Rockport, Massachusetts was never a real place for me or my family, though we went there every year. My father drove up from New York for long weekends before he met my mother, they drove up there together from New Jersey the day after their wedding, I wore out my first shoes learning to walk on one of its beaches. By the time I was a teenager I had decided I would move there as soon as I could, that I would have an apartment in one of the old houses and my studio would have a wall of windows looking out to sea. But it wasn't a real place, complicated by every day life, knotted up with disappointment and peer pressure and cramming for the SATs - it was a place to be away from all of that. It was a measure, a way to gauge the changes between one summer to the next one. And it was heightened not just by its beauty and light but by the fact that it was not at all like the every day, it was a place that made my head spin with my need to be there, sitting on the rocks at the edge of the ocean, and not back in the near past or the anxious future.
But Rockport, Massachusetts is a real town, though devoted to tourism - you must have seen, at some point, a postcard or a dish towel with the red fishing shack printed on it - it's a real place for everyone who isn't a day tripper or a long weekender. I didn't go to live there and have a complicated routined life anywhere near it, it never became a normal place for me. And when I went back last week after the longest stretch of time between, the first time without my Dad there, setting up his easel on Bass Rocks, it remained a place that I compared my past to, measured my progress, acknowledged glaring changes, though even more so. Much more so.