August anchoring

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 9.24.25 PMI am over summer. August feels heavy and long and slow; my office is empty, the park on weekends is empty; there are open parking spots on my block smack in the middle of a Saturday. I used to be one of those people who left during the summers. Pre-husband, pre-baby, I'd pack a light bag and be off from Friday night to Monday morning. My parents' pool; my grandmother's house on the beach; a weekend share in Fire Island with friends. Weeks in San Francisco, in London. Lying in the sun, the radio humming in the background, watching the dragonflies land on still water, daydreaming.

Someone said that summer ends on the 4th of July and I hate that that's true. Summer is mostly about anticipation, now. The bathing suit shopping and the beach house coordinating and the flip flop purchasing and the summer reading lists. By now, we've all already read or discarded our summer reading. We've moved on to fall releases.

So August is a murky in-between, and we all know I have never been good with in-betweens.

Every year, to anchor myself in the month, I start planning for fall. Soon we'll take an autumn anniversary trip -- the first time I'll spend a night away from my baby. (Gulp.) Soon we'll send out invitations for our girl's first birthday party. Soon I'll be buying a fancy dress for a dear friend's black-tie wedding; soon I'll be visiting open houses. Soon it will be Christmas and a new year and a whole new winter, where I'll start planning for summer.

Summer rentals

Screen shot 2015-04-08 at 12.11.38 PMWe lived in a pink house that summer. The top floor of a two-story rental, the deck was so rickety we would have "deck counts" every time we had company over. I'd open the screen door and ask, how many of you are out here? and then listen for the numbers echoing back in the starlight. Five was the limit, and even that was pushing it. We laughed and rolled our eyes at our paranoia, but at the end of that summer, the deck of a similar house up the island collapsed, so the risk was real. (A decade later I'd meet a friend who actually did experience a collapsing deck, this one at her college rental house in Michigan. She broke her leg. A newspaper article about it is still her first hit on Google.)

We were 19 and 21; carefree workhorses; young enough to work two jobs each day -- 10am to 4pm, then 4:30pm to close at another place -- and still find time for parties and bars and midnight beach gatherings. I eschewed the sun that year, for some reason; white as a ghost, I'd sneer at the tourists with their tan lines as I rang up their tee shirts and jewelry, their island trinkets. I was jealous, though. What good was living in a pink house on the beach if I was always stuck inside working?

I've never been a fan of springtime, but now I am craving the warmth and the light. Today, though, is gloomy. When my baby and I walked through the house on our regular morning routine she didn't have to squint her eyes when I pulled back the curtain and opened the blinds; the moon was still out and the sun was filtered through too many clouds. She looked confused. Where was the brightness? Was it really daytime? I kissed her plump face -- cheeks for days, that girl -- and assured her it was.

The pink house is gone now. A few years back they finally knocked it down, rebuilt it, like so many things on the island after Hurricane Sandy. Someday I'll walk my little girl past it. The sun will be on our backs, pounding, prodding us along the street. We'll be holding hands and squinting at the brightness. Look, I'll tell her. Mama lived there for a summer, just one, and managed to not collapse.


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At the beach

She would kill me if she knew this was on the internet. On Tuesday it stormed, bursts of rain landing on the dirty carpets, so strong we had to close the windows. We watched "Sweet Home Alabama" and made cocktails (mocktails for me) and squeezed onto the L-shaped couch, the perfect size for the six of us. This year's house liked to sway in the wind, even when there was very little of it--it's on stilts, it's normal, we're told--and as we rocked I was surprised at how many lines from the film I could quote from memory. I didn't think I'd seen it that often.

On our last full day I lay in bed a while, listening. There was a sharp breeze coming in the window next to me, a perfect beach wind, the kind you don't get on the mainland. Everyone else was up but they left me alone in my room and I felt that wind and thought about how the island is in my bones and blood, my genealogy. It's in my skin, too. Literally. On my first day of vacation I got two splinters in my palm from the deck chair; one so tiny I left it, hoping it'd work its way out. Ten days later it's still here, a beauty mark reminder of my vacation. A freckle, embedded.

One night after dinner my friends went to the local bar, an old favorite, but at six months pregnant I knew the bar stools would hurt so I visited my grandmother on her front porch; the house I grew up in, watching that special kind of island darkness fall over us. New York is never dark. I drink it in. Dark is important sometimes.

We rocked in our chairs and just watched. Earlier this summer we unearthed boxes of old photos in the attic and went through them, Instagramming the best ones, finding a sense of unexpected pride in my grandmother in her bathing suit, tan long legs, hair perfectly waved over her eyebrow. My family; the faces I'll never know but that kind of look like me. For every sepia woman we didn't recognize my grandmother would say, "Oh, that was probably one of my brother's girlfriends. He had a lot of them." And we would laugh and I would secretly be glad, because that's like my own brother, a guy who is never without a serious relationship; the antithesis of me before slipping into a marriage I now can't imagine my life without.

Later, when my friends were still at the bar but it was time for me to go, my mom drove me back to my rental. We took a detour to the south end of the island, looking through the knotty pines at the abandoned train station, dark and obviously haunted, and at her new favorite house on the bay, the one that seems too big for its lot. The streets there are wide, empty. Quiet.

