On a weekend road trip, far away from home, you stumble upon a garage sale in a neighborhood you’re passing through. Astonished, you find an object among the belongings for sale that you recognize. Tell us about it.
It’s amazing what can trigger your memory; an object, a smell, even the weather. This morning as we drove over the Bourne Bridge into Cape Cod, a place I haven’t been in over thirty years, I had a trigger. It was a song, “Dancing in the Street” by Van Halen. Suddenly I wasn’t a forty-something mother of two forcing my boys to take a family vacation. It was 1982, I was fourteen and on my way to see my summer friends for the last time.
After we arrived at the hotel, my husband and sons went fishing. I chose to stay behind and explore the town. As I walked around the surrounding streets I experienced another trigger, smell. A mixture of summer blooms, cut grass and salt water. My mind wandered and although this particular town was new to me, it felt just like the one from my childhood.
My parents rented the same house every summer and in July and August, Cape Cod was our home. It was a culture shock from New York and my city friends never understood why I liked it so much. Even now it’s hard to explain how I felt when I was here. Carefree maybe? Adults were relaxed and because it felt safe they allowed their kids to stay out late and go places unsupervised. While the parents drank and played cards, us kids enjoyed our freedom. And even though we’d come close to that line, we never crossed it. It was a wild and innocent time.
There was an eleven year difference between my sister Rachel and I. She adored me, wouldn’t let me out of her sight which got on my nerves but at the same time, felt good. During the school year I’d help take care of her but in the summer, forget it. I became a different person, too cool for my family. The older I got, the meaner I got and at fourteen I was horrible, much like my oldest son is now.
My heart aches whenever I think about how mean I was to Rachel that day. At home I can shut it off, busy myself with laundry, dishes, anything to clear my mind. Here however, there was no escape. I was surrounded by triggers. Kids riding bikes down tree lined streets, passed white picket fences and Cape Cod homes. People relaxing on their front porch, waving to anyone walking by. A pack of teens laughing, oblivious to everyone and everything around them as they covertly share a joint.
I saw myself in that pack. Me and my summer friends, on our way to the beach, our beach. No one else went there, the only access was through the woods. As we headed that way I heard Rachel yell from up the street.
“Jess! Wait for me!”
The memory was so vivid, her voice so clear I actually turned and looked behind me. I had to stop and catch my breath. The sound of Rachel’s voice echoed in my head. I felt like I was going to break down, right there in the middle of the street. I checked to see if anyone noticed me and realized I was in front of a home. It was a bit unkempt, a realtors “For Sale” sign poked out of the grass and a garage sale was in progress. Various items filled tables in the driveway and yard. It was just what I needed to switch gears.
I slowly wandered in, watching people sift through worthless junk in hopes of finding treasure. I began to relax, normal breathing returned until I was hit by another trigger. This one sent a bullet straight to my heart. An old red tricycle now used as a decorative planter was displayed on the front porch. My mind instantly went back to that day.
My friends and I turned and saw Rachel approaching on her tricycle. Her little three year old legs pumping hard as she tried to catch up. We laughed and walked faster.
“Jess! Please wait for me!”
Simultaneously we began to run. It didn’t take long to lose her. We went around the corner then ran into the woods. I never saw Rachel again.
We were still at the beach a few hours later when the sirens sounded but none of us gave it a thought until we heard people shouting her name.
She was gone. They searched for weeks. Searched sheds, woods, lakes… They never found her or the tricycle. It was like she vanished.
Everything changed on that beautiful August day in 1982. We never returned to Cape Cod and my parents were never the same.
As people milled about the tables I stared at the tricycle, basket now filled with moss and ferns. I noticed a little girl on the porch watching me. She looked to be around six years old, her face oddly familiar.
“Is the tricycle for sale?” I asked.
“I’ll have to ask my Mom”, she said before entering the house, screen door slamming behind her.
Where was I going to put this thing if I got it home? And would I cry every time I looked at it? I felt like I ripped off a scab and had a fresh wound all over again.
Moments later the little girl came out informing me it wasn’t for sale. Probably just as well. I thanked her then walked away. I stopped on the sidewalk to get one more look at her, but she was gone.
As Jess disappeared down the street a large woman and her teenaged daughter strolled into the garage sale. They looked at items on the tables appearing uninterested until the woman saw the tricycle. She barreled over and aggressively picked it up.
“How cute is this?”, she asked her daughter.
“I think it’s pretty old”, the woman said. She turned it over, moss and ferns fell out of the basket to the ground.
“Ooops.” She laughed, picked up some ferns, shoved them in the basket, put the tricycle back and quickly walked away from the mess.
On the ground, mixed with moss and broken ferns was a dirt encrusted tag that probably once hung from the basket. Barely visible under the dirt was the name “Rachel”.