After spending most of our thirties making babies, building my husband’s career, moving too many times, digging ourselves into and out of debt, exhausting our free time catching up or gearing up, all in a sleep-deprived daze, we woke up two years into our move to the Midwest to find my husband acutely homesick and me with a dusty, unsold novel and us with no social life to speak of.
So my husband found a place way up north that reminded him of New England and I pulled that old novel out of the drawer and decided to give it a serious once over and in between disciplining myself to write again and caring for the kids, I went looking for some friends for us. It isn’t easy making friends when you’re middle-aged. I’m talking about real friends, not just the ones you have because you or your husband works with them or they happen to be the parents of your kids’ friends. But with some concerted effort I found some girlfriends I could let loose and laugh with and my husband found a couple of guys he liked to hang with and next thing I knew my husband suggested we throw an old fashioned New England Lobster Fest up north on Labor Day weekend.
I liked the idea, but by then the writing had taken hold of me again and I was just starting to make headway in my revisions, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be distracted by a party. But my husband assured me we’d do it together with help from our friends. I was skeptical (since every other party we’d ever thrown had always ended up my baby) but I could see how much he wanted this, so I agreed.
We planned it with our friend “Thomas” who had once owned a specialty food shop and loved all things food and “Martha,” a fearless athlete, always up for fun. The plan was we would each invite a few families and we’d have live lobsters and chowder flown in from Maine and fresh corn and half a dozen assorted salads and roasted potatoes and rolls from the best bakery in Ashland and brownies and s’mores and the next morning pancakes and grits (Thomas was from Virginia) and eggs and bacon and bagels and lox and tons of fresh fruit. And in between the food, there would be a family fun triathlon: Run, bike, kayak. And every afternoon I would lead Bikram yoga in the field. This all took weeks of planning; the menu, the shopping, the flyers that detailed the activities and directions.
In the meantime, I was completely immersed in my revisions, so when my husband said he wanted to leave a couple of days early for the weekend, I told him I wasn’t ready to go and I would hitch a ride with another friend “Rachel” on Saturday. This was an uncharacteristic and huge assertion for me and he was a little taken aback and hesitant to go up and get the party started without me, but he did and he left Wednesday morning with Thomas and the kids.
I pulled up to our place on Friday night (a little later than expected) to find my husband and Thomas in chef’s hats, tossing lobsters into a giant cauldron suspended over a roaring flame, the entire yard dotted with people, tents lining the perimeter, children romping in the yard. All weekend long people ate and drank and swam and ran and biked and kayaked and cliff jumped and did yoga in the field and stayed up half the night talking around the bonfire. It was a bit surreal and I was astonished; that I’d asserted myself, that we’d thrown a party without me feeling responsible for every little detail, that we had so many friends, that we’d managed to merge our worlds so seamlessly.
The weekend was such a smashing success that word spread through The Village (it’s really a neighborhood but everyone calls it “The Village”) and soon after we arrived home, there was already talk of the next Lobster Fest.
By that winter, I was even more involved in my writing. I had completed my revision and applied to Sewanee, started racking up more short story publications and was looking for an agent. While I agreed it was a great party, I told my husband I didn’t have the energy to devote to planning the party that year. My husband said, no problem. He and Thomas would do the whole thing and all I had to do was show up. I was a little nervous with that concept, but I thought that was very supportive of him and I didn’t have time to worry too much about it.
That summer, I arrived home from Sewanee feeling more sure of myself as a writer than ever and I landed an agent and while I polished my manuscript for a just after Labor Day submission and prepared myself mentally for my imminent launch, Thomas and my husband polished the party plans. This year was going to be bigger and better, more food, more activities, commemorative t-shirts. They had planned such a big weekend that as it drew near, they worried there might not be enough people to enjoy it, so at the last minute we all started randomly inviting people from The Village who were more than eager to come to the Famous Lobster Fest.
