On my grandparents island in Haliburton, a perfect path led through the woods to the bunkie. The light was mottled through a canopy of leaves above, and the ground was soft and quiet – a blanket of pine needles and soft earth over the exposed rocks.
We would sneak down and play in the bunkie when the hot afternoon sun would drive us off the rocks by the water. My little brothers would get tired and head back to the cottage but I would stay until I was called up for dinner.
I begged to be able to stay there by myself. Of course, they never let me. They did agree that it would be the perfect spot for the boys when they were older. I knew even then that they would ruin it – with their stolen beers and crushed cigarettes. With their friends who were loud and messy.
The summer I turned 11, my parents went out to the Yacht Club’s big party. I was mortified that they insisted on getting a babysitter. Helen was only a few years older than me, and about 4 inches shorter. She let me stay up and watch t.v. with her after the boys were asleep. Then, Helen was shaking me roughly and hissing into my ear, “Your parents are home!”
I bolted up the stairs and was in my bed before they came into the cottage. I made my jaw go slack and slowed my breathing to mimic sleep. I heard the muffled conversation from downstairs as Helen left – walking home alone down the cottage road with just a flashlight.
A cloud of Shalimar wafted into my room just before my mother did. She leaned over me, watching me in the moonlight and shaking her head. My mother was always beautiful – delicate and perfect. She never looked lovelier than that night.
“My God how do we keep kidding ourselves?” she said, in a loud stage whisper, “It’s not a stage she’s going through!” My father came in to the room and tried to shush her. “C’mon lovely, let’s call it a night”.
“Look at her. Just look at her! You know people can’t even believe that she’s my daughter! This massive klutz. This loser. Pathetic.” My mother then spun on her heel and careened into my father’s always waiting arms.
That fall I left for boarding school. I never lived at home again. As I got older, I visited the cottage less and less. There were summer jobs, and studies abroad. Eventually I married and moved down South. I haven’t been back in many years. Even now though, these many years later when I smell that certain forest smell I am right back there – skipping along down the path to the bunkie.
Last year, my brother sent me a photo of his lovely little daughter. She is standing on the porch of the bunkie with my mother twirling her in her little princess dress. My mother looks very happy.