At the breakfast table, the other guests stared. The woman across from me poked at a small bowl of stewed peaches. She killed me with her eyes. She was probably in her forties, in a pale-blue t-shirt that looked like it might be silk. She seemed enraged by my presence in Martha’s Vineyard. “You’re from Connecticut?” she asked. I told her I was originally from California. She raised her eyebrows and nodded, as if this explained something. I remember lifting a lace curtain to look outside. We were not on the water, but I could feel the promise of the ocean, out there, down the path. Had I taken too many mini-muffins? I had the feeling, familiar to me since I had left home for college on the east coast, that something about me was off.
The décor of the bed-and-breakfast was Victorian kitsch. Wildflowers graced just about everything – etched into the soap, appliqués on the towels, delicate line-drawings framed on the walls. I was 23. I was wearing a short, dark brown skirt because it was hot out, and my boyfriend had not given me much warning about this trip. Was it too short? Was I too brown?
A surprise weekend away, with mini-muffins. I thought this was something that would just happen to me, now and then, as an out-of-college adult. I remember grinning at her, defiant.
Now when I think back, I think she and her husband had probably saved up. Parked the kids and the dog with friends who were responsible but wouldn’t lock everyone inside the whole time. Found a place that seemed nice but where they could still justify spending two nights. Washed the orange juice out of the backseat of the car. She had looked forward to it while ironing her nice t-shirt. She wanted romance and escape and she did not want to share it with the blithe ease of unmarried twenty three year-old tech-start-up shitheads. What had we earned? Why did we get to share her peaches and wildflowers?
I want to tell her now: I’m sorry. That weekend in Martha’s Vineyard was magical for me, too. We ate duck confit for dinner and the sea grass broke my heart and when I needed a jacket, he bought me one, and I almost married him for it. We were imitating a life we could see only dimly, in the outlines, age and class difference like a thick cloth between us and the smell of the ocean. And no one has ever taken me back to Martha’s Vineyard.