Coming of Age–Any Age–on the Eastern End of Long Island
Don’t worry. This is isn’t going to be an essay about anyone’s first sex on the beach—drink or otherwise. And while, like many people, I didn’t go to school here, I do feel as though I’ve “grown up” on the Eastern End of Long Island, a special place that seems to shape all of us at every stage of our lives, an evolution accelerated by sea, sand, and socialization, a something for which I’m very grateful.
It All Goes Back to the Beach…
It’s just a stretch of sand—and yet, it’s the reason we’re all here, together. While the landscape may be in constant flux, be it due to changing flora, fauna or even “Farrellization” of one’s environs, it often seems like life, particularly here on the East End, is a circle, anchored by that precious stretch of sand, where the Atlantic Ocean rises up to create the magical beaches making up the southern shores of Long Island. When we have our babies, we bring them to the beach; they dig in the sand; they build, dream, run around naked, chatter, sometimes unintelligibly. You give them an ice cream and a juice box. And life is easy.
And then, they grow, and they’re children and they’re always at the beach. They’re swimming in the ocean, climbing up the life guard stands—even junior lifeguarding themselves—eating watermelon, drinking sodas, and now lying in the sand with their friends, plotting how to steal plastic green coconuts from the Coco Vida shuttle that drives them around town or back home.
And then, they’re teenagers, and they know everything. They define a “hipster” as per Tumblr, i.e., “A white girl in her 20s with a Starbucks;” versus your “old” definition of a white guy in his mid/late-30s with a fedora. And they’re still at the beach. Now, they’re trying to figure out how to climb on each other, but it’s still more about talking and dreaming than anything based in reality.
It All Goes Back to the Beach House…
Then, they’re you—in your 20s, in your beach house with your friends, only now it’s their friends. And now, it’s coming out on Fridays on the LIRR, or the Jitney, or in some friend’s overloaded car. And it’s a dump in the Dunes—well, not really, but with 20 to 25 twenty-somethings crammed in there, some of whom have a bed this weekend, some of whom don’t—it gets a little crowded. And now, they’re drinking beer, wine coolers, and whatever else; and they’re definitely climbing all over each other, regaling the past night’s events on the morning pilgrimage to Mecca (aka, Mary’s Marvelous or Jack’s). And they’re just at the point where they’re beginning their careers and hopefully, creating opportunities.
And then they get married, have kids, or not. And they’re building houses, careers, and more dreams—and they’re still at the beach with wine, marsh mellow roasts, and gossip. Talking about the schools and the sports and the arts—still drinking, better stuff now, still eating, better places. Laying out on the beach or the boat, working or relaxing, comparing themselves to the others who might have more wealth, fame, or fortune, but who still put their feet in the very same sand, splash in the very same waters.
And then it’s 40s (maybe 50s too); and the mid-life express comes barreling through, the train that’s never late, never full. And they’re still at the beach, but the faces around them may have changed now, because people have gotten divorced, changed partners, remarried. They ache more, drink more, talk about it all more; and the conversation’s about who’s acting the wildest or weirdest, who’s lost his/her job, money, house, or mind. But despite all that, the sand on the East End still feels so good during a walk along the beach, on a bright sunny day, the waves rolling in and out, maybe not washing everything away, but making one notice at least some of the sparkling shells in the sand again.
Life’s a Beach… and Then You Live
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”—E. E. Cummings
While I’ve had my share of loved ones die, of cancer, as well as other ailments, they didn’t die here, so there’s no expectation of any prizes for this essay. And as tempting as it would be to conclude with thoughts on the prospect of graceful, East End exits still to come, I choose to reflect on the much greater impact I’ve seen shaping the oldest among us, the people who’ve “grown up” here the longest. Because they’ve seen it all, and they’re happy they’ve done it here.
And you realize just how great that is when the forest next door to you gets mowed down, and you want to cry out like the Lorax (because your kids grew up playing in that self-termed, “Butterfly Garden”), and it’s the oldest East Enders who calm you down. They can because they’ve already lived through all the carnage and construction, when it was your house that was being built. And when the Polar Vortex blows up that pipe in your home, and you’re watching as that new ocean is forming right there in front of you, they come to your rescue again. Because it happened to them too, and they know what to do. And when you’re scared about hurricanes and other weird weather (like sand storms, sideways rain, and golf-ball sized hail in August), they tell you not to worry; they’ve been through worse, and they might even have a hurricane party, or sit there on the beach, just because the big waves look so cool. And they’re not afraid. Because when they plant their feet in that beautiful sand, when they sit and become one with the ocean, just as they’ve done and will continue to do every day they’re given to do so in this beautiful place we all call “home,” they become ageless, a permanent part of what makes the East End so special.
“…all things are one thing and that one thing is all things…it is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”—John Steinbeck, Log from the Sea of Cortez
Although in our neck of the woods, this quote could actually mean that one minute you’re watching your child fish mole crabs out from the water’s edge, and the next, you’re staring up at Gwyneth Paltrow, it was probably Steinbeck (a California boy) who summed it up best. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all connected to everything. And in that grand circle of life, if you’ve found the right tide pool, you’re already well on your way to finding your personal stars. And if that’s not coming of age (at any age), in the best possible way, I don’t what is.