A House by the Sea

I awoke this morning to brilliant sunshine and the crash of waves against the shore. Although it was only 8 am, and the rest of the house was still sound asleep, I climbed out of bed, ran to the windows, threw up the blinds, and opened them wide to let the chilly sea air in. Then I got back into bed, pulled on my black sweater and pulled my covers up to my chin, and, watching the water out of the corner of my eye, opened Swann’s Way.

The four of us arrived on Wednesday, by train, bus, and (in my case) plane, and drove down the Cape to the ferry which we took across to the island where Kylie’s family has a summer house. Kelsey had come from Buffalo, Amanda from Long Island, and we had not seen each other in the month since we’ve graduated from Hamilton. We arrived at Kylie’s house, unpacked the cooler of fruit, sliced turkey, and gluten-free pasta, and huddled inside, drinking wine and playing an old game of Trivial Pursuit from the 1950’s, as rain battered the wooden shingles.

We had all come for a long weekend on the island, to get away from our temporary limbo and all be together before our real lives start in a few weeks. I had been anticipating this trip since we rather impulsively made the plans several weeks ago, and had no doubt that these five days would be little short of perfect.

The next day, the sun came out, and we went into town to walk along the narrow streets lined with gingerbread houses, and sampled lobster-flavored ice cream. We made curried chicken for dinner, and rushed to finish eating so we could go out to the beach and watch the sun set. At night, we lay out on the pier, huddled under thick wool blankets, and stared at the stars, scattered like salt across the black expanse of the heavens. We all came back in hours later, built a fire in the fireplace, and, one by one, fell asleep in our respective living room chairs.

There are moments like this, vivid and fleeting, in whose very midst I can feel time ebbing, stretching away from the present into the nostalgic days of the future, leaving me longing to return to this place, this instant, before it is even gone. In what could not have been a more perfect parallel, Proust comes to this same conclusion rather early in his narrative, when Marcel eats that famous, evocative madeline, dipped in lime-blossom tisane, which his mother brings him one morning at Combray. When, years later, the adult Marcel (with whom this is the reader’s first encounter) tastes the same dessert, he experiences a rush of joy, a connection he cannot place:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to be, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.

Proust spends a good deal of his epic concentrating on how best to recapture his memories—that much I know without having read much more than the first hundred pages. Whether he succeeds in this endeavor, or somehow manages to find another tact (in what I have assumed is his writing) has yet to be seen. I, too, at this point in my life, torn between college and the future, long to distill into permanence these doorway moments, to take everyone and everything that I love, and keep them just as they are, before we have time to move apart, to grow up, to put down roots.

And I began again to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I want to try to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I rediscover the same state, illuminated by no fresh light. I ask my mind to make one further effort, to bring back once more the fleeting sensation.

Will these moments in time, brief and eternal, colored by the light off the ocean, the sound of leaves in the wind, the way my wet clothes clung to me when Kylie made us bike down to the beach and plunge, reckless and fully-clothed, into the water, fade into memory and lose their vivid permanence? Are we fated only to live in remembrance of things past and anticipation of those to come? Or can I, like Proust, fight to hold onto time so it will not be lost, so that, even once this magical weekend passes into memory, I will be able to somehow go back, to lie under those vast heavens, cuddled against three of my best friends, and once again feel the breathless laughter in my chest?

For now, it seems, only time, and perhaps Marcel, will tell.

And then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it; I place in position before my mind’s eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been anchored at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed. (60-62)


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