This is what I always forget about when I'm not here: the space. There's so much of it for the taking.



994623_10151909679348428_1313082205_nThere's something both kitschy and sad about a Jersey boardwalk, but also comforting. Especially in September, when the crowds have gone but the sun still lingers, and you're with your friends for the weekend in a gorgeous house your sister's father-in-law owns, and everyone is taking care of you, and the weather is perfect, and you watch a wedding take place on the beach, and you chuckle and think you made the right decision by sticking to the city for your own wedding. And then you forget all about it when a dead dolphin washes ashore, and your thoughts change to the impermanence of this all, to how sinkholes can swallow towns in Louisiana and new islands can appear after Pakistani earthquakes, and then you circle back to the reason you're getting married to begin with, which is, at its core, an attempt to forge something permanent in a place so temporary, so ever-shifting.

We indulged all weekend. A lot. But I feel greedily at peace with it all -- the 11am cocktails, the double cupcakes. So much cheese, so much pizza. The lounging, the laughter. My whole body has felt light and fluid since then. I came home overwhelmed; too much friendship, too much love, too much grace. Our house is a mess -- boxes everywhere, bags and bags of books (decoration for the wedding). There's still so much to do, only not really, just some stuff that needs to be wrapped up, and I've reached the point anyway where I don't care. The details don't matter anymore. All the important stuff is done. All the love has surfaced.


Worrying is a way of life

There's a photo taken of me from two summers ago, standing in tree pose on a ledge overlooking the southernmost tip of Long Beach Island; a 20-foot drop to a rocky bottom. The late August sun burned into my shoulders. We had driven down to the end of the island just to show off the view to our friends -- a faraway Atlantic City skyline -- and to dance in a different ocean for a few moments. I saw my opportunity, eager for an audience, and stepped up; a one-legged balancing act, looking out to the sea. I inherited the panic gene from my mother, who wears it like a bracelet, jingling with every flick of her wrist. And I've come to terms with it -- the tingle in the stomach, the train of adrenaline that rushes by and pools in my fingers. So at odd moments - the breath before sleep, the split second before the phone rings -- I find myself always back on that ledge, considering the drop, remembering the sun, squinting my eyes. What a foolish act, I think, getting up on there and standing like a tree, breathing in deep, trying to find an om somewhere on the ocean. What if my balance had been off that day? What if a gust of wind, a rogue wave, had taken up more space than I had accounted for? How much damage could have been done?

Worry is a funny friend. I can laugh at some of the things that used to pinch my insides with fear now, years after the fact, but there's a danger in cockiness. Just when you think you have both shoes in the ground, a third one comes falling out of the sky. So I've learned to like my panic, or appreciate it, at least; a little anxiety is preferable to a fall over a ledge, to a broken bone, to a gun pointed at your stomach in a foreign country.


A crazy experiment

0In Miami, it's all neon lights and scooters, waking me up with her electric blue flashes and small engines. The clouds move in at midday, every day, just in time for a lunch I'm too stuffed to eat. The Art Deco district feels reminiscent of someplace I've never been, like maybe Cuba; at the beach, our sunblock doesn't work and seemingly everyone smokes. On the horizon of the ocean are massive, iron-and-slate fortresses that move slowly from left to right and right to left; languid sailboats with white sails that run too close to the shore for my liking. Oh, and the cruise ships; always the cruise ships, docked and departing and embarking and moving. It's not the beach view I am used to. Here, I can't imagine what's across the water the way I can at home. There, I picture Ireland, geographically impossible Ireland, a holdover from when I was bad with maps.

(I am still bad at maps.)

0-1We took a tiny commuter plane home, flying over the barrier islands where I unsuccessfully looked for surfers. I had just finished reading a Hurricane Sandy article in the New Yorker, during which I cried, and I wondered which islands below us would be next, which blocks of Miami would eventually be underwater, how will we all deal with those inevitabilities.

Here's a crazy experiment, though: go on vacation and turn off your phone. Try to retrain your brain so that when there's a moment of silence at lunch, or you're waiting in line for your iced coffee, instead of reaching into your pocket to see if anyone new has tweeted at you, just look around. Just see things you didn't think to notice before. Just be.

V is for

The best part of going on vacation is that you get to pull out your summer dresses and wedges, those bright colors and patterns that make the sun seem to glitter and burn even when there's still melting snow outside your window. Mid-week I had a moment, a familiar one, where the world halted in front of me asking for favors when I had none to give. But these things always seem to work themselves out, and someone told me, "Why don't we just see how things go," and she was right and my anxieties cleared away. By end-of-day Friday, riding high from an uber-productive week, my tides had finally shifted.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that I'm on vacation. On Monday I'm turning off my phone. I won't be writing. I'm buying magazines at the airport, ones about celebrities and weddings and clothes, and I won't be embarrassed. I won't be reading your tweets or liking your photos. (My apologies in advance!)

I do need some books to read, though. Suggestions welcome!



