OCEAN VIEWS


IMG_3683“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini

I just took a walk on the beach – a pretty uncommon occurrence for me in February. Fortunately, I have been swept away to Florida for work for the weekend and had the luxury of spending an hour to take a leisurely walk along the ocean, feeling the sand nestling between my toes and listening to the serene sounds of the smashing waves along the sea shelled shore. I often forget the effects the beach has on me. In fact, while I have known I was coming down here for a few months, I gave no thought to packing a bathing suit or even setting aside time to relax on the beach. I looked for excuses to not do anything relaxing and focus the time away on the work that I am here for and any other work I could sneak in with 2 uninterrupted days to myself. It’s odd when I think about it now – why wouldn’t I have focused on the beach, the pool, the spa or some other indulgences for myself? I am staying at the Ritz Carlton – there is an unending array of options for me to pamper myself and, yet, I focused solely on the amount of work I could accomplish while here. I really did not pack a bathing suit and I kept checking the weather hoping for rain.

Yet, once I got here, I could not escape the majesty of the ocean. From the balcony of my room, I immediately felt ensconced in the warmth of the sea air and calmed by the lull of the ocean tide. Peace and calm took over. As I walked along the ocean today, I marveled at how blissful I was and how my brain so easily shut itself down. Of course, being me, I pondered this and, for the first time in a really, really long time, I did not have much to think about except watching the seagulls and breathing in concert with the waves.

The beach has always been a significant part of my life. Perhaps it is because I am a cancer and, as a water sign, feel very connected to the ocean. Perhaps it is because some of my best memories of childhood took place at the beach. Perhaps it is because you simply cannot be stressed when you sit and watch the ocean and become mesmerized by the ebbs and flows of the tide. The calming that comes over you is difficult to be disrupted. When I was very young, my family spent lots of time in Montauk, NY because my father’s parents owned a home there. After coming over from Italy and settling in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants landed, my grandparents decided to truly move out to the country and settled in what was, at the time, a very undeveloped area – a simple fishing village – at the very tip of Long Island. Back in the 60’s when they retired out there, everyone built little cape cod houses on giant pieces of property that remained untouched. My grandparents carved out a piece of their land to develop a vegetable garden that rivaled some produce farms. They replicated the gardens they had grown up with in Sicily and, from their crops, produced some of the most aromatic, magnificent food I have ever tasted. You could not walk into my grandparents’ home without a pot of gravy on the stove or a fresh pizza in the oven. My little 5′ grandmother Annie could cook up a feast for dozens and managed to smack a few fannies with her wooden spoon as the children ran through her house.

In the days when my parents were still living their idyllic life, we would venture out to Montauk several times a year, especially in the summer, and experience some of the most tranquil moments of my lifetime. My grandfather, who always seemed like a little old Italian man (despite his great height and stature), would bounce me on his lap and play with all his grandchildren as we ran around their spacious front yard or ride our bikes along the gravelly, windy roads in their neighborhood. My grandmother would yell at us in Italian if we even dared to step foot near her garden. I was not a particularly adventurous or disobedient child but, sometimes, the curiosity simply took over and I would go down deep into the property to see what all the fuss was about. It was spectacular. In my lifetime I have never seen such elegant eggplants or bright, luscious tomatoes. There were peppers and cucumbers and cauliflower and broccoli. I never had any interest in the actual vegetables but I was fascinated by the magnitude of it all. I would peek my nose over the small fencing around the garden and, without fail, my grandmother chided me and I quickly dashed off to avoid her wrath.

