I'll get back to doing what I'm supposed to be doing later, but here is something I wrote years and years and years ago. It's a piece that I entered into a contest. The story had to be original, never-been-published, and "deeply settled in New England". I didn't win the contest, but I got to do two things that I love: do some creative writing and remember my favorite City by the Sea.
|Photo taken by my husband on one of our |
many trips back to Newport.
Maureen raised her head and sighed. Five minutes to seven o’clock seemed much too early to wake up. Barely feeling as if she closed her eyes long enough to really sleep, she dreaded the cold floor on her feet. But, she had to admit that another day in the Rose Island Lighthouse full of chores was a welcomed distraction to her emotions.
Thirty years earlier Maureen never dreamed she’d be where she was now. Back then, driving up the Connecticut coastline on their way through southern New England for a week-long vacation to Cape Cod, Maureen and her husband Matthew detoured to Newport, Rhode Island. They were instantly drawn to the quaint shops and historical aspect of one of the oldest cities in the state.
Maureen fell in love instantly. The seaside, the local residents, and the history still lingering in the architecture of on the city streets, Maureen loved it so much that she could see herself living in Newport. But would Matthew love it too?
Surprisingly, Matthew suggested changing their vacation plans to stay in the City by the Sea instead of continuing their trek north to the Cape. Since her new husband was not one to venture off track or change such detailed plans, Matthew was really going out on a limb. Maybe he was beginning to see that spontaneity wasn’t so bad after all. Maureen was ecstatic.
Maureen finally crawled out of bed. Going to bed without supper the night before left her hungrier than usual, but she knew that her lighthouse chores couldn’t be delayed much longer. A cold bagel and coffee would have to do until she could sit and relax.
Greeting the chance to stay busy on her forced vacation, Maureen got up to check on the water and the light. The lighthouse chores weren’t strenuous for the 55-year-old widow, but her mind wasn’t in the right place to really dive right into them.
The vacation Maureen and Matthew took 30 years ago proved quite enjoyable and life-changing. Before that detour, Newport had never crossed their minds as a place to visit. They liked the big city and would go on day trips to Manhattan when they were dating. But, for their next vacation, their honeymoon, they wanted to go on a road trip and to a place they’d never visited.
The trip to Cape Cod had been planned months in advance. Taking time off from work and saving enough money to really enjoy their week away too great planning. To veer off that map and Matthew’s carefully planned schedule was a huge leap. It proved to be a worthwhile decision.
While in Newport, Matthew took in the historical sights and scenes with gusto. He went into the museums and read everything he could about the area and its history. They went elsewhere in the state too. A half day of hiking at Burlingame State Park was tiring but the scenery made up for it. Back on the island, Maureen enjoyed the few afternoons they were able to relax at the beach. The ocean surf was calming. So was the shopping. Storefronts, and the posters that hung in several of the windows along the downtown cobblestone streets, were inviting to Maureen. Events, like museum exhibits, boating excursions along Narragansett Bay, musical concerts and mansion tours, were scheduled daily, nightly, and all summer long. She’d thought they’d stumbled upon the most exquisite place in the world.
Their nightly strolls Maureen and Matthew took while vacationing in Newport were refreshing. They talked about their plans to build careers, to have children, and to one day retire. Maybe we can retire here, Maureen thought. Maybe one day, when they’d finished working at the family business they could call this place home.
Maureen tackled the lighthouse chores. Collecting data for the day’s weather report, checking on the water levels, and dusting the gift shop counter were completed in no time. Day 5 on Rose Island was easier than Day 1 when Maureen thought she’d been overly cautious about her records. Maybe today would be a day to relax down on the beach instead of staying in the lighthouse waiting for something to go wrong. For the first few days of her stay, the weather had been damp and cold. Maureen rested in the living room most of the time with a book. Heading outside would definitely clear her head and prepare her for going back home to Connecticut.
This was her final day at the lighthouse and Maureen had mixed emotions about leaving. A boat would be sent for Maureen to return her to the mainland. She had not been looking forward to leaving the quiet solitude of the island. But she knew that for her to heal she’d have to go back home. She didn’t want to think about going back home, so she packed a lunch and headed down to the waterfront with binoculars and a blanket.
It was quiet on the water. The sailboats weren’t out as they usually are in the peak summer months. Stray lobster boats were making their return to the docks along the harbor. Maureen waved as the boats passed and then sat on one of the lawn chairs.
The early springtime weather made the air crisp and cool. Being surrounded by the chilly bay kept Maureen in a turtleneck, warm fleece pullover, and hiking boots. She wrapped the wooly blanket around her and enjoyed an early meal while watching the waves creep closer to shore. Maureen peered through the binoculars and fixed her gaze toward some of Newport’s city streets. The familiar sites brought back memories.
