If you grew up on the island, you called it The Rock. To use it in a sentence: “I can’t wait to get off this Rock for good.” But I’ll tell you a secret: no one ever does. At least, no more than anyone ever leaves the beach without finding crumbs of it days later in their pockets, in their hairlines, on their skin.
In a world with such clearly defined edges, space is at a premium and most people I know have learned to use it with startling economy. Instead of beginning a new page we reuse the same one over and over again, writing in the spaces between the lines, until life loops back on itself like the self-consuming tides. To give an example: my high school English teacher said I reminded him of thirty years ago on a Saturday, when he secretly drove a shy, bookish girl to the SATs because her father forbade her from going to college. It was eerie, he said, how much we had in common. He mixed up our names at one point while writing my college recommendation letter, never did manage to wash off all the sand.
Later we found out the girl was an aunt of mine, who I’ve never met. But she was so determined to get off the Rock for good that I think she must still find bits of it where she hasn’t cleaned in years. But her brother—my dad—let the tides pull him back to what he already knew, like where to find the ponds with floating docks and no snapping turtles, and how to navigate the dirt roads that intersected in the woods where the deer jumped out in twos and threes, as if from nowhere.
Recently, on a walk, I got lost in these roads. I couldn’t believe it at first because I thought by now I should have known where I was going. But somehow, instead of looping back around to familiar territory, I stumbled out into some strange, indecipherable network of dirt roads I’d never seen before, all splaying out and way off into the pillar-world of white oaks that seemed to mirror endlessly in every direction. The roads themselves were pockmarked with small caverns, each filled with water so old and brown that they gave back none of the sky, and in fact seemed continuous with the sand.
And so I wandered. What else could I do? I had no survival skills. My phone, anemic from living off the grid all day, had died. My ankles were scratched all silver from the thistly underbrush. My stomach began to whimper. I did, too.
And then, suddenly, twin headlights came rolling ungainly toward me, like the bright blind eyes of some trundling beast, and it was like a divine intervention, it was like a deux es machina, but of course it wasn’t really like anything except itself. And when I collapsed into the passenger seat, and the driver navigated us out of the endless dirt roads, it came up in our conversation that she and I were somehow connected, she was the sister of the woman who’d given me violin lessons in kindergarten until I’d cried and quit. And I could hardly hold back my surprise when suddenly the darkening woods diverged and we turned out onto the flat black predictable tongue of pavement, and I instantly recognized where we were because it was just about across the street from my own driveway.
Years later the metaphor only now begins to dawn on me. Lost, I’d wandered farther than I’d ever thought possible. And yet I still wound up right back where I came from.