A Place to Love

Written By: Elsa  Burt

The first time, I came for love. I was 22 and it was for a single weekend to a tall, old, cedar-shingled house in Southampton. The house was dark inside with a rental’s underlying forlorn quiet and it smelled of wood and a mustiness that was somehow appealing. There was a wide, sloping lawn in the back that bordered a large pond, and I fell even more in love with my boyfriend Guy when he showed off his skills on a sweet, little red charcoal grill that we found at the A & P and which looked like a child’s toy. I had grown up in England and had only been in New York City for a year and I knew nothing about “the Hamptons” and the myriad of connotations that went along with that expression. We had no plans, no people to see, no parties to go to and no beach sticker. Actually it was all very un-Hamptons. But we did discover the most delicious chocolate chip cookies, that would later become Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, and we ate them snuggled up together in bed. I suppose we must have done some exploring around town, but mostly we played house as only fledgling lovers who don’t yet live together can. We laid our toothbrushes out next to each other’s in the bathroom, we were much more tidy than usual with our things in the bedroom and we took an inordinate amount of pleasure in saying things like, “Baby, which side of the bed do you want?” and “Honey, do you have the key?” I could probably find that house today if I wanted to. It is probably less than two miles away from where I sit writing this. But I’d rather not ruin sweet memory with actual, substantive reality, because at the time it was the most beautiful, perfect house and the most beautiful, perfect weekend.

There were a few more weekends here and there, but the second time I really came back, almost 10 years later, it was to escape. To get away from the disappointment I was feeling with a job and a life that really were not going at all the way I had planned. To recuperate from a fairly serious bout with depression, that had almost left me down for the count. And to try to remember who I was and what I really wanted. It wasn’t exactly Eat Pray Love, it was more like Get a Puppy Walk on the Beach Stop Obsessing About Work. Guy had recently bought a house in the Springs in East Hampton, and while we were no longer lovers we were best friends, and he offered me refuge. This house was also on the water, built with love by a man who had finally had to sell it because his wife was dying. I chose the colors for each of the rooms, and Guy and I became yard-sale junkies for the summer. There was an extraordinary halcyon quality to that house and when the light filtered in through the large windows at the end of the day it was like something holy and sacred was happening. All of the familiar colors and shapes became something other, literally seen in a new light, proving that transformation was possible if only temporary. New York City and my old life could not have been further away. I planted roses and danced naked in the rain in the middle of the night at that house, and my new puppy, Lola, courtesy of ARF, chased her first tennis balls there and would later plunge into the water and swim across to the General Store just to soft-eye some unsuspecting customer out of a couple of potato chips or the last few bites of a sandwich. That fall I rented a house of my own in Amagansett. A whole, entire house for Lola and me for less than I’d been paying for a one-bedroomed apartment in New York…at least until Memorial Day. That year I discovered that chubby, red-cheeked rose-hips were an actual, real thing on the rugosa roses at the beach, saw pumpkins growing out of the ground for the first time and found the most perfect Christmas tree I’d ever seen. And slowly, with Guy and Lola’s help, I found myself again. I made a connection to this place that second time, one that remained strong even when it came time to return to the City and what I still thought of then as “real life”.

And now here I am again, for the third time. A lot has changed. Guy died five years ago, followed by my beautiful Lola-Girl less than three weeks later. Both were completely unexpected, although I can’t say I was surprised by Lola’s death. Guy was always her favorite, and I’m quite certain that somewhere she is getting far more belly-rubs, not to mention treats, than any dog deserves. Every so often I have to venture to East Hampton, but the memories still tend to knock me off-balance, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to bring myself to visit Guy’s house in the Springs again. Or at least where it used to stand. I heard recently that our little house was torn down to make way for something much bigger and a whole lot uglier. But my sister has a house in Southampton now and because of a whole confluence of events, her children’s camp schedules, endless construction work on my own apartment in the City and a very sick cat I find myself queen of her castle for the summer. So I suppose you could say that this time I am here because of happenstance or happy accident. I have a favorite beach now that I can walk to every morning with Harry, not a puppy this time, but a new old dog. I am charmed every single day when I hear the ice cream truck come trundling around at 4 o’clock. And once again I find myself totally dazzled by the light – the green- and gold-tinged fairy light that fills the streets just when you’re coming home from a day at the beach, the damp, opaque milk-glass light that fills in the edges of the beach on misty mornings to serve as a gentle reminder that you really don’t always have to see where one thing ends and another begins, and of course the firefly-belly lights that wink and blink at me every evening beginning at dusk. That first time I came for love and now, at exactly twice the age I was then, I am falling in love all over again. With this place of course, but also a man, a man I met years ago because he was building a house of all things. It’s still early, just a beginning, but I can’t help thinking that perhaps this time I’ll stay for love.