Slow Burn

Dear readers: I started out to write this and it turned into something entirely different than I intended. If anyone has feedback I'd love to hear it. Perhaps this was an unintentional brainstorm for something better. Like it or hate it, at the very least this is a good example of my first drafts.  ****

This weekend I drove from my home in Hartford, Connecticut down to Cape May, New Jersey for a bachelorette party. Not a single party-- a weekend of festivities, ranging from lounging on the beach to formal dinners to pin-the-macho-on-the-man.

I am good at these sorts of games. At my last bachelorette party, I destroyed a porny pinata with four great bangs of a little pink bat. At another, I presented undergarments so lovely that the bride wore them as her "something blue." On this particular occasion, I put that macho on the man. So what if it was backwards?

When I'd said goodbye to Greg in Hartford, we'd kissed each goodbye in the middle of a conversation about the business we run together (and with several other people). We're not married, but we are good at weddings. We know what to wear and where to stand to get a picture of the cake-cutting. I can't cook at all, but I can pick out kitchenware and wrap it up to be adorable. I have developed a liking for cool, clean hotel sheets and sharing a room with old friends, so that everyone can laugh into the night. I know that champagne gives Greg a headache and he knows that I wil inevitably lose a button somewhere on my dress. Grandparents love us. And I have grown very fond of the bachelorette party and the bridal shower: these old-fashioned rituals of sisterhood usually take on a quiet spirit of solidarity, underneath the whooping and cooing.

Despite growing up in New Jersey, and being at least third-generation Jersey shore, I'd never been to Cape May. It's a seaside town, a collection of Victorian mansions that make up a National Historic Landmark. This is not the Jersey shore of gym/tan/laundry; this is the Jersey shore of floor-length swimsuits and, later, bobbed hair. This is where the feminists started going into the water in smaller and smaller suits.

The whole town is a collection of dollhouses, looming high and well-painted, so well-maintained they appear to have good posture. The doors are shut and you only have to see them to know their heaviness. Since I work at a historic house, I wondered what furniture was behind those doors. How many people go antiquing, and how often, to fill these rooms with davenports and chaises and vanities? Are there enough antiques out there, in barns and attics and other, smaller, less grand homes, to fill these romances we've left here as models for our summertimes?

I got a sunburn on this weekend. I'd lain out in the sun, finishing a book, knowing I was probably burning. But there were dolphins in the water and sandpipers all along the outgoing tide, pecking around for what they wanted. My friend the bride and all of her friends were quiet, their feet buried in the cool sand. And I got a little sunburn, a slow one, from denying that the day was going by.  I get so many sunburns that way.

We did not really talk about love at this particular party. I like this about these friends, and I like this about certain bridal events: it is enough to say "this is a beautiful place and here we are together at the seaside." Someone asked who was getting married next and we all brushed it off with the usual ha-has.

On the morning I had to leave, I pulled the car around to downtown Cape May and got out, just for a minute, to walk among the dollhouses. When my sister and I were young we build a dollhouse like these and painted it pale blue. We didn't play with dolls in it, really-- we enjoyed the building and furnishing of that little dreamhouse more than imagining ourselves as the dolls. But still, the house-- the house, with its one nonexistant wall, so that we could see into the little secrets of the past-- the house was beautiful and everything that many little girls wanted.

I walked back to my car. My sunburn was starting to ache and I wished I could just take off my bra, which was pressing against it, and drive into the future where I wouldn't be so impulsive and dumb and let myself get burned again. In the seventies I would have done it, maybe.