Sunday, June 26, 2011

I am in my grandmother's house.  It's the weekend of the yearly St. Peter's Fiesta, and Zack and I are spending the night here before tomorrow, the day when everything happens.  In the morning there is a mass, which I never go to, then the "parade", which is actually a religious procession, and all the floats are heavily Catholic-themed.  The statue of St. Peter is walked in front of every Catholic church in town, and at the end it culminates in front of the St. Peter's club in one of my favorite moments of the fiesta each year.

It's hard to describe-- The statues of Peter and Mary, who sits atop a gorgeous dome of roses, are set facing the St. Peter's club.  One or two of the marching bands crowds in, and the streets are lined with children who are holding up ornamental oars with the names of boats in the Gloucester fleet.  The street is crowded and everyone is waiting, and there's a growing tension as the people in charge of holding the nets corraling hundreds of red, green, and white balloons (and one net of red, white, and blue, for good measure) situate themselves.  As the drummers in the bands lead into-- I believe-- the star-spangled banner, the men who have carried the heavy statues on their platforms hoist them up again, and everyone sings.  At the end of the song, the balloons are released into the air as confetti rains down on the crowd from the top of the St. Peter's club.  Then the statue is marched around the corner and returned to the Altar at the carnival on the pier for another twelve hours before he will be returned to his year-long resting place at the St. Peter's club at midnight-- my other favorite part of the fiesta, but that's another story.

I should say that I have a sentimental longing for this moment to take place in it's old location, on the other side of the building.  The whole ceremony shifted a few years back when, I think, the St. Peter's Club downsized to operate out of the basement.  I could be wrong about the specifics of that; nevertheless, my heart aches for the change.  There's more to describe about the fiesta-- the Seine Boat races, the greasy pole competition, the fireworks that night followed by the raucous walk around the fort in which St. Peter's statue takes a circuitous, mile-long hike followed by however many screaming followers can stay awake for it-- and it's important: this weekend, this tradition which is so defining to me, which I'm now realizing many of my friends don't understand.  But the reason for this entry is not to describe it all, but instead, lies in those poignant words: my heart aches for the change.

I am in my grandmother's house; it's the weekend of the fiesta.  I am here with my husband.  Upstairs, my uncle is asleep beside a woman who is nearly a stranger to me.  And no one else is here.

It doesn't feel too long ago that there was a time when my family had to make sleeping arrangements for the fiesta a month in advance-- either me or my sister, whoever was in high school, would bring a friend nearly every year.  My parents would be here, my uncle would be here, and, at least every alternate year, one of my cousins, one of Rosalie's sons, would be occupying the room in the basement, between lucrative jobs or relationships or whatever else.  And, of course, my Grandmother.

This is the first fiesta since my grandmother died.  I remember her telling me that she was in attendance at the very first one, marching in the parade. In the last few years, my grandmother wasn't well enough to attend at all, but I would see her every time I came, and I always came.  I hope that I always do.

Towards the end, when she was too home-ridden and nearly blind to see it herself, she would ask me about the altar.  It's a giant wood edifice, made to look, more or less, like the facade of some gaudy church, something that might host eloping couples in vegas.  It looks right at home with the carnival to one side of it and the fishing boats docked in Gloucester Harbor the other.  I actually haven't seen it yet this year, what, with no grandmother to see it vicariously for.

Except, that now it's even more important than it ever has been, to see it vicariously for her.  So where are the other witnesses?

My sister has recently moved to Virginia, out of comfortable driving distance from Gloucester, which may be her favorite town in the world-- I gather she'd be here if she could, but her life was often too busy and complicated to make the pilgrimage even before, when she lived in Rhode Island, or back in Maine.  Her children, who have been in attendance in many years previous, are actually in Maine, staying for a few weeks with my parents, but my father is unable to get away, and my mother sees little point in driving the two boys down without his assitance-- the carnival has some appeal, but other aspects of the fiesta are for slightly more adult tastes, with the exception of the greasy pole.  A competition where men in ridiuclous costumes injure themselves by trying to walk across a 15-foot, grease-covered pole suspended above the water is tailor-made for the violent sense of humor of young boys, but as the median age of the Frontiero clan participating has risen, and the number of boats in the harbor during the spectacle has increased, my uncle Michael has stopped shuttling us out to watch the competition from the harbor.  While still enjoyable from the beach, the crowds make it, perhaps, not worth a particularly long drive.

I invited Elorza to attend this year with Zack and I, as he did two years ago, resulting in an especially memorable weekend.  He cancelled only a few weeks in advance, which wasn't enough forewarning for my friend Jeff, a two-year fiesta veteran, to get the time off.

So Zack and I are here, in an uncharacterisically quiet house, because my sense of tradition is so stubbornly unshakeable.  Still, I question if this is really a good thing.

A therapist I was seeing briefly at the beginning of this year implied that I was the victim, at a very young age, of a moment wherein I lost control, where I was forced into a premature acknowledgement of chaos and unpredictability and all the terror that goes with it, and that that it why I suffer from this pathological need to control things.  Her example, at the time, was my stubborness surrounding food.  I couldn't be forced to eat anything I didn't like and I still can't, and perhaps that's really about the scared little girl who was trying to prove to herself and the world that she was powerful, that she could fight, that nothing had to happen to her that she didn't consent to.

