My father is setting down the final layer of polyurethane on a new home he bought in Augusta, Maine. He already had one; a fully furnished Victorian-styled Bed and Breakfast an hour south. “You just can’t buy any houses for sixty-grand,” he told me. It was out of pocket but reassured me it was like “free money,” a term he uses often. The floor needed to set, and he encouraged me to explore the city, which he has been hyping up considerably. I have been to Augusta a few times before but labeled it as stripmall-like—but his enthusiasm was encouraging. I was not in a pleasant mood, and I assume it was a typical admixture of loneliness spurred by my girlfriend’s sudden departure to Oklahoma. The downtown was close; down the street on the left, three blocks to the right, and two to the left. While I walked, I actively suppressed the thought that my current sclerotic mental state influenced my outlook on the city. Augusta, despite being the capitol, seemed depressed, with not much in the three-block downtown area. The more striking element of the city is a Richardsonian Romanesque post office, standing incongruous with the red-bricked commercial and Federal-style architecture typical in New England. The town was virtually empty, both of people and stores. Unless you were window shopping for ‘For Lease’ signs or wanted your Electrolux 1940s vacuum repaired, there were not many options. On my return, he seemed displeased that I was unimpressed with the city. I can only assume that I wore my feelings quite openly; my laconic replies and sudden lack of joie de vivre was bugging him.
After multiple alcohol-related brushes with death, he has caused me to look at him with a fair dose of skepticism—often looking for signs of failed restraint. Not that I don’t respect him—quite the opposite. I know him for his erudition, selflessness (on the verge of vulnerability), and entrepreneurial vigor. The Augusta house gave him something to do, which I cannot complain about because his drinking is rooted in boredom. As a family, we all collectively acquiesce to his investment-like hobbies. With an unpleasant reversal of roles, his future was—and still is—a substantial concern of mine. For years, a day did not go by that I thought he had died. I vividly remember making him cry after castigating him over the discovery of alcohol in the pantry. Helplessly cradled in a makeshift bed and shrouded in darkness, the hallway light revealed his tear-stained rosy cheeks and unshaven face. This is how I feared I would remember him; breathing his very last in the dark while alone, crying, and in pain.
I return to Maine every summer, but this summer in 2019 seems uniquely stark. The days appear and disappear at such a speed that I stop keeping track of dates. With college wrapping up, my future has taken much of my attention—it excites me as much as I fear it. Each day I slip on my Converse and stroll down to the waterfront. Sometimes the hot summer days mix with the frigid Maine waters, creating a thick fog that blankets the coast. The fog is alluring. All around me graduates into gray nothingness, and dock ladders lead to mercury-thick water. I always feel swept away, letting the sounds of the waves roll inside my head and the dense fog consume my body. Each step forwards allows me see a bit further, but less of where I have been, with no more confidence than earlier. In times like these, my mother finds solidarity in Wyoming. A State that has never been a part of her life but as a sign of luck. “Just sounds like something so far away… Like an escape in my mind,” she told me. With a remarriage around the corner, for her, too, was she only able to see so many steps ahead. She paused her story and parked at a nearby gas station. She saw a license plate for Wyoming driving back from the beach and took it as a sign to buy a lottery ticket. As she turned off the car, she said, “if things occur in threes, you should pay attention.” I felt like this moment I shared was important, and I clung to the words as if I would someday recall them decades from now.
Not long after the conversation with my mother, I went camping an hour north in a little virid lot next to a picturesque estuary in Wiscasset. This was meant as a relaxing break, but my anxiety accosted my mind, my thoughts branching out like the vein-like vestibules of the marsh. Of course, I say camping, but the activity was more accurate to the term ‘glamping.’
Upon arrival, my (soon to be) stepfather was eager to use his Swedish Gränsfors ax, a self-awarded Rolls Royce of axes. Splitting wood and feeding a greedy fire, our primal minds gravitated towards the glow like a moth. In the night, embers erratically drifted in the air with carcinogenic compounds, mosquitoes, gnats, and greenheads; a parabola arched hammock swayed in the trees nearby, and the distant echoing of voices and broken dialog mixed with the wood crepitating. As we sat drinking gin and tonic around the flames, moths, like an addict reuniting with their self-harming love, embraced the fire. In the mornings, I impatiently waited next to a Primus-Gour-Mate gas stove for the percolator to boil, listening to the incessant snoring of my (soon to be) stepfather. There were too many quiet moments for self-contemplation. The detachment from international affairs and the violence in Yuen Long clung to my mind like kudzu. I already came to terms with Hong Kong’s death, envisioning dirges played in empty streets. The micturition of vile accusations from the Hong Kong government has put all my friends on edge. Here I sat, 8,000 miles away on a quiet estuary in Northern Maine, watching a place I love burn with my friends still there.
Politics, domestic and international, consumes my interests and my ever-expanding anxiety about the future. Being an American, the uncertainties looming over the upcoming 2020 American presidential election takes center stage. There is little hope in the country’s progression; an alarming number of Americans have deep-rooted antediluvian beliefs and actively practice modern doublethink funneled through the deceitful mouth of their orange saint. I have grown tired of the incendiary, toxic, tribal grousing yelling in your ear every hour—I assume every American feels the same. With each day, a pessimism-laced drill bit slowly burrows itself into our thinning skulls, ripping the frayed image of a future yet to come. The fog seems denser than it ever has, with no other choice but to step forward, hoping not to stumble.