Lake George, New York, July 2012
Even though it has been four years since my grandfather’s death, my mother is still hurting. She sees my grandfather in everything we do. Any time she sees a cardinal it is my grandfather watching over us. Any time I pace around the kitchen while talking on the phone I am channeling my grandfather.
I tell her she’s wrong – my grandfather is not in the body of a bird or in the space between every conversation that reminds her of him. My grandfather is dead. She says that she hopes I find God eventually.
My mom sees him most often when we are at Lake George, a summer colony at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. My mother has been coming here since she was a child, and our trips are peppered with nostalgia from her childhood.
Even I can’t deny my grandfather’s presence here. Not in birds, but in memories. Days spent by the pool with my grandparents, eating at Mama Riso’s Italian Restaurant, my grandfather shaking his head when my dad took my brother Greg on his seventh horse and buggy ride of the day. My family had started to make plans for my grandmother’s 90th birthday at the Fort William Henry Resort just months before he passed.
It is just my family now. My grandmother no longer joins our pilgrimage. She is 94 and steadily losing her grasp on reality, but she has not forgotten her love for her husband. She stopped coming mostly because we couldn’t let her. We were afraid that a place like this, so saturated with Henry’s memory, would kill her.
This is our first year back since his death, and it is unsettling to be here alone. They are as much a part of this place as the lake itself. Without them here, there is little to buffer our normal lives from our vacation lives. The iPads, phones, and laptops come out. We are here to spend money and watch movies and eat at restaurants whose menus we’ve memorized by now. Same shit, new place.
I bring CDs to review for my college radio station and play them while I walk the span of the Village. This isn’t enjoyment; it’s work. At 20, the Village is no longer magical. Lake George feels more like a tourist trap every year, but especially now that my grandfather is gone. Tchotchke and Indian-themed toy stores are for children and capital-T Tourists. The only stores that hold my attention are the Silvermines – shops that sell “hippy” clothes and jewelry, incense, and an enormous selection of locally crafted bongs.
I listen to Fiona Apple’s new album – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do. My expectations are low because the hype is so high. First album in seven years! Listen to this new single! Playing at South by Southwest! Listen to this second new single! Watch this music video for the new single! I was tired of Fiona Apple before I ever heard her voice.
Then I hit play. I can’t say for sure, but I think I am falling in love. Is it the yelping vocals on Daredevil? Is it the jazzy-then-squeaky-falsetto-then-razor-blades-down-her-throat singing on Left Alone? By the ninth song on the album, Regret, I feel my skin sparking. After spending most of my first two years in college constantly reviewing music, I thought I would never truly feel music again.
I ran out of white dove feathers/To soak up the hot piss that comes through your mouth/Every time you address me, Apple sings, but not really. She spits the words with the venom of someone screwed over one too many times. She is an anachronism – no one sings like this anymore, with such unrestrained passion and grit.
She felt real even though her music was piping through $10 earbuds at 256 kbps. Fiona Apple is the kind of person to release an album using only acoustic instruments in 2012. Fiona Apple is the kind of person who would see all of these people staying in resorts with their own pools and gyms and poolside catering, and call it for what it is – bullshit.
I wonder if Fiona Apple would look at my mother and her Henry-birds and call it bullshit too. A central theme to The Idler Wheel… is loneliness, and you can hear it in the way she moans the closing verse of Regret: Alone/Leave me alone/Leave me alone, leave me alone/Leave me alone, leave me alone/Alone. I hear her moan, and I think of my mother’s cardinals. I think of how the mere possibility that my grandfather still existed in some way kept my mother going thru the days, even knowing she would never see him again.
© Matthew Mastricova. Matthew’s grandmother passed away in January 2015.