Not Quite All the Way to the Top of the Sand Pit after All

By Emily Kokansky

I pushed the screen door open and sat on the porch for a minute before I made my way to the old beat down motor home in my driveway.  The motor home was not something that usually sat in my driveway; I thought it was rather embarrassing.  The thought of my friends or people I know driving by and seeing that humiliating thing in my driveway turned my stomach into knots.  I needed to dodge the motor home before anyone inside noticed so I could scurry off to my neighbors for the day and escape my new guests.emily kokansky memoir photo1

Just after I got off the last step of my farmers porch I saw a larger figure running towards me- it was my cousin Meaghan.  That was my guess anyway. I didn’t know all their names perfectly yet, but Meaghan was described by my mother as a ‘homely looking girl’, so this had to be her.  Her bulky, mannish figure gave it away, along with her baggy clothes that seemed two sizes too big covering any sign of her womanhood.

“Emily quick!” she said as she grabbed my arm and started to run.

“What, wait where are we going?” I asked quickly.  I turned back to see my grandma stepping out of the screen door behind me.

“Meaghan! Meaghan! Get your ass back here and clean out the butts in the back of the car.”  Her voice rasped from the excessive amount of smoking she did.  For a woman with one lung she still smoked about a pack and a half a day, and that was on a good day.  The image of my grandma’s filthy, smelly car came to my head and I couldn’t imagine the amount of cigarette butts that had been consumed in the back seat from a ride all the way from Florida to here in North Brookfield, Massachusetts.

“Ewe,” I said back to Meaghan.

“I know, so run God damn it!” she said with a smile.  Her hand slowly slipped from my arm to my hand and we ran a little faster.  She ran in a straight line. Hell, she had never been here before and had no clue where she was going. She was just running.

“Well where do you think we are going to go?” I asked loudly; it was so windy I couldn’t even hear my own voice.

She replied, “It doesn’t matter…away.”

Panic started filling my body.  I didn’t know this girl from a hole in the wall, but we continued to run. I was way out of my comfort zone and she didn’t have a care in the world.  It was like she saw the “do not enter” sign and snuck in anyways.

She turned around, looked at me and laughed, “That old woman can clean her own God damn car.”

Without even thinking I started to laugh too.  My shoulders relaxed a little bit and I was having fun.  Suddenly, one of Meaghan’s Converse shoes got caught within a tree root and the get-away came to a halt.  We stood there for a minute to catch our breath. I looked down on the ground and quickly reacted to the fact I was still holding her hand.  I pulled my hand away as soon as I realized, blushed a little, but then she quickly relieved the embarrassment.

“Look at grandma!” she said. She pointed to the old tan station wagon that was parked next to the trailer.  I looked over to see my frail, dark grandma with one hand laid against the hood of the car and another pointing in our direction.  I could barely see her mouth moving and her words were whispers from here. Meaghan and I both cracked up.

When the laughter faded, Meaghan hopped on the tire swing a couple of feet down.  We had stopped in the perfect spot, almost as if it were on purpose.  I watched her swing and her long, ratty looking, dark blonde hair swayed as she began to pump her legs.  Then I began to really notice her ugly features.  She had dark black circles under her eyes, and it looked as if someone had placed her eye balls there but had forgotten to fill in any bone around them. They sunk in like they were melting away inside her face.  She didn’t have any make-up on, and her face was pale with acne here and there.  It was almost as if she had a receding hair line too!  It hit me; she looked like Kid Rock!  It was shocking, but I never thought anything of it.  She was only five or six years older than me, but it looked as if she was much older than that.  I stood there staring at her for quite some time analyzing every bit of this stranger that was my cousin.

“Should we head back?” I asked, starting to feel uncomfortable again.

“Nah, we should camp out for a little. Let her cool off,” she snickered.

We sat there in silence for a couple of minutes and then Meaghan started cracking jokes left and right.  I couldn’t contain my laughter.  She was so sarcastic and the stories she was telling me about grandma and my family down south made me crack up.

“You know Amy?” she asked, telling another one of her stories.

“Yeah, sure,” I lied. Quite honestly, I couldn’t keep track of all of them. I had about eight cousins staying with me and I hadn’t truly met any of them before this.

“Well, she got drunk one night and stole David’s moped,” she said. I didn’t know who exactly David was but I played along.

“She crashed into a mailbox and sliced her head right open,” she said laughing uncontrollably.

“What an idiot! Oh and see that little toddler running around, that is only one of hers, and she is twenty,” she continued.

My eyes opened wide.  I started to laugh a little.  To hear how dysfunctional my family from down south was, was actually humorous to me.

“You know grandpa had seven wives right?” she asked.

I laughed along with this figuring it was just her being sarcastic, but her face turned serious.

