July, 2014, Jurmala, Latvia
Because it is vacation, I forgo an early bedtime, and my five-year-old and I walk to the beach: Across the street, down a windy path under a new highway, through a forested park with glinting asymmetrical playground equipment, past vendors hawking ice-cream bars studded with peanuts and lined with caramel, and into the bedazzled evening of central Jurmala. The boardwalk here is not board. It glimmers with white stones, along which large-breasted women in rhinestone-studded flip-flops and long blonde ponytails stride, arm in arm with beefy husbands and four-year-olds in ironed shorts. A Euro techno beat descends, it seems, from the sky, envelops the crowds, follows us past a skipping fountain, a concert hall, a café with outdoor seating where a uniformed waiter places a shrimp and avocado salad before a bored looking woman, whose wrists are draped in gold, and past an amusement park, at the sight of which I pre-emptively shake my head no. We pay 25 centimes to use the bathroom to a woman who portions out toilet paper, the old school way of relieving a need, but inside, the bathroom has that blue-tiled, mirrored, European Union sheen.
We stop in beach store selling small dried fish, Frisbees, and hats. Just the thing. The selection is sparse, but we will need something to keep the sun off our faces, perhaps to stem what I have only recently noticed is my spreading skein of wrinkles. I choose a jaunty white and red cap, puffy in the back with a short bill in front. Amalia selects one in the same hip hop vein, only hers is green and lined with fake rubies. Blinging from its center is a gold dollar sign. She wears it the rest of the trip at a rakish angle, just in case anyone has any questions about where we are from, or whether we belong.
How happy my peach summer dress is the next morning to escape the purple suitcase! I greet it as an old friend! How I delight in frying eggs and chopping carrots for our lunch in the efficient cottage kitchen! How I capitulate to carnival rides on plastic elephants, street shows of magicians, hawkers of overpriced Latvian trinkets! How we make sandcastles and dribble our soccer ball and do a sandy samba step to the DJ’s techno samba beat, and how we wink and nod in shared superiority because we are the only two on the crowded beach to know how to samba! How I chase my daughter into the spray!
How, as we walk back to our cottage for dinner through the pristine pine-forested park, which is the blessed path towards our bungalow, Amalia chants I’m TIred I’m TIred I’m TIred.
How I fall into a dark well.
How my dollar-signed child sits down on the cement path. How I glare. How I then keep walking, hoping the locals, who believe that ground-sitting even in summer causes colds, may not realize she is mine.
How I also believe that she will follow me, because I am her guardian and she is helpless without me.
How she does not follow.
How I forget myself and shout.
How she gets up! How she immediately lays down on a neighboring bench! How she stretches her thin arms and spindly fingers above her lolling, hateful head!
How I hear I’m TIred I’m TIred I’m TIred.
How the phrase becomes my pulse.
How I say, “I am counting to three.”
How I do not parent in saccharine halves and quarters and so count onetwothree. How my child slumps towards me, dragging the toes of her once new sandals across the corroding earth.
How this part of the park smells both of pine and salt spray.
How the families of man and wife and one or two well-behaved children stroll. How the teenage skateboarders skate. How they move with leisure.
How no one says, “Let me watch her while you lay down. You look tired. When did you last masturbate? It must be weeks.”
How right no one is.
How shimmering ahead is a cube-like structure of white and red, and oh, how my child and I turn to each other. How we wordlessly agree. Yes, ice cream. How as we make our way to the stall, my child makes a whimper that to sensitive ears may sound like the beginning of I’m. How she sees my face, registers something new and dangerous there, and quiets.
How the 20-something vendor says hello in English, asks how we are.
How the blue of his eyes deepens in the sun.
How his hand is firm on the scoop.
How he awaits my request.
How his grip quivers.
How it might be me. Quivering.
How handsome young ice-cream scoopers do not flirt with single mothers.
Yes, I decide, two scoops of the child’s favorite will buy us the ten-minute walk.
How I forgo a scoop for myself, because the melty last dregs of what the child leaves behind usually satisfy.
How today they do not.
Kate Vieira is a professor of English, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and the author of American by Paper: How Documents Matter in Immigrant Literacy (University of Minnesota Press). She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her daughter and is at work on a memoir called Fieldwork.