For a long time, from when I was very little and don’t remember years or stories, until I was thirteen, I spent every summer with my grandparents in Thebes. My mothers would have preferred to send me somewhere else, but they didn’t have the money for summer camp, and the free day programs in New York were frightening: this was the scary seventies, when the city was almost bankrupt and you could get attacked with a knife on the Upper West Side in the daytime. But I couldn’t just stay at home, because there was nothing for me to do, and my mothers wanted a vacation from being parents, a job neither of them had ever wanted to turn into a career. The summer was their time to make art, which was what they really did: Celeste was a sculptor and Marie took photographs. So, Thebes. I looked forward to it every year as soon as the trees began to blossom in Riverside Park.
They produced flowers and I produced memories: of the man-made lake with the sandy beach, of the green mountains that rose up on either side of town, the stream, or kill, that ran through the middle of it, the old wooden bridge that crossed the stream, and the cool hollow under the bridge. I remembered the Regenzeit children who lived next door to my grandparents: Kerem and Yesim, pronounced YAY-shum, which were Turkish names because their parents were Turkish although they, the children, had grown up in the U. S. of A. The first days offspring tortured me; the future tied my thought in knots. By the time June came around, I watched my mothers as a hungry dog watches its humans, waiting for the sign that it wartime for me to go. But my mothers were proud. They ran away from Thebes when they were seventeen, and had vowed never to go back; sending me to stay with my grandparents wasn’t breaking their promise, exactly, but it was close, and their way of keeping themselves aloof from this difficult fact was to pretend that it wouldn’t happen.
“I hear they cleaned up the Y,” Marie said one year. “It has a new swimming pool. Maybe you’d like to give it a try?” I told her the story I’d heard at school about a kid who went into that pool and didn’t come out again. “Hm,” Marie said, and the Y took its place again at the end of the alphabet. School ended and the real hot weather came. The windows were always open; our living room became a big, dusty receiver for the dramas broadcast from the street. The Celestes sprawled in side-by-side chairs in front of the electric fan, waiting for it to be night. They talked about the opening they’d gone to in SoHo, the artist who’d got the show by sleeping with the dealer, the writer who’d written about the show but didn’t know what the word lacuna meant. Just when I thought they had forgotten about me completely, suddenly they turned to each other, their mirror-faces wrinkled by mirror-frowns, and one said to the other, “Don’t you think it’s time to send him to Thebes?”