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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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.


August memorials and memories

This week the shadows changed. I saw it on my street this morning, walking to the F train, the very one that's made me miss two yoga classes this week. Augusts are funny -- still sticky, but there's a cool tone to the air that wasn't there before, and everything feels just a little off center. One summer in college when I worked at a jewelry store on the island I tried to explain to my dear friend, the store's owner, how easy it was to squint just the right way so that everything looked as rosy and fresh as it did in May and June. I never wanted summers to end back then, only that's not entirely true; I think I mostly just wanted to make sure I captured them.

Anyway, my friend told me there was no way August could look anything like June, because the shadows always gave it away. They've moved a few degrees, a move that can't be hidden by a squint.

I know she's right, and I see it now. The island would always clear out in August, but we'd still be there, singing to the Indigo Girls behind closed doors, watching the sand blow by, waiting for school to start. Now, even in New York, August feels still to me, frozen. It feels weirdly quiet. The interns at work have left. It's cool enough for sweaters on early mornings.

Today B. and I went to pick up our friend's CSA share while he's out of town and passed a group of people holding a makeshift memorial service on the front stoop of a brownstone. One stumbles upon many things in front of Brooklyn brownstones -- free books from people cleaning out their shelves, old toasters and printers that say "Take me! I work!" in wobbly handwriting -- like this whole borough is hosting a neverending garage sale. But I've never seen a memorial service.

They each had fold-up chairs and there was one empty one, on the top step, with a photo and "1953-2012" printed on it. It wasn't sad. Everyone there seemed joyous, and I thought, that's the way to do those things. On a stoop in August in Brooklyn, watching the world and the weather pass by.

I guess I can't trick myself out of August by squinting. It's here, and just like that, it'll be gone.