we pointed out torn down bungalows, fancy closed-door carts, an osprey or hawk, we were never sure. We’d get to the beach access, unloading the day’s equipment in a hurry. All six in a line, we'd carry our weight down the boardwalk through the dunes. A small army. A six-man platoon. A Brady Bunch made only of Jans.
We’d stay on the beach all day, or until we ran out of food or patience for it. In later years, when there were more tourists, we’d tide ourselves over with cookies bought at a pop-up stand down the beach. I can’t recall ever leaving for another reason. There was always someone else to take a walk with, build a sandcastle with, swim with, trade books with. I was never bored.
Sometimes we’d be thrown off the beach early by a storm. The storms were massive. Lightning would hit the water like a crime. Once I went for a long walk right before one of these storms. I had brought my Field Guide For Beachcombing and wanted to identify as many shells as possible, all for my records, "records" because I loved manila folders, thought Harvard might be impressed, and had never been kissed.
I knew I was in trouble when I saw lightning on the horizon. I kept walking, determined to find a strombus gingas—the elusive, geeked-upon Queen Conch. Twenty minutes later and no crowned conch in sight, I winced as I saw Trevor hurling down the beach on his bike. He skidded to a stop and told me in an out-of-breath huff that “I was in major dirt.” Then he pivoted his front tire, took a deep breath, and rode back down the beach again. I ran after him as it started to pour, miserable at the thought of an empty manila folder and regretting the silence I’d receive on the wet drive back to the house. They made me ride the bike.
On rare occasions it would rain all day and we’d miss the beach entirely. Davos always made us play monopoly when it rained. We’d have to quit after two hours—he with all the fake money, us tired of paying fake-rent. Then we’d spread about the house until it was time for dinner. Mom would flip through Coastal Living, Trevor drew, Dad napped, IsaBelle and Davos would fight over the hammock on the screened porch while I yelled at them to be quiet even though the rain hit the tin roof like bullets, and even though I only pretended to continue reading Jimmy Buffet’s fine prose out of nerves someone else might declothe. To clarify: my first kiss was at sixteen.
Somewhere around 5:30, Dad would make dinner. I think we only ever had two meals. Fried chicken or spaghetti. The kitchen was small and awkward—our Mommymom, when she built the house, had modeled everything she could off a ship. It was impractical, but so is she. She had a tendency to give away free stays to strangers if they appeared friendly in line at Wal-Mart.
I cried every time we got on the tram to leave. August would roar it’s dumb head, the bell would toll, and there I would be: sobbing behind the plastic flaps of an electric vehicle. I knew a goodbye to the beach and our house was more than a goodbye to time on the island. It was a goodbye to the way my family was on the island. It was a goodbye to being together even when we were spread apart. It was a goodbye to knowing everyone you loved was always a few steps down the beach, in the next room, curled somewhere between sandy sheets. So I’d hold the dog and sob. Dad would tip extra if the driver bore witness to my episode. He understood the inconvenience.
We haven’t been to the beach in two years. My Mommymom lives there now. Storms have flooded part of the house. There are rats living beneath it. I can see the baby blue paint peeling, shrubs encroaching the porch, the cart rusted more than is quaint. When I call, Mommymom always asks if I’ve “kept up” with the island. Gotten the local paper. Checked in on the goings-on. Heard about the mayor, the neighbors, the raccoon infestation. But I haven’t. It hurts to know things go on without you.
As my siblings and I have grown older, we’ve scattered. I’m the farthest. The most criminal. I’ve been the one away these last two summers. Traveling. Moving. Putting rain on tin roofs a world away. It’s hard not to believe I’ve thrown destruction into my together. I know my family doesn’t see it that way. But it’s August and I’m not crying in front of tram drivers. I’m not playing monopoly or watching grainy waves crash. I’m not saying goodbye.
Once, when I was ten or eleven, we went to the island for Thanksgiving. It was cold. We opened the windows and wore three sweatshirts. We only made it to the water once. The sand was freezing and the waves looked angry, so we came back to the house and spread out sheets and blankets on the porch. We laid out like sardines, soaking in the winter sun like oxygen. We spent the whole afternoon without moving. We whispered through covered faces. Dad and Davos went inside when it got close to dinnertime. Dad was going to make spaghetti. Davos liked pulling apart the leftover turkey. I stayed covered up, paralyzed by comfort. I remember looking at Mom through shivering fingers. IsaBelle and Trevor were asleep.
“Do you think we’ll do this again?” I asked.
“I don’t think so.” She said.
I nodded and pulled the blankets in. I grasped for the ends.