“No, Emily, I am serious! Ask your mom. She don’t even know half her siblings most likely!  Grandpa Russell was whack job that was for sure.”

That part I believed.

I couldn’t wrap my head around all the information I was taking in. I knew my family was screwed up in more ways than one, but I guess I didn’t know exactly why.

“Oh, and then there’s Uncle Bill. You know the one right over there!” she said.

I turned my head and squinted my eyes in the direction of her pointed finger.  There stood a figure, not too tall, with white hair and a darker gray mustache.

“You know what he is doing Emily?” she asked.

I continued staring at Uncle Bill and shook my head; all I saw was him staring at the flowers that surrounded the exterior of my back yard.  He almost seemed a little lost.

“Exactly! Neither do I. What a weirdo,” Meaghan replied.

It dawned on me that Uncle Bill had once written me a letter with a sea shell inside it. It was something he had gotten on a scuba diving trip.  The note was simple and all it had said was: “I thought that you might enjoy this.” I have never seen him in my life and he wasn’t even our blood relative. He was married to my mother’s sister, Debbie.  I have been collecting sea shells ever since.  I allowed his weirdness to rub off on me.  I didn’t mention this to Meaghan, partly because I had no real reason to, and mostly because I didn’t want to show any connection to these weirdos that I continued to mock with her.

“Hey, anyways let’s take a walk; show me around this ol’ hick town!”  I laughed. Was she serious? This hick town? I played along.

“Um, I wouldn’t be talking. I’m not the one with the southern accent,” I said. She laughed and her eyes became much calmer and she patted my back.

Sarcastically she replied, “Hey now, no making fun of your family, that’s not very nice.” Her irony couldn’t have been more on point.

I took her around my block, and on the way we stopped at a couple of my favorite spots without me even having to initiate the stops.

“Whoa, let’s go over here Em,” she said. Meaghan had already begun jogging as she said it.  She was off to the sand pits.  I didn’t want to seem too excited but I found myself running right along with her.

She climbed the highest pile of stone first.

“This place is awesome; I can see the whole street from up here!” she yelled from the top of the pile.  Hesitantly, I climbed up after her. She had noticed something I have never noticed before.

“Wow, you’re right Meg,” I said with genuine shock.

“Oh come on, you have never noticed this!?” she questioned.  She wasn’t even looking at me when she asked. She was still fixated on the view.

The truth was, I was always too afraid to climb to the very top.  My mother had told me once that some children sink right in the middle of the pile, gasping for breath until they suffocate. The image haunted me every time I ever got close to the top.  Standing there at that moment made me feel free- like a badass.  I guess sometimes the risks you take are worth the view in the end.  I took a deep breath in and soaked up the moment, feeling like I was reenacting some sort of Hollywood scene. I took a break and looked down at my feet slightly sunken into the gravel stone. I looked back at the view for a minute; she was right this place was awesome.  Meaghan put her hands up in the air as she galloped down the pile.  I followed, with my hands in the air.

As we continued our journey around the block, she picked up other cool things about my neighborhood. There were the old train tracks and farm animals across the street. I even showed her my secret fort in the back of my house that was hidden past the blueberry bushes.  We didn’t stop playing and goofing around until it was time for dinner, and even then she was cracking jokes about grandma.

“Hey old lady, can you pass the ketchup please?” Meaghan taunted.

“Get off your ass and get it yourself what do I look like a maid!?” she replied.

“No, but you do look like someone who can’t clean her own God damn cig butts out of her car,” Meaghan said.

They went back and forth for a while and as I saw my mother’s face turn pale, but I couldn’t hold in the laughter.  Meaghan looked at me and pointed over to Uncle Bill who was inspecting his food. I looked back at her and she shrugged as we both began to laugh even more.  If one were to look at that long picnic table of all of us they would’ve seen a bunch of miserable looking, out of place people and then us two in the middle dying of laughter.  The food was still covering our plates because we couldn’t contain the jokes that that table consumed.  My grandma added to the humor of the scene further when she got up to have another butt, and her scrawny naked looking dog jumped up and bit her in the ass. The sound of that smoky voice complaining didn’t go away for some time after.

That night Meaghan was punished with the job of cleaning out the motor home and figuring out what to do with all the dog shit that covered the once flourishing green yard.  I helped.

The following days consisted of not only growing a bond with Meaghan but also getting comfortable with the idea of having her around.  I found myself waking up early that week and waiting for her to roll out of bed. Once I heard the smack between the screen doors to that motor home, I knew she was awake and I would run outside and greet her with a smile.  It was almost as if I had a little crush on her; she was my new favorite person to be around.  Maybe it was because we shared the same sarcastic sense of humor or it could have been that she made my family from the south not seem so bad. In my eyes, she solely represented that side of my family. I had barely made contact with the others while they were all there.  I felt like I didn’t need to. Meaghan had already pointed out all their flaws to me anyways.

