I can draw it. I did, in fact. Just to test my memory I drew it. I still know the floor plan of the colonial house I lived in on Butlers Island in Darien, Connecticut. It was a beautiful home, perched atop a 30 foot cliff face beneath which was a small and secluded beach. The house was protected by guarding pines and evergreens, and shaded by huge and full oak trees. Thirty feet up from the water and thirty feet back from it. Facing the sound was my bedroom. It had started as two bedrooms, but they were joined to make a single large room with a pair of double hung windows that looked out on the water. I could sit on my bed and watch the various boats working through the water; oyster boats, lobster boats, charter fishers and the large cargo ships. The big boys stayed on the far side of the sound, using Long Island as a banister as they crept to and from the New York harbors.
Greens Ledge Lighthouse stood directly ahead. At night I fell asleep to the sweep of its lamp, white, white, green. Over and over, a silent metronome as infallible as the sun. When fog filled the air above the water it played a single blaring note. A mournful roar that was brilliant at its edges and muted to silence on its retreat. It too, again and again and again, a comforting bellow announcing the protective beast was on guard. It was the sound of safety.
The pleasure boats also danced the deep green ballroom, sometimes turning the color of gunmetal or even Prussian blue, depending on the mood of the sky that day. Inboards and outboards, large and small, the sailing boats also many in stature, from tiny to decadent. On my left as I peered into history across the rolling or chopping water was the sea wall. Now a wreckage, the ocean proving its might over man, collapsing multi-ton granite cubes to look like the blocks scattered by a bored child. In front was Battleship Rock. Called because it rose and revealed its swayback,twin stacked profile as the tide fell. And to my right was a jumble of rocks both sharp and smooth, some retaining the edges of their cracking collapse into the relentless waves, some rounded by their endless polishing. This was my land. This was my lace. This was where my realities and fantasies ran their course, etching the adventures into my mind most indelibly. Just as the street, just as the house, the property, just as the coast and rocks, the water and lighthouse. I could still draw the floor plan.
I stared at the fraud claiming to be the place I spent my growing years. Google maps presented the lie to me in color, repeatedly zooming closer and closer to reveal the fabric of deceit built where so much richness and texture wove itself into my life. What group of tasteless jackasses ripped out all of the trees? What mindless buffoons rewrote the work of nature with such obscene and soulless constructions? The quaint and historic, stately and crafted colonial homes all razed and replaced by hotel sized boxes. Extravagant wastes of space infecting the now cared and festering wounds that once held so much beauty and meaning. I can hear the whispered echo of their ignorant and overbearing egos proudly indicating their work with a sweeping gesture saying “Look what I did!” Were life fair, they be keelhauled, barnacles ripping their flesh from their bones to feed the depleted and contaminated waters that once held so much life and experience. Vulgar. Grotesque. Disgusting. A thousand plagues upon the defiling minds that so ruined what once was so perfect.
There was no way that a boy could point his dinghy away from the land and stroke his way some few yards to place a lobster pot. A pot that would feed a family of four with huge and delicious lobsters to go with the blue crabs that no longer populated the brackish waters of the inlets. No more clams to be dug, oysters to be collected. No more ad hoc seafood dinners all caught within a quarter mile of home. The rock embankments blasted and flattened, the water color oddly artificial, the lack of working boats so obvious they screamed their absence. Proud entries into Better Homes and Gardens, no doubt. Their cavernous insides no doubt the height of style and status. But not to these sad eyes. My eyes stare at the devastation of progress like the dead and staring eyes of a cadaver. Seeing no beauty. Seeing no life. Seeing no past.
The fifty years between the creation of my memories has been so terribly unkind. I thank God that I am in my sunset years. There is now a weight upon my shoulders, making them droop more and more as I stagger under the loss. As I recoil from the theft of my youth from hungry eyes starving to see and remember the wonder and beauty that once thrived so thickly there.
I understand how it is that we go to greet our passing. We, resigned to perdition and posterity, shaking our heads and wondering if the memories of us will be as changed and spoiled as the places of our childhood.
It’s too sad. Just too sad.