Photo by Tony Pacitti

It was the perfect sort of August day that you don’t really get in Rhode Island. That sticky, soul sucking humidity that defines New England’s deepest dog days had lifted, and the haze-free, endless blue sky hosted just a handful of picture perfect puffy white clouds, like you might find in the background of a cartoon. My wife, Sondra, and I were crossing items off of our end of summer to-do list. First up was one of hers: to get a lobster roll – not the cold kind made with mayo but the hot kind tossed in drawn butter – from a quintessential New England clam shack, the kind of place that still only took cash and had a parking lot paved with crushed seashells. The hope was that with any luck it would be the last lobster roll she would be able to eat for a while. The next day she was scheduled for an embryo transfer, her third – our third – since resorting to IVF after five years of unsuccessfully starting our family.

She got her lobster roll, plus a clam cake and a cup of chowder, though she had to concede on the crushed seashell parking lot and settle for gravel. From there we moved on to the next item on her list: wandering the ruins of Rocky Point Park.

Rocky Point had been an amusement park long before either of us had expatriated to Rhode Island from Massachusetts, our native commonwealth to the north. If the wistful recollections of friends who had grown up here were to be believed it had really been something. The Corkscrew, The Skyliner, The Log Flume; I never actually laid eyes on any of them, but I’d grown up close enough to Canobie Lake Park to get the idea. What always got my ears to perk  up was when friends talked about seeing The Pixies and Pearl Jam and The Ramones at Rocky Point’s Palladium. I couldn’t be nostalgic for something I’d never been to, but I could be jealous.

To call what’s left of Rocky Point “ruins” is a bit of an overstatement. Some of what’s left has slipped into ruins, but other parts, like the Corkscrew, had been disassembled and auctioned off. It’s not as if the skeletons of once-thundering rides and fried dough stands dot the landscape like the set of a post apocalyptic movie; it’s just a simple state park, a gentle rolling green traced by walking paths along Warwick’s coastline, the thrilled screams of visitors and the whooshing clatter of roller coaster carts long since replaced by the huff of Atlantic winds and the churn of its blue-gray waters. The pieces that remain are more curated ruins: A great white arch, the cables and pulley columns of the Skyliner, some old concrete structures that have been tagged and retagged over the course of countless nights and illicit gatherings where they hadn’t been reclaimed by the elements.

I can’t say I felt nothing for the park and all of its lost-but-not-forgotten glory, but I didn’t feel what a local might have felt, and after more than a decade of living in Rhode Island if I knew anything it was that I would never be a local. To claim the state’s quirks, which are many and often vexing, one must be born here. Those quirks cannot be adopted or affected, they can merely be observed, documented, and puzzled over. However, those quirks would belong to our children maybe, if we ever actually had them. Coffee milk, hot wieners, the deathless resentment for a video game studio that went belly up a decade ago; all of it would be theirs by birthright.

What I did feel as we strolled the walking paths was a familiar sadness. How many people had come here when they were young and imagined sharing it with their own kids someday, only for the rides to stop and for it all to succumb to the changing whims of taste and The Times? It had been a place of ritual once: that annual trip when family from out of town would come to visit, fist fights and first kisses. Consider the lingering psychic echoes of teenage rites of passage alone! But it’s all gone now. A generation was robbed of another torch to pass. The currency of memory might still be handed down, but it can no longer be exchanged for experience.

This was a familiar sadness because I had been thinking a lot about the plans we make for the assumed futures we take for granted and what happens when those plans don’t play out the way we expected them to. Or at all. I’d been thinking a lot about mourning the loss of an idea.

After years of infertility it was hard not to.

Consider the artifacts of my youth that I had refused to let go of – a box of comic books, my CD collection, childhood toys rescued from my parents’ attic before they sold the house I grew up in.  I finally asked myself why I’d held on to it all for so long. The answer was a feeling, that sense of discovery I remembered so vividly from when I would stumble upon my dad’s treasure hoard of old things. His Lord of the Rings calendars full of lush, painted scenes from Tolkein’s epic; musty Conan the Barbarian paperbacks adorned with gnarly Frank Frazetta covers; Beatles and Rolling Stones cassettes whose scuffed and paint-splattered cases marked their years as the soundtrack to Dad’s countless home improvement projects.

Like my dad’s treasure hoard, the things that I carried from one apartment to another were meant to be discovered by the children I’d long hoped for. They were dormant gateways, waiting for a kid’s curiosity to activate them. They were shareable pieces of the father I wasn’t yet, things I hadn’t made but that had helped make me. I held on to them because of a super secret hope, a deep down dream, that once those gateways were open and humming, they would connect me and my child to worlds we could share and explore together.

