Written By: Julia  Lee

Gambrel. That’s what it’s called. I would have never come to it in all my inflamed pre-dawn graduation party ramblings with the Australians in that neon room, a roof, it’s called, here, I’ll draw it for you, you’ll know what I mean. You won’t be able to not see it when you do.

I’d been preparing for months to re-enter this purgatorial wonderland. In mid May, behind cigarettes that were meant to stay in New York in the pocket of my winter coat, I sat cross-legged on the splintery back patio picnic table to draw up ten mantras, ways to keep my wits about me after the inevitable one too many nights in my childhood room. They read, “Build calluses, not callousness (work earth, pad sand, resist bitterness),” and “Leverage mobility (embrace escape, adventure, and bicycles).” Few have held water, especially the first bullet about excising my phone as “bodily prosthesis,” but I am comforted by the fact that they are there to return to when I’ve realized I’ve been here long enough to need to re-stabilize.

After twenty-three straight summers in a small beach town, you begin to wonder when it started to feel like defeat. The first fifteen were light and filled with hot dogs. After that, these months began to invite small mischief, means of puncturing a jaded malaise and rehydrating eyes since tired by a steady rehash of familiar faces and windy roads you could (and sometimes literally do) drive unconsciously. After fifteen, I start remembering summers in flings and part time jobs: the summer of Pickleboy, of sport camp, of Farm Nick, of Tyler. The summers at the Sag Harbor boutique where Nate would bring me a late morning bagel to eat while my middle-aged bosses bemoaned the lack of men, money, and gratitude in this town. I suppose it started to feel like defeat when I realized that summer was not the predetermined slice of time you dedicate to collecting checks and tan lines, but rather a choice you make over continuing a life you were beginning to build before Memorial Day rolled along.

I speak for myself when I say we are the Millennials about whom NPR interviewees speculate; about how we’ll possibly pay off our debt and when we’ll ever get married and buy that house that will perk up the market, or start a revolution, that won’t be televised, but will be Vined. We are here out of juvenile territoriality, suppressed poignancy, and the aforementioned debt. We come to amass tips, ticks, resent, and foreign (you from Cali?) phone numbers. We leave, if we’re lucky, in early September with toasted cheeks and a promise to ourselves that this will be our last.

It isn’t that we don’t love it here. It is just a little delicate this business, this, stoking of embers of Somebody and Son’s Plumbing, or the small landscaping empire that burgeons to support our keg party habits that don’t seem to fade easy and heroine addictions that make their babies fade, easy. We write you from the tops of hand-me-down truck hoods, hand-me-down real estate desks, and hand-me-down bar rags. From piss puddles in the sand, half a mile down the beach, from the arms of a loved one we feel too young to marry, but too old to tell him.

Each year I return with shriveled pockets and wider eyes, and each year, like the fireflies, this place greets me a little smaller and a little brighter. Justice, especially, feels small here. It manifests in helicopter regulations, deer-as-pest management. It comes in clamming licenses, and the happy medium block of hours dogs are permitted on few beaches. A narrator once said of a rural Southern town, “There’s speculation hereabouts concerning if you look at something long enough does your eyes take its color.”[1] When hereabouts is the tip of an island, its people part scowl, part scoff, and part head-shaking chuckle, its landscapes green enough to calm the envious, one’s eyes might tie-dye after so many years. These immigrant descendant eyes might take the color of a September sunset, if I let them.

There’s a term for it in science too, maybe regression, for that psychological/behavioral slip into previous modes of being, the devolution to past vices and/or undesirable patterns (of tongue, of sword) that is all too seductive in towns where justice feels small. How we once called all latinos Spanish in spit or chiding whisper, uncool things gay. How we allowed ourselves six beers over four hours before driving, but only within the one mile radius we lovingly dubbed “The Square”. Watering mom’s patio pots after work soothes this. As does taking 84-year-old Phyllis’ trash out Thursday mornings, and joking with the Colombian deli clerks in their native language, whether or not it soothes them.

I think one of the stages of regression, or whatever it’s called, must be anesthetization. Maybe the bluefish trail some numbing agent behind in their wake that makes the urgencies fall away. I thought it would feel yesterday’s seltzer flat to forget “I can’t breathe”, tar sands, and gender. Instead, the only thing that flattens me these days is an unexpected pound from a shore break wave, or a twelve-hour shift if I’m lucky. Cars are inflationary; speeding is inflationary; intellectual curiosity in a town of small justice is quietly, hideously inflationary. By mid August, I am a puffed up, soft-talking retired academe with a resume-polishing art gallery gig and an above average familiarity with the Bridgehampton back roads. By mid August, I am big, numb, and increasingly aware of my confinement.

Some nights I try to escape, by revisiting men who’ve been taking my clothes off since they were boys, fumbling soft excited fingers on bra straps in dark guest bedrooms. Joan Didion writes of a suburban California neighborhood as “a place where little is bright or graceful, where it is routine to misplace the future and easy to start looking for it in bed.”[2] I think I sympathize; I just don’t know what tense of time I’m looking for anymore.

This summer, time and space fall and warp like a mop of wet ringlets, sliding over one another translucent. I no longer count calendar days, but stack paper like my worst favorite rappers, and count blessings in family-sized bottles of cheap white wine. In the 1960s, Brazilian artist Lygia Clark spoke of life as a constant state of becoming, punctuated by moments of crisis. Is it young of me to think instead of a constant state of crisis, punctuated by moments of becoming?


[1] Wallace, David Foster. “John Billy.” Girl with Curious Hair. W. W. Norton, 1989. Print.

[2] Didion, Joan. “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.” Slouching towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968. Print.