I grew up in a small beach town in Southern California, where I spent summer days at the tide pools, riding my bike on the dirt trails along the Back bay and taking the ferry to Balboa Island with my grandfather for frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. In my pre-teen years, my friends and I went body surfing between the piers of Newport Beach, swimming way out past the big waves until one of the lifeguards whistled and made us come back in. In the summer, after the movie Jaws came out, which we all saw multiple times, the surfer boys would sneak up on us and grab our ankles, pretending to pull us under. We squealed in mock terror, partly because we were startled and partly because we loved the attention. The surfers generally ignored us, particularly me, unless my friend Kristy, a tall, beautiful girl with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes came along. Then they’d sit down in the sand next to our beach towels with their wetsuits halfway down, their long hair flipped back, and pretend to study the waves while they checked her out. I always felt invisible. I didn’t fit the California girl mold, in looks or personality.
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After I graduated college I worked in the film industry in LA, and lived with some roommates near the beach in Santa Monica. A few years later, I went back to school to learn advertising and was eventually offered a junior art director position at one of the biggest ad agencies in Manhattan. Bored with Southern California and eager to try life in a big city, I gladly accepted. When I told my friends, all native Californians like me, they were doubtful I had made the right decision. They couldn’t imagine me living so far away from the ocean.
“You’re gonna hate it” Mara said.“Do they even have a beach in New York?” Jill said. I shrugged. I guess I answered, but I’m never going there.
I started my job in June, and spent that entire summer in Manhattan, in a janky, hot sublet in the west village. I worked late every night and spent every weekend combing the city for street fairs, art galleries and free concerts in the park. It was muggy, grimy, and the sidewalks smelled of urine. I loved it. About halfway through the summer, I started to wonder why there were so few people in the city on weekends. The following Monday, I asked one of the art directors at the ad agency where everyone was going. She told me some people went to the Berkshires or upstate New York, but most people went to the Hamptons. What are the Hamptons I asked, like an idiot. The beach, she said.
Ah. There is a beach.
Uninterested in finding out more about these Hamptons I left it at that. Manhattan had way too much to offer, and I couldn’t imagine spending a weekend away in case I might miss something. Besides, I had 26 years of living at the beach, including my college years at UC Santa Barbara in an apartment a block from the water. I had enough o-c-e-a-n for one lifetime.
The following summer, now settled into my new advertising career, I was tired of spending so many weekends on my own while all my friends took off to their share houses “out east”. I passed up a few invitations to come along as a guest to a big party house, but then one of my friends mentioned they were going to a place called Amagansett.
“It’s a quiet house just down the road from the beach,” she said.
Reluctantly, I agreed to go. On Friday afternoon I packed my bag with books and sketchpads, preparing to catch up on some work, and piled into Penn station with everyone else escaping my beloved city to take the long island railroad to Amagansett.
The diesel train chugged its way past the industrial outskirts of the city through some leafy suburbs and then the landscape changed again. More greenery, endless stretches of farmland and cornfields. Cornfields? How in the world was this place a beach town? Finally, we stumbled off the train in what seemed like the middle of nowhere with our bags and walked down Bluff Road to our “share” house. While the others fished around for drinks and food, I walked out the door and down the dirt road. As soon as I heard the waves crashing, I felt my heart weaken. Over a big sand dune filled with tall grass, the water appeared; a glistening teal sea, unlike any I had seen on the west coast or anywhere else. The sand slipped through my toes, clean and light, leaving just a dusting of powder in its wake. I walked along the shore expecting my path to end somewhere, to be forced to turn back by a jetty or a rocky cliff. But the beach seemed to stretch on and on for miles, unbroken by the distraction of a mountain or an overpass, an unencumbered sea.
The ocean I had tossed away and left behind, had come back to me.
On the way back to the city on the train, the latest one we could get on Sunday, I curled up on the fake red plastic leather seat and wept. My old love had returned, unscathed and irreplaceable.