We Are Okay(56)

By: Nina Lacour

She wipes tears off my face but more rush after.

“Say yes,” she says.

She presses her mouth to my cheek, and my heart swells, my chest aches.

“Say yes.”

She smooths my hair behind my ear, away from my wet face. I can’t stop crying. This is more than a room with my name on a door. More than glasses of water out of their kitchen sink.

She pulls me close to her, until I’m smaller than I knew I could be. Until I fit against her chest, my head nestled where her neck meets her shoulder, and I gasp because I remember something.

I thought that Ocean Beach would do it or maybe the pink shells or the staring at her photograph. I thought that one of these things, one day, might help me remember.

But it happens now, instead.

My mother’s salty hair, her strong arms, her lips against the top of my head. Not the sound of her voice, not her words, but the feeling of her singing, the vibrations of her throat against my face.

“Say yes,” Ana says.

My tiny hand clutching a yellow shirt.

The sand and the sun.

Her hair like a curtain, keeping me shaded.

Her smile when she looked at me, burning with love.

It’s all I remember, and it’s everything.

I’m still gasping. I’m holding Ana tight. If she lets go, the memory might go with her. But she holds me close for a very long time, and then she takes my face between her hands and says, “Say yes.”

The memory is still here. I can still feel it.

And I have yet another chance, and I take it.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes.”

We were on a beach and the sun was bright and I was in my mother’s arms. She was singing to me. I can’t hear the song, but I can hear the tone of her voice; and when the singing stopped, she rested her face on my head. The whole world was out there. Honeybees and deciduous trees. Swimming pools and grocery stores. Men with vacant eyes, bells on diner doors, motels so bleak and lonely they settle in your bones. Mabel and Ana and the man Gramps would become or perhaps was already. Each someday and each kiss. Each specific kind of heartbreak. The whole world was out there, but I was in my mother’s arms, and I didn’t know it yet.


A few months after my grandfather died, in a time when I cried at every thought of him, my wife, Kristyn, said, I have a story idea for you. What if you write about a girl who lives near Ocean Beach with her grandfather? The idea stayed with me. On the one-year anniversary of his death, our daughter, Juliet, was born. Then, in the early summer when she was an infant, I took a walk by myself to our local café and suddenly the voices of Marin, Mabel, and Gramps all came to me in snippets of dialogue and Marin’s broken longing. I think Kristyn had a different kind of story in mind, because the love my grandfather and I shared was uncomplicated, and with the exception of his penchant for cracking jokes and playing cards, he had little in common with Gramps. But I wrote the novel during a time of upheaval and disillusionment that was in stark contrast to the aching and magical love of our new family, and this book is the culmination of all of that. Kristyn, thank you for the seeds of this story, and for your fierce and unwavering love. And to my kind and curious and wild Juliet, thank you for making me the person who could write this novel.

I send heartfelt thanks to my writing group—Laura Davis, Teresa Miller, and Carly Anne West—who assured me from the beginning that, despite my fears, this book didn’t consist only of making food and washing bowls. Thank you to Jules LaCour for his help with the Spanish and Adi Alsaid for sharing his cultural knowledge. Thank you to Jessica Jacobs, my original critique partner, for the invaluable final read, and to Amanda Krampf for the thousands of conversations along the way.

To my Penguin family, by the time this novel comes out, it will be ten glorious years that we’ve been together. Thank you to Julie Strauss-Gabel for, among many other things, the gift of that long discussion over lunch in San Francisco, during which you helped me (yet again) to unearth the heart of my story and to believe it was enough. Here’s to many more books together. My huge and everlasting gratitude to the Dutton team: Melissa Faulner, Rosanne Lauer, Anna Booth, and Anne Heausler; the designers who gave this story such a beautiful package: Samira Iravani and Theresa Evangelista; and my incredible publicist Elyse Marshall. And thank you to all of you who, now that this book is finished, are making sure it finds a place in bookstores and libraries and schools and the Internet. You make magic.

Sara Crowe, I’m so fortunate to have you by my side. Thank you for all you do.

Finally, to my family and friends, I’m grateful for each one of you.