I’m cleaning the bathroom of my apartment, tossing out old magazines; I stop at the copy of Coastal Living my mom sent to me a few weeks earlier.
It seems to me that Coastal Living is the cruelest publication in existence.
I mentioned to my mom, just once, that I had flipped through an issue of this magazine at work. Myself and my coworkers were having one of those discussions about having an interim year, driving across the country, getting jobs in romanticized American cities like New York or San Francisco – the same things that every almost-graduate talks about. There it was, sitting on the table in the break room. The magazine had pages and pages of double-spaced type, pictures of clear-blue water and skies, kids dressed in sweaters and jeans playing on porch-swings, and plans for beach homes. It included quotes like “I wake up in the morning and just look out the window at the ocean.” That was that day that I decided living somewhere completely opposite of Pittsburgh, somewhere like California, for a few years was reasonable.
"I don't see how anyone enjoys Coastal Living," I said to her. We were talking on the phone. I was pacing the kitchen, probably cooking something; by cooking, I mean heating up a frozen Green Giant side dish.
"Oh, I love that magazine," she said.
"Why? Doesn't it only make you feel sad about living in Pittsburgh?"
"No. It's good because you can compare different places to live, decide what you might want your house to look like."
The key to this conversation is my mother's certainty that she will, someday, live on the beach. I contemplate living on the beach from time to time, usually in early February while I'm walking to class through a few inches of snow, hair frozen, scarf wrapped around my face. Frankly, I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I lived on the beach -- or any place it wasn't cold or rainy at least some of the time. It seems that a good percentage of Pittsburgh conversation revolves around the weather; if it's going to snow and how much, the first time it will be warm enough to play beer pong outside, how miserable it is to walk to class in the rain because no matter what you do, your jeans will be wet up to the knees for the rest of the day. What do coastal residents talk about?
"I want to live on a houseboat," Dale said. We're sitting around the table at his parents' house in Ligonier. It's Christmas day; you can tell because Dale is wearing "the Christmas shirt," which is a short-sleeved button-down featuring the members of the band AC/DC. Also you can tell because it's snowing, Mrs. Young is cooking a ham, and Mr. Young is inevitably questioning some soon-to-be-adult in the house about his or her life plans.
"I can't live on a boat," my mom replied. She sipped Asti Spumante sparkling wine out of a green champagne flute. "Plus, do you think we can have cats on a houseboat? Won't they jump into the water?"
"Cats don't like water," Dale said. My mom and Dale have been vacationing to Myrtle Beach together for years. The last time I remember my parents going to the beach, I was one year old. It doesn't make sense that one day I will be visiting my mom at her home on Myrtle Beach -- and that home might be a boat. I can’t decide if my mom was always a beach person – if that was a quality that made an intermittent appearance, beginning with my dad, fading away and then resurfacing with Dale – or if she had become a beach person with Dale, revealing a new side of herself that never showed itself when she was with my dad.