“Tomorrow the rest of our relatives are coming up for a cookout, you know that?” she asked.  I knew something was going on from eavesdropping on my parents, but I never paid enough attention to the details.

“Yeah I heard. Great. I can’t wait,” I responded while chuckling. We were comfortable with each other’s sarcastic tones by now.

“Yeah, you’re telling me.  This is the side of the family I don’t keep in contact with. Hell, your mom doesn’t even keep in touch, and they don’t live that far from here. Have you ever even met them?” she questioned.

I shook my head and said, “Nope, never.  Isn’t it nuts how we all have only seen each other once, if that?  Tomorrow will be the first time we are all together in one place.”

“Yeah, well ain’t that telling you something, our family is a bunch of goons,” Meaghan laughed, “But hey, you seem pretty normal to me.”

“Well ain’t that the truth,” I answered.  We smiled and laughed as we sat upon the piles of stone in our new favorite spot up near the sand pits.

The next morning I was up even earlier than usual. I was somewhat excited to see this whole family in action.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I couldn’t wait to pick apart these quirky relatives of mine with Meaghan and I could tell the day was going to be filled with laughter.

My mom was pleasantly surprised to see me up so early. I had landed myself the morning chore of setting up tables and tents for this party.  Who are we trying to impress.

Around nine we took a breakfast break.  My mom poured my cereal and asked me if I wanted any toast.  As I nodded my head in agreement, she turned and looked at me staring out the window to see if anyone in the motor home was up yet.

“You know your cousin Meaghan is a lesbian right?” She asked.

I dropped the cord that was holding the blind up for me to see outside.  The cord dropped fast and the blinds made a slamming noise as it hit the window sill.

“As in she likes girls,” my mom added, noticing the confusion on my face.

I made a face towards her- the ‘obviously mom’ face.  I acted like I knew exactly what she was talking about.  To be honest, the only association I had with lesbians in my mind was the remarks my parents made when they talked about one of my mom’s co-workers.

“She is such a dike. She makes me sick Nina. That lezbo is not coming over this house anymore,” she would say.

I only heard the conversation once, and that was before I even knew what a lesbian or a dike was.  All I knew was that it was something my parents found to be repulsive.

“Let’s go get everybody up. We need to start cleaning. People are going to be here in two hours,” she said. My mom changed that subject real quick, pretending it didn’t happen.  I tried to do the same.

I didn’t even finish my cereal. I just threw my bowl in the sink still full of Lucky Charms.  I began my way outside but as soon as I saw Meaghan I quickly turned around. I went back inside to make it look as if I had forgotten something, or anything.  I stayed in my room for some time before I built the courage to go back outside.  I got up and headed to the back door and I saw Meaghan through the screen.  She smiled and waved me out.  I didn’t want to go but I forced open the door.

“Where ya been lazy?”  She asked jokingly.

“Um, I just was getting ready,” I replied timidly.

“Oh. Well lets go help grandma, or do you wanna ditch again and go to the sandpits?” she asked, laughing at her own joke.

“I’m just going to go see if my mom needs any help,” I answered and walked away without making eye contact.  I felt her stare behind my back- she knew something was up.  I made it obvious, but I didn’t know what else to do.  As I continued to walk away from her, I felt my heart drop to the pit of my stomach. I had felt like I just slapped her in the face and walked away.

I didn’t talk to Meaghan the rest of the time she was there.  The day she left I waved with a half-smile and she waved back.  She didn’t have the usual lively face however. Her face was duller and more upsetting then I remembered it to be.  That night I walked up to the sand pits and went only half way up. I couldn’t push myself to go to the top of the pile.  As I walked home I realized how pissed off I was at my mother.  Why did she have to ruin my friendship with Meaghan? Then again, maybe I was mad at Meaghan. Why did she have to be different?emily kokansky memoir photo2

As l look back at it now, I realize Meaghan had once shown me that taking risks could result in beautiful views, whereas my mother reassured me that those risks shouldn’t be taken.  However, maybe instead of playing it safe like my mother, I should have taken the risk to embrace the fact that Meaghan was different.  By taking that risk and continuing to be her friend, I am sure I would’ve seen a beautiful view from it, and gained a friendship that perhaps would’ve lasted a lifetime.  She made me see that in one moment of clarity, I wasn’t afraid to climb all the way to the top, and see the beauty in front of me. My one wish in life is that one day I will be able to take that risk again.  Climb to the top, reconnect with Meaghan, and rekindle our beautiful relationship.  I want to be able to take that deep breathe again and feel that bravery.  I want our friendship to go back to the way it was, before I let all my fears get in the way.


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