It had been three years since their first visit to Newport. The young couple longed to experience the sea air again and to enjoy each other’s company. Working for Matthew's family offered job security, but it came with more responsibilities and stresses than had Matthew found work elsewhere. Matthew’s father was difficult but recognized that Matthew and Maureen needed a break. He gave them a week off. Maureen was excited. She’d been waiting to tell Matthew some good news and wanted the setting for the news to be perfect.
During an early dinner date along the wharf overlooking the bay, Maureen told Matthew that she was pregnant. He stared in shock and disbelief. A baby was going to bring them a great amount of joy, but a baby was going to be tough to manage with funds being so tight. Once the initial shock wore off, they toasted to the new baby.
After their honeymoon, the wedded bliss quickly wore off for the young couple. Owning a home, raising a family, and being on their own was not attainable. They lived upstairs in the garage apartment of Matthew’s parent’s house. Being able to own was a goal, but it was also the biggest financial burden facing Matthew. He hated being so physically close to his parents and so dependent on them, too. He wondered if it bothered Maureen with the extras they had to do for his ailing mother and demanding father. With Matthew being an only child working long hours at the family mill, much of the responsibility for caring for his family fell on his wife. Maureen never complained that she had to do the laundry and dishes for the entire household. She never wavered when it was time to take Mother to her weekly doctor visits or to administer the countless pills the doctor ordered.
Matthew was truly grateful to have found a compassionate wife to tend to him and to his family’s baggage. He wanted to give her the world. He also wanted to give her a house that they could call their own. Maybe they’d wait another year to buy a home until after the baby arrived.
As much as Matthew wanted to buy a home and get out from under his parents' place, Matthew didn’t want to get his hopes up that that would happen any time soon.
An egret landing very close to where Maureen was sitting. She quietly enjoyed the bird’s graceful moves and the cool breeze of the morning air. As it lighted on the beach, reality drew Maureen’s thoughts to the present. She thought of home. She’d be there soon. And when she returned home, Maureen would be alone. She’d have to make a painful decision about her future by herself.
Maureen wasn’t ready for that.
Matthew’s death still rattled her. Before he died, they were tying up loose ends getting ready to make their move to Newport. Real estate prices were zooming higher and higher the closer Matthew got to retirement age, but he’d managed to sell his father’s mill and made a profit. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near what he’d hoped to make, but it was enough to put in the bank for savings.
Maureen had done well and would soon be leaving her teaching position. She’d raised their four children in their early years and then set out to get a teaching degree. College was harder to manage with young children under foot, but she’d finished it. She worked part-time up until her girls were in middle school and then eased into a full-time teaching position. Maureen’s school was going to her Maureen’s talent and commitment, but she’d done as much as she wanted to. Matthew and Maureen both knew that it was time they did something for themselves. It was time to say goodbye to work and to Connecticut and hello to retirement and to Newport.
While Maureen packed, Matthew headed over to his parent’s place. The realtor would be over later in the week to put a For Sale sign in the yard, so Matthew just a few days to finish some repairs. The house was old but in good condition. Mother and Father had moved out when they reached their early 80s and as Matthew’s father started to decline. Matthew had found a nursing home with adequate care for his father and his still-ailing mother. With on-site medical attention, Maureen was relieved of providing nursing care to Mother and could focus on her own family.
Maureen had made plans to bring a picnic lunch over to Matthew while he did some touch-up painting and to clean up the yard. They’d hoped to get a decent profit from the sale after making sure medical coverage for Matthew’s parents’ care was paid. With a profit, Maureen was convinced she and Matthew would be able to make an investment in some property in Newport.
Maureen’s dream of retiring to Newport was finally in sight.
Maureen arrived at her in-law’s house and didn’t see Matthew. She’d just called him on the cell phone and he said he was perched atop the roof fixing an old leak near the chimney. Maureen hoped Matthew had taken to heart her caution about using his father’s creaky old ladder. She brought a blanket and the picnic basket out of the car and left them on the front lawn under the oak tree. To her horror, as she made her way through the side gate to the back yard, Maureen came upon Matthew moaning in pain. She ran to his side and froze. Matthew couldn’t move. He whispered for her to call an ambulance. Not one to admit he was sick or ever in pain, Maureen knew something was seriously wrong.
Matthew lost consciousness on the way to the hospital. He never woke up, and he never recovered. Maureen was sick with fear. Her husband was healthy and still young. So were their children. Grandbabies hadn’t been born yet. Growing old together was in their plans, not untimely deaths! In the weeks ahead, Maureen couldn’t function. She lived in a state of disbelief and relied on her daughters’ help. They’d never seen Maureen so fragile.
Maureen’s daughters got her through the funeral. They helped with the sale of Matthew’s parents’ house, too. They also tried to help Maureen feel settled in the small apartment she and Matthew were temporarily renting and took care of the long-term storage bills of the household furniture so as not to remind their mom that everything that she’d hoped for and lived for was gone. Not intending to stay in it longer than six months before their big move to Rhode Island, the girls would soon have to inquire if the lease could be extended indefinitely.