But there we were, teetering on the edge of thirty-five – the land of geriatric pregnancy! – and still reaching desperately for the children we hadn’t had yet. Our small home in a suburb just outside of Providence felt enormous, our lives emptier than they may have actually been because something expected, something taken for granted, was missing. All of that stuff in those boxes seemed less and less likely to be passed on, and more like Rocky Point’s torn down tilt-a-whirls and pulped log rides by the day, not objects to be inherited but ghosts to be haunted by. Yet I kept it all, preferring its theoretical discovery by someone I was beginning to doubt I’d ever meet to the thought of throwing it all away. Discarding it would have been admitting defeat, like manifesting the finality that I had started to feel like a thoughtless, wordless ache but wasn’t ready to reckon with.

But for Sondra, who still believed in her bones that it was only a matter of time before the tips of her fingers found the child she knew was out there waiting in the dark our future, I tried to enjoy the day, even as we walked through the ghosts of other people’s happy memories and the fading echoes of a Rocky Point that could never be shared again.


The next day we drove back to the fertility clinic in Massachusetts, where our fourth and fifth “best” embryos were transferred into Sondra’s uterus. The following April, after years of pining, false starts, and heartache, our twin sons were born.


Our sons are four now, and our lives and the world at large were not the ones we had thought we would be bringing them into. They were born at the bleeding dawn of the Covid pandemic, and a week later Sondra exhibited the first frightening signs of postpartum psychosis. She was unmoored from our reality and became suicidal, and ended up spending almost forty days in a psychiatric facility. Her treatment saved her life but it ravaged her short term memory. She has virtually no memory of the first six months of motherhood, but she remembers our trip to Rocky Point the day before the seeds of our family finally took root.

We’ve since moved into a new house that better suits the four of us. While packing to move I found myself almost allergic to sentimentality. Not only was I surrounded by my eight years’ worth of our accumulated flotsam and jetsam, but those artifacts of my youth that I had dragged along with me. None of it seemed to carry the significance it once had. I sold off most of my comics for beer money and a chunk of the cost for movers, and the toys I had saved from my parents attic were culled of broken X-Wings and anything that failed to meet the moment’s ambiguously defined criteria. It was a real slash and burn operation; if I didn’t feel something, if a little voice didn’t tell me to keep it, I let it go.

Part of that new aversion to nostalgia was the fact that we were packing for four, but really it was the circumstances under which I became a father that had me clearing physical and mental space of things that no longer mattered as much as I once told myself they did. The past was behind us, and between living through a pandemic and psychosis, the future suddenly seemed more tenuous. I spent so much of my life taking the concept of tomorrow for granted and clinging to more care-free comforts of my younger years. The time for reminiscing and hoping had given way to the time for doing. Besides, there will always be a way to share those things with my boys, or better yet there will always be an avenue for them to discover them on their own. After all, casual exposure seems to have already made them Metallica fans.

Even though the new home we moved into is across the Bay, Rocky Point is still a favorite way for us to spend a Sunday. For those of you outside of Rhode Island who may not be stumbling towards your fainting couch, crossing the bay to go for a walk in Warwick is on par with a six-hour interstate jaunt for a pack of gum.

While older, “from here” Rhode Islanders feel the presence of the absent rides and games like old ghosts, my boys feel nothing but joy as they run over the empty, grassy fields, free of the burden of knowing what it used to be and what, some wish, it should be still. They like looking at the boats on the water. They’re excited by the rolling hills and the strange pieces of metal and graffitied concrete that dot the landscape. Sometimes they get to pet a dog. Max loves “doggy licks,” Ren does not. Dogs, like a lot in life for a toddler, are exciting and terrifying in equal parts.

Parenthood is similar in that way, an absolute joy and an unbelievable stress, as delightful as it is exhausting. So is being a partner to someone who survived something like Sondra did. Days will go by without me thinking about what she went through before a reminder sneaks up on me, and all at once I’ll be overwhelmed by guilt and shame for having let my guard down. Even though she’s fine. Even though she’s been fine.

I watch Ren and Max run after dandelions or squeal at an old tennis ball they found. They slip and tumble down shallow slopes, and even sometimes inexplicably up them as well. They make a beeline towards “The Big A,” which is just that white-painted metal arch that they love because of how strange it is. They don’t need to know that it came from an old World’s Fair exhibit. They don’t know or care about what that even means. For them it’s just a strange thing in a place that was already brimming with excitement just by being there; it is a place neither enhanced nor diminished by its history, it just is. Where a life-long, adult Rhode Islander sees all that’s missing, my boys see magic.

I think I’m ready for some magic.

Tony Pacitti is a writer living outside of Providence, RI with his wife and their twin sons. His work has appeared in local print and online publications, including Rhode Island Monthly, Insider, and Hilobrow. When he isn’t writing or playing LEGO with his kids, he can be found fine tuning his homebrew tabletop game. Learn more about Tony at