“Oh my G-d, look at those flowers. Just beautiful. And that house. It used to owned by Mr. ____, he ran _____ Corporation. There’s no place like this anywhere. It’s so special.”
That was my mother talking yesterday as we drove around the downtown part of Nantucket Island where my family has spent summers since the 1960s.
I have had a long love-hate affair with the island since I was a child. Yes, it is beautiful, charming, unique, and special. Yes, it also a place of privilege, snobbery, and exclusivity.
As a young child who would be gay, I felt that I did not belong in Nantucket. I was not waspy, blond, beautiful, and fit. I hated sports and did not fit in boy culture. There are breezy, handsome, fit-looking young men on Nantucket that looked plucked right out of the pages of Brooks Brothers and Abercrombie & Fitch.
What makes it hard, even today, is that my parents were never able to understand or see the isolation and loneliness I felt on Nantucket. They were never able to understand how money can hurt people and damage their lives. They were people who fit easily into the world of Nantucket and felt at home here. How could money, in their eyes, not make life better. Why should you feel isolated or hurt by money? They just couldn’t see it.
I remember many years ago when my youngest sister was in her late twenties and early thirties, I begged my father to stop giving her money and to let her try and make it on her own. Dad simply could not see how money was hurting my sister’s life. He could not see that the constant flow of money to his youngest daughter, at a time when she should have been learning to become financially independent, crippled her, hurt her self esteem, hurt her feelings of self-worth. And so the money kept flowing until she was in her fifties.
I remember my mother’s inability to understand her sister’s anger when my mother had been so generous with her. My aunt, who barely worked, was supported by her sister with money to live on for most of her adult life. No one likes to be a subject of the queen. My aunt felt entitled to a certain standard of living but hated my mother and father for their success in life and the fact that she was beholden to them to live. When I tried to explain this to my mother, she simply could not see it.
Another memory from years ago when my grandmother and aunt were alive. I remember driving them around Palm Beach, Florida, and down A1A to Delray Beach. They would oooh and Ahhh at each massive house, one more grand and beautiful than the last. I can hear my aunt yelling, “Mother! Mother! Quick look. Isn’t that gorgeous.” and my grandmother would dutifully reply, “Yes, just gorgeous.” This narrative would be repeated block after block. I would sit behind the drivers wheel quiet, simply not caring. I was turned off by the sheer excess and scale of the massive houses. I was turned off by the blatant display of money.
I feel the same way yesterday driving around Nantucket. I simply do not care about beautiful houses and magnificent flowers. Spending time in Nantucket for me tends to bring up all the old feelings of not fitting in, not being beautiful enough; not being physically fit enough; not having that breezy casual air of money; of being an outsider to this beautiful place, even though I have spent from a few days to a few weeks here every summer since I was a small child.
Each time I visit the island for any length of time I tell myself that I won’t be back again. But family draws me back as this is a place where my family gathers.