I should say, the moment in question, while still shrouded with a fog of repression, was not the therapist's revelation at all, as it has more or less been accepted by myself and any professional I've met with, on the basis of various symptoms and snippets of memory and instinct I cling to.  But the connection to my absolute refusal to be forced to eat, then and now-- that was a bit of an "aha" for me.

It doesn't stop at food. I feel the compulsive need to control, or try to control, so much around me.

A post about that could have me writing until St. Peter is back safely in the window of his club downtown, but what comes up today is my stubborn, clinging, yelping, screaming need to maintain a connection to the past.

My past, specifically-- I've never been more than passingly drawn in by lineage or history.  While I mourn the loss of a generation of my family, I am really mourning the link to my childhood.  Tonight, after Zack fell alseep on the couch, I walked around, stymied by this house and unpresent ghosts of the people who lived here.  I studied the garish curtains in the living room, the criss-crossing beams on the ceiling-- my sister told me the other day that she'd never realized that they were cosmetic, and I thought of whether I'd ever thought to wonder. I looked at the bell on the wall that has no reason to be there and wanted to pull the rope and ring it and remember the way the sound used to delight me.  I opened the drawer in the short dresser, the bottom one that held the many scarves my grandmother owned that we used to dress up with-- there are still a few in there, and a fur hat that I was too young to be morally conflicted with at the time.  I wrapped a scarf around my head and  looked at myself in the mirror above the silver serving set, stared at myself, and thought how I look nothing at all like a child.  Then I walked into the quiet, dark kitchen and looked at the time-varnished white of the cabinets, the collection of almost random belongings on the walls and tucked onto decorative shelves, and I realized it's only a matter of moments until my memory is so faded that I struggle to form all but the most fleeting, teasing memory this place.  I sat down at the table and pictured myself an old woman who has almost no memory left of another old woman, the old woman who belonged in that kitchen, and I cried.

I am in a room, now, which has become the computer room.  Before her death in January, this room was being used as a bedroom for my grandmother, who could no longer manage to use the stairs.  Before that, it was occupied by both her and my grandfather, back when she was still mobile enough to make the daily ascent, but he was withering away from Lou Gehrig's disease, and could not.  I believe he died when I was 14.  That would make it thirteen years ago, nearly.

Before that, this room was the TV room-- there never used to be a set in the living room, when I was a kid. I remember the recliner near the window and I can't picture it there without picturing my grandfather in it, but that was after the ALS diagnosis.  Before that...there were couches.  Two, I think.  One was a sort of awkward tweed, and it pulled out into a mattress, though I'm not sure I ever saw that.  The other, if I remember correctly-- and I didn't remember at all before an hour ago, before concentrating on it until I was absolutely sure I'd forgotten it and then, suddenly-- a leathery black with squarish cushions, I think.  It must have been a love seat, I think now as I peer around to see how small this room really is.  A very small loveseat.  There was a big, boxy TV straight out of the 60's, with crazy-looking knobs, I think, and a cable box on top that would be vintage today, in it's own right.  And one of those very simple, very small black rectangle remotes.  And a thick rug, that I think was....green.

I struggle to form all but the most fleeting, teasing memory of this room...this room I'm in right now.  And maybe one day, maybe not too long from now, I won't be allowed back in this house at all.

I feel this reflex, when I think of that, to deny that, to tell myself that I won't-- I can't let this happen.  I must keep this house in the family just like I must buy and move into my parents house, despite being too large to be practical for the future that Zack and I envision.  I think of these things like my duties, my job, the most important job that I have.  I must control my future to protect my link to the past.

Why?

I get that this kind of thing is hard for everyone, but why does it instill such panic in me that I can't consider relaxing around the idea that this might not be something I can do, might not be something I have the means to do.  I feel like I'm bound to creat the conditions in my life that will keep my childhood safe; ironically, it seems that somehow, that's because it wasn't safe in the first place.  Does my subconscious sense that I have something yet to resolve in that time?  Will I one day face that un-unpresent ghost, and move on?  Or am I just too stubborn and afraid to grow up?

For now, this place still smells like my grandmother.  Tomorrow, I intend to visit her grave.  I guess the idea of a grave is to give someone like me a new place to associate with a person-- someplace they will stay into perpetuity, when their home has changed hands and all the objects associated with them have been scattered into new places.

Tomorrow, I will see the altar for this year's fiesta.  I will see the first St. Peter's Fiesta "parade" that has ever drummed the pavements of this town while my grandmother did not live in it.  I will get to the end of it and try to embrace the spot where the culmination happens now, one street down from where it used to be, and try to accept that I had nothing to do with that decision-- could have nothing to do with that decision-- and that the fiesta, as it is now, lives on, with all that really matters still in tact.

I will see the oars raised high and think of my grandfather, the fisherman. I will listen to the band and think of the song they play, the notes of which will be unchanged even when the brass of the instruments has been melted down for some irrelevant future machine. I will watch the confetti fall and the balloons rise up to a heaven that maybe, in that moment, I will try to believe in.  That place, that realm of pure energy and love, which unifies all that did happen and all that will happen, those who did live to those who will live.  Heaven, that belief which makes it alright to let go and give in to the will of the universe.  Knowing.

All that really matters, still in tact.

And tomorrow night, I will walk around the fort and shout at the top of my lungs to hail St. Peter, the man who guards the gates.


On with it.

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