I remember the summer of 1984 as well as I can recall Montauk’s fresh salty air and the billowing winds relieving my skin from the merciless sun hitting the tops of my shoulders and nose.
Arriving in mid August from the suburbs of New York City, it seemed as though I was at the end of the Earth- people were sparse and the water was endless. I was grateful to have been invited on a vacation by a new friend from school since my mother and I could never afford to go anywhere, but I quickly found out why I was probably not the first to be invited, just the first to accept. The entire family was rude and arrogant. The parents smoked like chimneys, the kids were spoiled beyond comprehension, and they were all afraid to leave the air conditioning on beautiful sun filled days.
From the car ride to the first night in the motel, the kids fought in the pool and then fought in the room when the parents left us behind to go out to dinner. I regretted my decision to go on this vacation and hated Montauk for being a cruel purgatory.
My discomfort was apparent and their response was, “If you don’t like it, leave.” To their surprise, I was happy enough to take them up on their offer and moved myself out onto the deck outside the motel room. The second night I slept outside on the lounge chair wrapped in a beach towel in the chilly night air. I’m sure they expected me to come back in once I “learned my lesson,” but clearly they had no idea how independent and stubborn my mother had raised me. However, without the provisions of a proper bed, it was difficult to get comfortable and the crisp night air was too stimulating to relax and fall asleep. I laid awake staring at the infinite Montauk sky until I decided to go for a walk. I sat on a nearby dock listening to the soft waves hit its sides and slosh between the crisp white boats. The moon’s reflection on Montauk Harbor lit up the night, enough to justify that the day just wasn’t over yet. It was calm, peaceful, beautiful and the fresh salty air made me feel at peace.
Suddenly, I was not alone.
“Hey there,” said a tall sand-colored curly haired boy just my age. “What are you doing out here so late,” he asked.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I responded. “What about you?”
“I just got in with my dad. He sent me down to get the rest of our bags while he got the room ready.” His name was Patrick and he was vacationing with his father from Connecticut. They just arrived to go shark fishing for two weeks.
Patrick disappeared into the docks returning several minutes later hauling some large duffel bags.
“Will you still be here tomorrow,” he asked me.
“Yeah,” I responded, “I’m here till the end of the week.”
“Great. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Something about him made me smile for the first time in Montauk. I returned to my lounge chair to get some sleep.
The next day I was woken up by beaming rays of sunlight. Everything was quiet, still and bright.
I sat on the steps to the deck looking out over the docks. Patrick was carrying his fishing equipment to his boat, but before I could say hello, he already called out. “Hey, how are you? Did you get any sleep last night?”
“A little,” I said. “It’s kind of chilly at night.”
I followed him to his boat and watched him load his cooler and fishing poles. We sat on the dock and asked each other about our favorite things until his dad arrived and it was time for them to shove off.
Day three was long and dreadful. I was chained to my vacation family poolside for several hours until the air conditioning lured them back into their motel room. The parents went out to dinner again and I snuck out for some peace and quiet down by the docks. Patrick was there hosing the salt water and fish guts off the boat. We made plans to meet back by the front of the dock in an hour so he could go and clean himself up.
When Patrick came back, we walked away from the motel towards the town, a tiny area of merchants and restaurants. He took me to a pizza place where he bought us each a slice and a soda to share. We spent the evening laughing and joking about my vacation situation and learning about each other. Afterwards, Patrick walked me back to the motel holding my hand the entire way. I was hooked.
The next evening my vacation family was taking all of the kids out to eat, but I declined for a much better offer. Patrick and I walked into town again. After pizza, we bumped into them getting ice cream. Patrick was gracious and friendly, but of course they resorted to their rude and arrogant vacation demeanor, quickly showing Patrick first hand why I was so desperate to get away from them. He was kind and caring to me afterwards, offering to let me stay with his family. I reluctantly declined thinking I wouldn’t have a ride home at the end of this vacation if I accepted. We made sure we were far behind them in getting back to the motel by strolling slowly together. When we arrived back, he stayed with me on the lounge chair with my beach towel for awhile as we gazed into the night sky. Before he left, he took off his sweatshirt and gave it to me.
Over the course of the next few days Patrick and I spent every moment we had together. We were young, so maybe it was merely “puppy love,” but when it came time to leave Montauk, a piece of me stayed behind.
We had exchanged addresses to keep in touch. Several letters went back and forth. He sent me a newspaper clipping of himself at Montauk catching a record size mako shark and a thin gold bracelet that I wore every day. As the year progressed, the letters were further apart. Patrick said his family was moving further away. Soon after, the letters stopped.
I always wondered what became of Patrick the young fisherman. Every trip back to Montauk brings back fond memories of my first love as I renew my love for this oasis- the quiet, sun drenched, salted wind of Montauk and its natural beauty.