I arrived with Mike and the kids to Thomas already in the house, the kitchen buried in food and wine and beer and Lobster paraphernalia (bibs and crackers and picks), the yard swarming with people I barely knew, setting up tents and pop-up trailers. Before I even put my stuff down, someone yelled out, “Hey Gail, could you find us a tweezers? I have a splinter.” And so it went, all day. People asking us to find them extra sunglasses and band-aids and a charger for their cell phone, to outfit them with paddles and life vests and launch them into the water. My husband went to pick up the lobsters with Thomas and I went to town to buy band-aids and when we returned, we found the grown-ups left behind to supervise, chugging Mike’s Hard Lemonade by the edge of the water, not noticing our kayak paddles and life preservers and their bottles floating away in the water.
By nightfall the drinking had swept the land, my husband and Thomas so stressed by the turn of events, joined in, too. They stood over the cauldron as lobsters boiled over and corn burned and potatoes were lost in the bottom of the coals and while our core group of “real” friends tried to stay strong, forces beyond our control had taken hold of The Lobster Fest and they simply retreated in defeat. And the drinking continued (of course I was drinking NOTHING, nervously trying to keep my eye on the kids and the water and the fire). By midnight, the children were in their tents finally trying to fall sleep and Thomas now so drunk that he was staggering, drove his car into the middle of the field and turned on the CD player, full blast.
I walked over to him, slumped in the driver’s seat, and said, “The kids are trying to sleep.”
“What kids?” he said.
I pointed to the tents. “All the kids.”
He turned up the music louder and slapped his palm over the volume control.
“Turn off the music,” I said. “It’s too late.”
“I’m NOT turning it down,” he said. “And you’re acting like someone from… Connecticut.”
I reached around him and turned off the music and he turned it right back on.
I was furious as I stomped back through the field to find my husband, the music blaring, the clinking of bottles, the manic roar of drunken laughter. Whose house, whose life, whose energy is this? I wondered. Then I stopped a moment and stood in the middle of my yard and thought, how ironic, that the year I’m starting to recognize myself professionally, I don’t recognize my life personally. Not to mention I was puzzled and irked by that Connecticut comment. He was from Virginia. Had he ever been to Connecticut? What did that mean?
I found my husband doing whiskey shots with some other men I hardly knew and they all chuckled and after some coaxing, he managed to get Thomas to turn the CD player off and several annoying hours later they all stumbled to bed. The next morning, most people hung over, only a handful of us participated in the race, and Thomas, still belligerent, insisted he was The Master Chef and the breakfast food was either undercooked or overcooked and went to waste and we packed up and on the way home I told my husband I never wanted to have a Frat Party Gone Wild again. Ever.
That party traumatized us so much, the following summer we decided to skip the Lobster Fest and even though I forgave Thomas, we fell out of touch with him.
My agent didn’t sell my book and I wrote another one she didn’t like about a woman who finds a lump in her breast and wonders if she’s lived the life she meant to live and my career didn’t take off like I expected and at my yearly mammogram they found a suspicious area and I was diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer.
As we approached the summer just months after my surgery, my husband very gingerly brought up The Lobster Fest, saying, “I know you’re probably not up for it…”
“Let’s do it,” I said, surprising even myself, but thinking this was the year to right the things that had wronged me, to do everything I meant to do. “But smaller,” I said. “No race. Just our closest friends and family.”
And we did it and everyone brought food to share and pitched in and I floated through the weekend in my post-surgical daze, giddily grateful for air and water and love: The green green fields, the sky so blue, my family and friends who had rallied around me in my darkest hours.
This summer there was no question we would have The Lobster Fest and it was pretty much like last year, only better: Me feeling stronger and slightly less frantic about my health, my career finally launching, my marriage and my mothering weathering the uncertainty my scare instigated. And every day could hardly have been more glorious: The sun, the wind, the water in flawless collusion and everyone frolicking from lake to land and back again, eating and laughing and the little dipper watching over us as we lounged around the bonfire on old sofas, rehashing the story of The Lobster Fest Gone Mad, also known as The Mike’s Hard Lemonade Year and no one answering the question still gnawing at me: “What did he mean by that Connecticut comment?”