A Letter to my Daughter
I remember walking down the old wooden steps, worn down, slick from the ocean air and steep as a ladder. You walked slow and wobbly then, my daughter, just barely a year old. You had your chubby kid legs, a red striped romper dress and a tight hat your Mom pulled down close to your eyes to cover the fact that you didn’t have a speck of hair. You looked up at me as we walked, with eyes the size of the moon and a concerned smile, wondering I’m sure, where your Mom had sent us.
We’d just sat in traffic for what felt like two days, traveling from Brooklyn to what seemed like the end of the world. Cell phone service stopped completely when we turned off onto Old Montauk Highway and my blackberry went dead. My clothes still stunk from you getting car sick as we rode up and down what seemed like an endless run of giant hills as we passed the Panoramic View.
We checked into Gurneys and after the six trips from the car up and down three decks and flights of stairs, we made our way to an old room decked out with striped fuzzy zebra pillows and musty rugs that I’m pretty sure Maude Gurney installed herself and left to collect sea air and dust since.
Mom ran off to her seawater spa “maternity massage” before she even dropped her bag, and you and I were on our own to figure this out. I was pacing to find a corner of the resort with cellular service, and think I was already trying to figure out how fast I could get back to the City.
Eventually, we made it to the bottom of those wood steps. There was an old pickup truck with workers collecting the blue beach chairs for the day and the sun was getting real low. You wrapped your whole little hand around my pinky finger and defiantly wobbled toward the surf. I stood there, frozen for a minute. The waves crashed to my left, leaving a little mist that met the haze from the falling sun, creating an illusion that we were looking into another world through a window. I looked at you, and then up and down the seascape and let the smell and sound of the surf run through me. Just like that, I never felt so lucky to have been somewhere. The long ride had taken us not just to the end of the earth, but maybe to the best of it.
Your little brown eyes told the story as you looked up at me. I think you could say about nine words at the time, but I knew from your look that you knew what I knew, that we had been dropped smack in the middle of someplace magic. I knew right then that you and I, we’d never again miss the end of August on the end of Long Island.
Your older now, but I think that stretch of beach at the “end” is as much a part of you as it is now me. You look at it differently now. You try to own it, or to at least tame it, surfing and letting it knock you down time and time again. I sit there, early on Sunday mornings, sitting on a beach chair with a cup of coffee from Goldberg’s and I watch. The haze and the mist from the waves have the same effect in the morning they do late in the day and they bring my mind’s eye right back to that first day down the wooden steps. The seascape hasn’t changed at all, every bit as majestic. Now though, as I look up and down now the beach I see much more. I can see the eleven years of your childhood in between, through that same hazy window. This place has become the lens through which I’ve seen you grow up.
I look up and down that beach and I don’t have to squint see you dancing in the surf, tentative and afraid to get too close but rebellious enough to let the break hit reach your ankles. I can see you behind me as I pull you up and down the beach in that old beat up red wagon, making me stop every time we saw a shiny shell. I can taste the water and sand in my mouth from that time I finally convinced you to come all the way in the water with me. Of course, we immediately got knocked down so hard that my teeth scraped the sea floor and the nice folks at the treat and release had to remove pebbles from my ear canal, but I managed to hold you up like a trophy and you laughed hysterically. I never had to ask twice for you to come in again.
I look to my left and I can see you climbing the bar stools at the old beach bar at Gurneys where the bartender knew you by face, and to make your five “shirley temples” before lunch. I can see the roof of the main building where we got our dragon kite caught in the old antennae about 3 minutes after we finally succeeded after a day of trying to get it airborne. If I twist my wrist the right way I can still feel the pain from the 6-foot-deep hole that you and your brother made your beach fort until it was dark. I can feel my calves hurt as I remember walking down, and up, then again down the endless stairs carrying your sister in one arm and you in the other, fresh back from feeding the ducks after dinner at Harvest on Fort Pond. I can still, I think, taste the vanilla soft serve from Scoops that I swore I wasn’t going to eat and yet stuck my extra spoon into yours while you faked a disapproving look and laughed.
I see you here now and that same lens, it lets me see you then. That’s magic, or maybe, it’s the magic. It makes those days, those memories, the very story of our life feel real. The days and years they pass and our lives change and grow, but this place, its real essence, never does. It is the guidepost that brings us back home. When the sun gets low through that sea water haze, then I know that the dream of a life we’ve had on the way up was all real.
Your footsteps in that sand, our laughs and smiles, our life itself, are every night washed over clean and new by the never-ending tide and left blank for a new family to make their own. By the time the sun comes up each morning, you’d never even know we were there. It’s our secret though, that the memories and days of your childhood are buried in the sand on that beach, and they always will be, as long as we know where to look.