I remember climbing the dunes only to find the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. After my little body made the climb up the steep sand hills, I would just exhale when I saw the waves breaking. I could not wait to run down and tempt my fate, praying not to get swept under. Needless to say, the tide often pulled me in and I emerged laughing and with a bathing suit filled with wet sand. My mother hated the water and, frankly, hated the idea of putting on a bathing suit even more, so she usually sat under an umbrella watching from a distance, smoking a cigarette or reading a book. She never played in the ocean with us but my father, if he was with us, usually came running in to rescue his kids. It was glorious. It is all still so perfectly vivid in my mind. They are precious moments – a short blink of time – that left such impenetrable marks on my soul. The memories represent bliss, serenity, calm, peace, happiness, joy. I pray that I never lose my memory because these are possessions that I cannot safely lock away in a vault to be pulled out and admired. They exist only in my mind. No photographs, no videos, no one left to talk about it with. They are mine and exist only in me. My grandparents’ house has long since been bulldozed – the property developed by the new inhabitants of Montauk. Now it is filled with wealthy weekenders who have moved past the Hampton’s and, while they love the charm of the upgraded fishing community, still want to have their creature comforts – their McMansions, their gourmet kitchens, their in ground pools.

The last time I went back to Montauk was around 1990. I was single and decided to take a weekend for myself. It was an unusual move for me at the ripe old age of 23. My life was all about my friends, my job, dating and having fun. But the quiet, introverted part of me desperately needed to be alone, to recapture the memories of my childhood, to ponder my reality. It was probably the beginning of my journey right there because it was painful and difficult to find peace on that trip. I was confronted with the realities of my life. The idyllic scene I had so masterfully captured and framed in my mind was now being disrupted by the truth of my life. It was infiltrated by divorce, abuse, death, misery, disconnection. The rays of sunlight that shined in my memories were masked by dark clouds and thunderous noise that did not at all resemble the calm and peaceful waves. Suddenly, I was confronting everything that went wrong. Going back to that joyful place made me sad. It brought me pain. I had a journal and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my sadness onto pages as I sat by the water. I cried. I rode a bike around the village and visited all of my favorite haunts. I went back into White’s Drugstore where I had wandered as a child, buying bubbles, coloring books, postcards to send home to my friends. Everything looked similar but it was all different. I was all different. I was broken and I was first beginning to learn just how broken and was trying to find my way to a repair shop.

I have never been back and, remarkably, have never been there with my husband. I discovered a new happy place with my family – the Jersey Shore. I adopted my husband’s fond memories from his childhood and created new memories with my own family. Our children spent weeks during the summer on Long Beach Island. We take them to Asbury Park. We visited Jenkinson’s Aquarium and played the games on the boardwalk. And, the beach still brings me peace. I still feel the calm. I have managed to push past the sadness of that part of my life and illuminate with the soft glow of distance and understanding. It was just a sliver of my life – just a flicker, a gust of wind – but it also shaped me. It made me who I am today, even if in some small way. I had a glimpse into what life could be and it helped provide me with a simple sketch of what I might want my life to look like. It helped me understand that it is not all bad. Nothing ever is. There is always a silver lining. I am disappointed I don’t have more memories of that family, that house, that beach, that life. Yet, I am grateful it was real, even if just for a split second.

One day I will return to Montauk to try to recall the precious memories with this new mind, with a healed heart. But, for today, I walked on the beach in Florida and succumbed to the pure pleasure that the ocean brings. I was peaceful, I was happy, and I remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

MEMORIES


When I look at my children, I often wonder what they will remember when they grow up. I hope that they are capturing some of the amazing moments of their lives and that they are etched in their brains for all of their lifetimes. However, I fear that the only things that stick are the very highs and the very lows. I fear that every bitter fight my husband and I have had in front of them will be emblazoned in their memories and will surface when they are adults and engaged in their own complicated relationships. I pray that they will also cherish our wonderful family vacations, the nights we sit in our house and laugh at the dinner table and the special times they spend with their friends.

My very first memory is from when I was 4 or 5. I was in my most favorite place on Earth – Montauk, NY – where my father’s parents lived throughout most of my early childhood. They had emigrated from Italy when my father was a young boy and settled in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants ended up in the 20s and 30s. When my father was a young adult, his parents bought property at the Easternmost end of Long Island in a community that was largely unsettled and he, his father and his brother set out to build a charming cape cod where my grandparents would live until their deaths decades later.

