In August 1998 I saved my money as a supervisor in a women’s homeless shelter in New York City to take a vacation with my family. In a rented GEO car, a new Lego set for my son, and my husband hustling his music sheets into a black leather folder, we began the four hour drive from the city to the end of Long Island.
Over a dune to Hither Hills, the most beautiful beach on the island, tents were up for campers and I wondered what kind of family camps together? Do they have cots or sleeping bags on the sand and do they camp every year? I was still dressed in New York City style with unrelaxed clothes having left my inner surfer girl on the beach decades ago. Now, twenty-five pounds heavier and with shorter hair my button down navy blue and white pinstripe shirt was a bit off. My husband sat in the back of the car with his blue New York Yankee’s cap covering his face. The index cards I wrote on to map out and plan the trip a week before helped me navigate and became my partner.
We unpacked our signature beach items. The Coppertone fell out of the luggage. Alone it landed on the dirt road in the parking lot at the motel. This was us becoming normal Americans. Having family time together and liking it. The blanket I grabbed from the top of our bed that we slept in together for over 15-years would be our safe place. In the heat, as the low tide slowly promised bigger waves, and as the moon loomed larger each day, I would always look at what corner of the blanket we each sat on. Subconscious magical thinking on my part like a tarot deck. If I sat closer to the lighthouse, or if my husband sat on the corner where the bay was closer or the city; what did it mean? The corner toward the city meant whoever sat there wanted to go back home. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to look ahead or east toward England or China. How could I get there? This was our first vacation to Montauk Point together as a family. The next vacation I thought would be on a round blanket and we would be older and we would not be looking to go back unless we were talking about our son on his boogie board that summer in Montauk. I imagined him asking, “Do you remember when he went to the beach on his own and how terrified we were that he was lost?”
In the photographs of the ocean I remember the endless summer on the bay, the ocean of whales and the rocks for sale with 1998 painted on them. We took one home along with a new bathing suit for the boy with orange and blue waves that went down to his knees that summer. I found an orange wallet with a zipper that I still have seventeen-years later. I stuck a sunshine amulet inside it. I believed in good luck then. It had a special charm, even if it wasn’t a shark’s tooth, that everything would be okay.
Every morning while my family slept in the Sands Motel I would take the GEO out for a drive. The radio played songs that helped me to dream and look ahead to the roads that go beyond the end of Long Island. I remember reading that the light house at Montauk Point was commissioned by President George Washington in the 1700’s so the ships wouldn’t crash into the rocks and get stuck in the sand.
I would drive around the lighthouse over and over again. I would sit on a blanket and think about the distance from this place to England. Could I get there in my mind? Dare I dream about my fantasy lover while the tip of the blanket faced China? That felt like wine soothing and numbing my fine nerve endings so if I had died at that moment I would have done so in a state of bliss.
Montauk Highway the road that led my mother toward her dreams of running away, and the blaring AM radio that she let me control, was different then. In those early days we absorbed the left over stink of garbage that we had thrown out at the local dump. The smell followed us to the end of the world on Long Island. In a green 1958 Plymouth she showed me the path of the old America. Now, I wanted to find my life again, somewhere, at the end of the island. I felt alone in the Geo that was packed with toys and music, and a husband who barely spoke to me. When did Montauk become the “it” place? I grew up on Long Island and we were poor.
My morning drive around the lighthouse brought me to the new place in my life. I imagined George Washington looking out at the cold blue Atlantic and that he may have had a blanket that he wrapped around his shivering body as he turned corners.
The night sky brought the moon in pieces as she slowly became whole. Then we sat on different ends of the blanket. My son moving his fingers in the sand asking, “What are we going to do next?” I thought just being there was enough. The three of us in different corners facing each other with the big sky over Montauk. It didn’t matter where we stood, what the temperature was like, or how the beauty of this place captured our feelings, we were who we were and the flashing light in the tower of the lighthouse told me that we had to go forward. We were in different corners of the same blanket. We were away from the city and our apartment where we opened and closed the door yelling out that we were going somewhere; it was easier to look at each other with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the bay on the other.
On my corner of the blanket I looked out toward the darkness of the night. The possibilities of the life I wanted to have were opening up. The life I had known before was gone. Fostered perhaps by a trip to the end of the world.