Maureen’s daughters knew that their mom would never be the same again and that preparing for the future would be much harder than anyone ever thought.
After Matthew’s accident, Maureen had slipped into a deep depression. Her four daughters took turns coming to visit her. They’d spend one or two days in the house with her and also offered to have her spend one or two nights with them. It was a nice plan since Maureen’s daughters lived close by, but each of the daughters knew this set up was temporary. Two of the daughters were already married. The other two were getting started in their careers. They wanted to give their mom the world and decided to send her to a place where Maureen was always happiest—to Rhode Island.
The girls continued to brainstorm. They recalled the many vacations the family took to Rhode Island and remembered how Maureen always felt at peace when she was in Newport. Yes. Newport. That’s where their mom should go.
The girls then search for just the right place. Knowing this would not be a vacation trip, but a trip to start the healing process, and since none of Maureen’s daughters would be able to accompany their mom, they worked together to find a place where Maureen could be alone but not be lonely. The lighthouse seemed the perfect place.
Peering through the binoculars again, this time at the condominiums along the Newport waterfront, Maureen’s gaze stopped at a For Sale sign in one of the windows. She looked again. It was the same condos the realtor mentioned to her and Matthew when they had visited a few months before Matthew’s death.
A year before she was due to retire, Maureen was constantly looking at real estate offerings online and had already made several phone calls to realtors. An ideal location, nothing in that building was ever available though, so they started looking elsewhere. Maybe it was a blessing that nothing was available. Prices for real estate in Rhode Island were just as pricey as in Connecticut. As much as Maureen wanted to, they’d have to rethink living downtown Newport on the waterfront and do their house hunting in other neighborhoods.
Maureen looked through the binoculars again but couldn’t make out the phone number on the sign. She knew which wharf the condos were on and made plans to get there as soon as she was relieved of her weeklong-lighthouse keeper duties.
For the first time in months, Maureen felt some sort of hope. She never thought she’d make it to Newport without Matthew by her side. She’d resigned to the fact that living in the apartment she and Matthew rented after they sold their house would be her forever home. The apartment was supposed to be temporary until they bought a place in Rhode Island. Temporary was turning into an unwanted permanent address that included some resentment.
Gazing again at the condos, Maureen thought how her finances were finally stable. The sale of Matthew’s parents’ house had helped. Matthew had done well investing his share of the mill profit, too. That money could easily be a down payment for a small 2-bedroom condo. She envisioned herself walking to Queen Anne Square to sit on the lawn in the morning. She imagined brisk morning walks along Spring Street to the library. Maureen craved being able to bask in the sun at Gooseberry Beach in the late summer afternoons, and to taking a quiet drive to watch the kites flying overhead at Brenton Point. Of course, staying in Connecticut close to her children was a comfort, but not a long-term plan she was ready to consider. Her dream was right there in Newport. If she was going to live out that dream, she knew she had to be act upon it now.
Maureen made mental notes of how much she had to do the remainder of the day at the lighthouse and how quickly she would be able to stop by the condo that seemed to be her answer.
She checked off several items off her list and began to pack up for her 1:00 p.m. return to shore. Her eldest daughter would be meeting her at the wharf.
The boat trip back to the wharf area was quick and quiet. Maureen stared at the lighthouse as she made her way across the bay. The Rose Island Lighthouse had always welcomed her as she and Matthew came over the Newport Bridge all those years on their summer vacations. The mental image of the bridge beyond the lighthouse was what Maureen was focusing on now—she'd thought it's where all of her dreams had ended, but she could now see it's where a new chapter was about to begin.
The decision was made. The condos in the building were smaller than most in town, but that made their prices a bit more affordable. With her retirement, with Matthew’s life insurance money, and with the investments he wisely made, Maureen knew it was time to make the move.
Maureen waved to her daughter. She was standing on the dock wearing a pea coat and red scarf. At the dock, the boat driver helped Maureen haul her luggage off the boat. Maureen thanked him and turned to her daughter. They hugged in silence and finally made their way up to the parking lot.
“You look good, Mom.”
“Thanks, honey. It was a good week.”
Maureen then told her about the quiet solitude, about the wildlife, about all the thinking she did and the crying too. Maureen wasn’t one to bare her soul, but talking about the emotions and the healing she knew she’d begun to do helped.
They began to walk slowly toward the parking lot so that Maureen’s daughter could text the other sisters: Mom’s good. Taking her to lunch next...chat soon.
Then, without speaking, Maureen took her daughter’s hand and kept walking past the car. They walked in silence and turned down the wharf where Maureen knew she’d seen the For Sale sign. At the building, Maureen looked up, smiled to her daughter and pointed. Her daughter clasped her hands. She felt tears begin to well in her eyes. She knew this is where her mom wanted to be. She knew this is where she needed to be.
As the two women approached the door to the building, Maureen whispered, “I’m home, honey. I’m home.”