In my memory, my family is at the Montauk Motel – a place that we frequently stayed at while out east. My mother did not get along too well with her in-laws and did not enjoy staying at other people’s houses so we often rented rooms at what I would now consider to be a bit of a dive but, at the time, was paradise to me. There was a kidney-shaped pool with a waterfall that sat within a concrete patio and, when we stayed on the second floor of the motel, I would often hang over the edge of the balcony to watch the water cascade down. It was definitely during the summer because we only went there when the weather was warm and my mother, my older brother and I had probably been there for a few days and we were awaiting the other guests who would arrive for the weekend. At the time, my family was still pretty intact and my father would be arriving along with the others on Friday night. We often vacationed with our neighbors – my parents’ best friends, Evie and Billy -and sometimes their adult kids would join us for a visit too. My older sister, who was dating her future husband at the time, would also come out to visit for the weekend and it was simply sublime to have everyone I loved in one place and experience something that I can only equate to being pure happiness. In fact, I believe this memory stands out to me so much because it is the only blissful childhood memory I have.

On this particular day, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my parents’ friends and was standing up on that second floor balcony jumping around like an antsy child is inclined to do. I kept peering over the side of the rail to see if I could find their car pulling into the small parking lot on the side of the building. I ran in and out of our room at least a dozen times asking my mother when they would arrive. She had little patience for my impatience and, in between puffs of her cigarette, told me to go outside and look for them. My brother was off somewhere likely getting into trouble with the friends he made each summer. They would pull pranks on the little kids and I often wondered what type of secret activities were going on behind the motel.

Finally I spotted Evie and Billy’s white Monte Carlo pull into the driveway and could hear the rustling of the pebbles beneath the tires as they parked. I was jumping out of my skin and could not wait to see their faces. Billy, a NYC taxi driver and former butcher, was a bundle of sunshine. He was a jokester who lived to make people laugh. He often talked about how much he enjoyed entertaining the passengers in his cab and shared stories of celebrities he would chat up during their rides. As an adult, whenever I ride in a cab, I often wonder how Billy would fare today with his big moustache, thick Brooklyn accent and wry Jewish humor.

Evie played the straight man to Billy and, while she had a heart filled with love, she struggled to show it as freely as he did. Nonetheless, they were like second parents to me and my heart beamed when I was with them. I spent so much time in their house that they suggested that they should be able to write me off on their taxes. Later in my childhood when my days were very dark and I searched for a safe haven, their house was my sanctuary. Evie was a redheaded beauty and made sure that everyone knew how beautiful she was. Every Friday afternoon I would walk over to the beauty parlor by our house in Queens and watch her get her nails done. She and my mother were so close and so similar in many ways but, unlike my own mother, she had a lot more confidence about her looks and took every opportunity to primp and beautify herself. My mother went to the salon every week to have her hair done but never indulged in such luxuries as a manicure or pedicure. I loved watching Evie get her long beautiful nails polished and lamented as I looked down at my own chewed off nails that I only dreamed would one day be long enough to be manicured. It was one of the many aspects of my personal being that I was embarrassed about as a child. I was a chronic nail-biter – a habit my mother often tried to break me of using a variety of tactics, most unsuccessfully berating me and telling me how ugly my hands looked.

When I saw Evie and Billy make their way to the concrete surround of the pool and head towards the steps to come up to the balcony, I immediately burst into tears. I sobbed like a baby, so filled with emotion to see these two who I loved so much and whom I knew loved me back purely and unconditionally. To this day, this memory assures me that I was capable of feeling deep emotion before I became numb to what was happening around me.

I am often taken back to this memory, especially when I begin to explore the topic of vulnerability because I know, for certain, that I was raw and pure and unfiltered in that moment. I felt safe and secure enough to let my feelings show to these people who I knew, without a doubt, loved me and protected me. As an adult, when I reflect on this, I wonder how anyone could possibly recapture a moment, a feeling as pure as that. I am sure you can but it eludes me.

When I look at my children, I pray that they will be able to feel loved and secure enough to allow themselves to experience raw emotions not just at their tender young ages but throughout their lives. And I fear that life will simply get in their way.