I sat in the familiar grainy, soft sand of Quogue Village Beach, staring out into the expansive ocean, blue blanket wrapped loosely around my huddled frame. My mind was busy as always, filled with existential thoughts that provoked anxiety, and an audacity to hope. The sea so often met the sky here. What a profound relationship these two giants had. Where was the profundity that I felt I lacked? Where was my giant? Where was my love? Would I find him?
Then one day I did. He stood there in front of me in Beach Bakery, jeans rolled, leather jacket draped across his broad shoulders, Ray Ban sunglasses hiding his eyes. I’d later find out just how gorgeous they were; large, round, blue, and perhaps best of all, knowing.
We strolled down Main Street hand in hand. The laughter we produced together was so intense that we’d often find ourselves off balance, knocking into one another like wobbling weebles. We split coffee milkshakes at Main Street Sweets (one straw, not two). We caught evening movies at the small two screen theatre in town. We rolled in the grass on the village green, blew on dandelions, and made naive wishes. I imagined myself, perhaps resembling Olivia Newton John in Grease, riding on the handlebars of his bicycle, arms at my sides as if I were flying, counting my lucky stars.
We’d spend nights huddled by our friends’ backyard bonfires. I’d sip gin and he’d sketch, his fingers unevenly coated in charcoal; fingers I wanted to grab in the palm of my hand and never let go of. The crackling of the burning wood provided the soundtrack to our evenings. The fire burned as hot as my passion for him. I looked over at him while he looked down at his work. I admired the curvature of his nose, his plump, soft lips. Surely this was love.
There were days when it seemed the joy had become too much to bear. I’d walk around town feeling like I could fly to the sun, only to plummet into the ocean and surely drown soon after. Every smile that crossed my face begged a question. Was this me who was happy? Me, filled with joy? Me, who had only experienced love in tumultuous cycles of praise, passion, disappointment, quarrel, then fear? I’d take my right hand and slap my cheek, jostling my sunglasses from the bridge of my nose. “It’s okay to be happy, you deserve this,” I said under my breath.
But did I deserve to be happy? A day at the beach never seemed to be complete until I took a trip to the restroom alone, to lean over the sink, and look into the foggy, salt covered mirror. Who was this happy boy? Did he deserve this? I convinced myself that I did. Surely, I was overthinking things. I ambled back to the beach, determined to force these doubts from my mind and to focus on the sweet moments that composed our summer. We lay on our beach blanket where we split a bag of pretzel rods. I’d become too hot and retreated underneath the umbrella that he’d erected just for me. I read Joan Didion and Mohsin Hamid. Thoughts of doubt still infiltrated my mind.
But the next day they didn’t. It was the highest of highs again, and I was determined to ride this wave all the way to the shore. It was gallery openings together, and home cooked dinners on the backyard patio, and piling onto the hammock, rubbing hands and feet, kissing noses. It was pure bliss. It felt untouchable, but it wasn’t. The doubt crept in again.
I cruised down Post Lane in Quogue one day, headed for Dune Road in a navy blue 1980’s Mercedes convertible that I borrowed from a friend. A song came on shuffle; Hopelessly Devoted to You. The song instantly resonated with me, and I turned the volume up, imagining myself swaying right along with Olivia Newton John in Frenchy’s front yard. My left hand released its tight grip from the steering wheel and found itself fighting the wind outside of the car, mimicking the motion that waves make in the ocean, as I crooned:
My head is saying, “fool, forget him.”
My heart is saying, “don’t let go.”
Hold on to the end,
that’s what I intend to do.
I’m hopelessly devoted to you.
Hopelessly. Hopeless. I was so tired of feeling hopeless. I was tired of wandering around Jobs Lane, peering into store and restaurant windows, searching for something that I thought I was missing but logically knew I’d already found. I was tired of building walls, protecting myself from what I felt was an inevitable heartbreak; inevitable because I didn’t deserve him or his love. I was tired of convincing myself when things were so good that perhaps I should forget him. I found myself making plans that would help me recover from this inevitable breakup. Perhaps a trip to Kennebunkport, I thought. I’d always wanted to go there.
An epiphany came upon me as I reached the roundabout near Niamogue Lane just before the drawbridge. “What are you doing?,” I asked aloud. “This is your love!,” I screamed into the steering wheel. I had had enough. It was time to plant my flag, stake my claim. No longer, I decided, would I be sitting on the sidelines, a witness to a love that I felt was not mine. I’d take a renewed and active role in claiming this relationship, because I deserved it.
It was as if the clouds parted, and the sun imparted unto me the wisdom I’d always had, but still felt I always needed. Kennebunkport was ours to visit. The village green was ours, and Beach Bakery was ours, and milkshakes were ours; the beach was ours, and cocktails and appetizers at Cowfish, where I’d promised that it was he who I wished to share all of my sunsets with, were ours. This love was ours, and even moreso, perhaps, this love was mine.
Mine. I deserved this.
Now I don’t stare into the salt ridden mirror at Quogue Village Beach, wondering why it was I who was gifted with this blessing of love. I now climb these steps to the beach hand in hand with the man that I love; the same steps that, as a child, seemed at times insurmountable. This was a love I never believed possible; a love I never believed I deserved. But that’s changed now.
We walk along the sand admiring our shadows; even they love each other. Tall, gangling, they intertwine and become one. The dunes keep us company on this empty beach, and the gentle crash of the surf occurs in time with the patter of our damp footsteps. I touch my chin to my shoulder, smirking, running my fingers through my soft brown hair while he takes my photograph. Years and pounds later I still shove myself into this old Quogue School sweatshirt. We sit in the grainy, soft sand together now. Our love seems inexorable, like the sky and the ocean.
Our love. My love. A love deserved.