Sunset beach walk musings

Written By: Jessica Koenigsberg-Wurpel

I turn off my Jeep’s engine and get out at Gibson Lane beach with our dog Sadie on my heels, eager for our sunset beach walk. We both savor this moment of the day, no matter what time of the year. Summers offer warm sand between our toes and splashing in the surf, while fall and winter give us a brisk wind in our faces.
Sadie trots ahead of me to the ocean as I walk down the beach incline and scan the horizon looking for the least crowded direction to take. In the winter I check the wind’s direction to walk against first. A lesson my parents taught me early on. It makes for a warmer, easier return walk with the wind in my back.
It’s 2017 and I live in Manhattan with my husband and daughter. We have a house in Sagaponack, which I refer to as “Paradise”.

As I finish dinner I look out our kitchen window and watch the sky bleed its warm shades of pink and red. The light slowly turns softer and a golden glow spreads across the sky. I turn to my mom and ask if she wants to take a drive to the beach to catch the sunset. As always she’s game; it’s become a tradition of ours. We don’t clean the dinner table but instead quickly walk to the car for our 10-minute drive to the beach. We drive along the boulevard with the North Sea to our right. I gaze over the ocean eager to catch every second of the setting sun and the sparkling water. Mom parks the car and we hop out to walk down the path to the beach restaurant. We sit down at a table against the restaurant’s wall and behind the glass that blocks a cool breeze. We order a beer and a cappuccino from the waitress and pull our coats’ collars up a bit higher as we settle into our chairs, our eyes focused intently on the horizon. We chat a bit alternated with quiet, watching the day come to an end. I am 17 and live with my family in the Netherlands in a small town on the West coast. The summer of 1981 turned out to be life changing, unbeknownst to me at the time.

After I graduated from High School in the Netherlands I decided to spend a year in the U.S.A. as an exchange student. Despite being very homesick the first few months I fell in love with America and was heartbroken to go home, but my student visa was up. In 1983 I packed my suitcase and returned to America, intent on finding a job and a place to live. Luckily I already had a social security number, which I obtained during my high school year abroad.
Pretty quickly I secured an administrative job at a Dutch company and did some modeling on the side (a better pay than my data-entry position!). I moved into a house on a dead-end street with two other girls and started living the American dream. I made new friends at the office, signed up at the local Jack LaLanne gym for a mere $20 a month and got into step aerobics wearing leg warmers. My high school sweetheart was at college but we made our long distance relationship work through regular visits and phone calls that we scheduled ahead of time. He used the one phone in the dorm’s hallway and I used our house phone. I bought a brown VW Rabbit with bald tires but it worked and the radio blasted my favorite tunes. During the summer I’d roll down all the windows, crank the music, and drive to work with a warm summer breeze blowing through my hair. I felt like a million bucks! It just didn’t get much better than this.

May 1986 Hartford, Connecticut
The judge’s gavel slams down on his desk as he sternly exclaims, “You have 90 days until departure. If you neglect to do so, you shall be deported.”
My perfect world was shattered into a million pieces. Despite having paid quarterly taxes, being a good citizen, and working hard to make ends meet it just did not matter. I did not have the proper work visa.
As I drove back home on I-95 I reeled at the finalization of my fate. My job, my friends, my life… everything out the window. Now what? At least I was going home to a welcoming country, my family, and friends still living in the area where I grew up. It wouldn’t and couldn’t be so bad. The last 90 days of that summer I spent eating my favorite Baskin Robbins ice cream every day, attended my boyfriend’s college graduation (he was finally coming home). My colleagues signed a petition to keep me in the country and sent it to President Reagan, and on July 4th I joined the U.S. Bicentennial celebration. That summer was one emotional rollercoaster with many laughs and cries.

And then the fateful day came to board the plane and go home. But what is home? I had established a home and a life here! Yet where I was born and raised, my childhood house, that’s still home too. I stayed with my parents’ and they threw me a welcome home party. I reunited with all my childhood friends, hugged them instead of the traditional Dutch 3 pecks on the cheeks, and immersed in the initial attention of being back after a 2-year hiatus (Immigration took possession of my passport in 1984). However, as the weeks went by my initial stardom status wore off and everyone returned to his or her daily life. I set out to find a job, an apartment, buy a car and re-establish myself. It turned out to be more challenging than I ever imagined. It was home, yet I felt like an outcast, a newcomer, a stranger.

In a quiet area I plop down in the warm sand and run my fingers through it, making small circles, drawing, raking. Sadie pushes her wet nose into my thigh, a thank you token for her free run on the beach. She lies down next to me on her side, my loyal friend, as if she senses my deep musings. I feel her weight and warm coat against me, a sense of support and security, as I take in the waves dancing in front of me. I close my eyes as I deeply breathe in the salty warm air and cherish my fortune.

In January of 1988 the Director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism offered me a job to be his executive assistant in New York City. Without hesitation I accepted. They immediately arranged for the proper work visa and within two weeks I was back on American soil, commuting from Connecticut into the Big Apple, grabbing breakfast at the deli across the street, and giving the homeless guy in front a buttered roll and coffee too. One month later a co-worker handed out application forms to everyone for the green card lottery. It is crucial to complete these forms accurately: one mistake and you are rejected, deleted, dismissed. I painstakingly and against instinct followed all their intricate rules. And then I waited, and waited. Six months later my parents called to tell me that they received a letter and that I won the green card lottery. This was my second big life changing moment.

I get up and brush off the sand as Sadie jumps to her feet and runs towards the ocean, mouth wide open, swooping down to drink some salty water. I inhale the air and my eyes absorb the rolling waves as I desperately try to engrave all of it into my being. We walk up the incline back towards my Jeep. I look ahead at the vast fields alternated with a well-kept house, the flat countryside perfect for bike trips. One final time I glance over my shoulder at the ever-changing ocean. I have one foot here firmly in the sand and one foot in Holland, straddling the Atlantic Ocean, connecting two continents, two beaches, two homes. I start the engine, my windows are down, and I turn up the music as we slowly drive away. The warm summer wind swirls through my hair, Sadie spots a rabbit and I sing along with the radio. I feel like a million bucks!