Without a doubt, the Cape and Islands will continue to erode because, with or without sea-level rise, the loose sand of the glacial cape has no resistance to wave attack. Continued sea-level rise will accelerate the erosion and cause the demise of the Cape to occur sooner. However, it will take thousands of years before the Cape is reduced to shoals and low-lying islands and perhaps five or six thousand years be completely drowned by the sea.
-Robert N. Oldale, Coastal Erosion on Cape Cod: Some Questions and Answers
The old account of Orleans says: "Fruit-trees cannot be made to grow within a mile of the ocean. Even those which are placed at a greater distance are injured by the east winds; and, after violent storms in the spring, a saltish taste is perceptible on their bark."
-Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod
TWO: EROSION [OF THE CAPE]
I fell asleep and had a dream that a big car came and took away my whole family. I had to go to their funerals one by one. I did not have enough time to write a eulogy good enough for each of them, so this is what I have come up with in preparation.
My mother has described peering into her sister’s casket at the funeral. She always told me that the strangest part of a dead body is the mouth; it never looks right. Oh a farm death is treated like a routine. My grandfather insisted the casket be open and that my mom and her brothers should take a look. Later, when her brother Johnny died, my mother said she would not go to the funeral if they had it open-casket. The casket was closed.
There was a Jimmy at the Cape sitting in the garage with the top removed. It was so tall we had to unhinge the garage door to get it out. When we took it to the beach we would blast the Cape radio station and lay our towels on the seats so we didn’t get sand on them. Sometimes I went out to the garage alone and sat in the passenger seat, flipping through the CDs in the console.
When Johnny died, my mother remembered hearing a knock on the door late at night. The peepers were loud in the field across the road so she pushed herself up against the window frame, which was peeling like sunburned skin. Her father went down to answer it in his work clothes from the day before. She recalled, “I could almost smell the manure from his pants drifting up to my second floor window as he pushed the screen door open.” The man standing on the porch was a police officer. He muttered something, then there was quiet. After, “I heard my dad say ‘Not Johnny. That’s the second child I’ve lost.’”
My father’s temper was as short as the wicks of candles on the greasy stovetop. When he spent a weekend at home I would make everyone apple pancakes. After, he would put on the Ron Jon t-shirt his mother gave him before she died, which had holes in the armpits. He ordered us to do chores around the house while he thumbed through Popular Mechanics or tinkered with the kitchen sink. If I did not mow the lawn fast enough after he told me to he would burst out into the yard, pulling his fists through the arms of his work shirt, and rip open the garage door. We would see him in a rage from the kitchen window, beheading the grass with the sputtering lawnmower until the sweet stench of it mingled with the gasoline.
The spring when I was twelve, I went with Ryan to watch my uncle dehorn the yearling calves. The barn was dark and it smelled like silage and mold. My uncle and his hired man used arm-length cutters to carefully snap off the budding horns, ramming their fingers into the wet noses so they could not move. The calves huffed and blew but otherwise did not make a sound. The men swore when they were stepped on or head butted in the ribs, but the most unsettling thing in the barn was the blood and the holes that were left in their heads, offering glimpses beneath their skulls. Their eyes were wild and blood poured out in thin streams as they licked with their long tongues. I clenched my ChapStick in my fingers within the pocket of my sweatshirt. Ryan turned around because he did not want to watch. I stared.
My mother hated it when I fought with Ryan. She told us we should appreciate each other because her brother and sister were dead now. My mom and grandmother used to cry when we got into a fight. One summer at the fair we got along all week until we had to take the last wheelbarrow of sawdust out to the pile. It toppled and I slapped him. He cried and we left the mess there in the dirt road until my grandfather yelled at us. In the barn, my grandmother was crying quietly. She was always prepared with a lipstick-stained napkin pulled gingerly from her purse. When my mother cried her wet face was always red and she never let the tears flow down her cheeks all the way.
My mother’s tea kettle has white calcium deposits that float in the water and sometimes pour out into your tea by mistake. She says this happens because the water is ‘hard.’ This is also the reason why sometimes I see her crying in front of the mirror with wet hair. She says the hard water makes it limp.
When I was trying to break up with him, I called my mother for support. “Do you think I can do it?” I asked her while I cried into the common room couch. “I don’t think you will,” she said.
My littlest brother started sleeping on the floor of my mother's bedroom when he was twelve. Our bedrooms were in the attic. One by one, my other brother and I left for college. Now that Scott is the only one left at home, he says there are noises he does not recognize. My mother likes his company at night. She even hauled his mattress downstairs and sat it on her floor. She told me once she thought she heard someone trying the downstairs door at four in the morning.