There are risks no matter where you live, and this week I'm thinking about my island hometown, which is currently underwater. Living on the sea is always a gamble. Today, on LBI, the bay has met the ocean. It's not the first time and it won't be the last, but it always breaks off something inside me. When I was in middle school a(nother) big storm hit my town. My family lived on the lagoon for a few years, in a rental on a quiet street way at the edge of town, where you could see the Atlantic City casino skyline on clear days. We watched the water breach the lagoons, creeping up our backyard. We were so busy watching the back I think we forgot to watch the front, where the water surprised us, dribbling under the storm door, turning into a river.

About six or so inches came in that day. I remember leaving for higher ground -- our neighbor, just a few houses down, wasn't flooded, so we hung with her, eating weird canned soup with a metallic aftertaste and trying to keep ourselves occupied. We lost photos, but nothing else irreplacable.

A few years later, the island flooded again and lost power. I was at my summer job at Fantasy Island. We all got to leave and I joined the gang of 14-year-olds tramping through thigh-high water to the 7-11 where we could get Slurpees, because priorities. That day felt wild and free; it felt like being 14.

Now my grandmother has left our island home; my parents on the mainland have been evacuated, and people are tweeting pictures of my beloved hometown streets -- the mini golf courses, the closed seasonal shops, the restaurants and dunes, covered in a mix of ocean and bay, waves overlapping.

So, yes, the sea is always a risk, but is it wrong that I find it a preferable one to anything else? I can't imagine a tornado; I don't want a basement to hide in; the fault lines in California make me nervous every time I'm there and it's too quiet. No, I'll take a sea any time. The water always recedes.


Vacation blurbs

  • A road trip; a house dinner; unpacking; sage burning (because who doesn't need a little cleansing now and then). On the front deck we circled around each other as night fell and tried not to feel awkward as we lit the fat bunch twigs and waited for the smoke to transform us.

  • A red crescent moon disappearing over the bay, startling in its speed. We stood on the docks and toasted to the end of the world, because if the moon disappeared like that, surely we would be next.
  • Early-morning thwacks of tennis balls on the courts across the street as I ran sunburned hands over my beach towel, hanging over the deck, to test for dampness. It stormed what felt like every night, and in the mornings our bathing suits and the deck chairs still dripped, fat drops falling through the cracks in the deck below our feet.
  • One single, perfect beach day, bookended by many great-but-too-humid-or-too-cloudy beach days, where we all sat on the deck tearing up bread and taking our time with a slow breakfast and fast conversation. We got to the beach late, so we stayed later than any other day, long after the lifeguards jumped off their stands and drug their boats back to the dunes; long after everyone else back home was getting ready to leave their offices.
  • A club, surrounded by 21 year olds in miniskirts who were trying so hard to be something someone, anyone, noticed. I had a fleeting pang of sympathy for them, because oh my, does life get better once you stop trying to impress everyone.
  • Seagulls and snapper turtles and clams under our feet as we paddleboarded out into the bay, getting our sea legs, circling the marshes I'd never before seen up close. I fell in, splashing underwater until I realized it was only thigh-deep.
  • The full seven days, which after last year, is all we could ask for.

Processing time

I slipped out in between rain showers last night to unearth Freedom from my car, where it had been sitting since my beach evacuation, and turned in early to catch up on it. it had been so long -- nearly two weeks! -- since I'd last picked it up that I had to re-read some pages, finding the groove I'd been in.

It came quickly. And so I read, the weight of the pages, the binding, tiring out my arms. (I may be too used to ebooks these days. I've lost my reading muscles.)

Anyway, a few pages in I was reabsorbed, and after some time had passed I looked up at a sudden noise and was surprised to find I was at home instead of on the Pearl Street beach. There was no sun -- just my ceiling light. A trickle of sand rained down on my stomach, nearly landing on my bed, but it wasn't the same, of course. It couldn't be.

I spent some time in Sri Lanka one January, rebuilding houses washed away by the 2004 tsunami. Back then I wrote this about it on

Underneath a waning moon we sat on the ledge of the bar, silent. There is too much to think about tonight, this last night here. The fact that we are all here together; that this trip has changed us all; that we will never be as close as we are right now. So instead of thinking, I am watching: the look of triumph in Czech Peter's eyes. The smirk on Buraq's mouth. The thatched roofs and surfboards lining this bar, reminding me of LBI. I am taking it all in one last time, because I will never be here again.

I just remember sitting there, carving out the moment, knowing it would never be able to be recreated. And I suppose that's what everything is, most of the time: a moving memory. Things change so quickly that we can never relive the best times; they're never quite the same, despite identical staging and direction. The planets just never realign. Freedom is just not the same in my apartment as it was on the beach.

Sometimes I coast alongside work and life for weeks at a time, and then suddenly stop and gasp for air, for time to process. It can take minutes or hours for me to realize what's happened, where I've been, what it means. Even when it's mundane. It all just has to find its way into my bones. It has to become part of my story.

I did that last night, listening to the alternating silence and showers, like footfalls on the roof. And I'm doing it now, and this is my way of thanking you all for letting me.