The East End is My Wingman
I have given up on perfection. Too many nights I have sat awake in my bed trying to plan the perfect date. I script jokes, witty comments, and interesting facts. I have gone as far as to memorize an entire article about a Pit Bull Terrier named Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated war dog of WWI. I look up the weather and dress appropriately, shave my face, and comb my hair. I read reviews online for restaurants and only bring a date to a location I have already been so that I understand the parking situation and there will be no fear of becoming lost.
Inevitably, I always fall short of perfection. There is a freak thunderstorm, a large zit plants itself in the middle of my forehead and grows to a size larger than most nipples, or the restaurant is closed for repair or closed indefinitely. I will say the wrong thing; make light of something that I could have had no way of knowing was a sensitive subject for my date. How was I supposed to know that her sister has three nipples? I will do the wrong thing or more frequently, not act at all.
There is a fear in taking a chance, anxiety has a way of creeping down your back and planting itself firmly in your gut and telling you that you are not good enough, that you will fail, that you are hideous and vulgar, and all of your friends are really just people who take pity on you and put up with your shit.
I don’t get crushes often. I tell myself that there is no such thing as love at first sight and that I need to know someone for a long period of time before I can care about them. However, at the Southampton writer’s conference, I found myself captivated by a young woman. There was something about her demeanor, how she seemed both in the moment and out of place, that struck me like the wild arm of a dancer too absorbed in the music to pay any attention to wear she moved her limbs.
I found myself waiting for the right time to talk to her. Each day, I told myself that this day was the one and each day I convinced myself not to approach. It was a familiar routine and I hated myself for lapsing into old patterns. I decided to do something that seemed absolutely crazy in my head; I walked up to her. The conversation that ensued was absurd, silly, intellectual, and somehow deep. We hung onto each word and referenced and referred back to lines and images, forming a spiral staircase of words that seemed to rise in an infinite regress.
I suggested a scene change, a trip to Sebonac beach on the North side of the South fork to watch the sunset. Sunset at any beach on Long Island is a safe bet for a date, but the sky was cloudy and I was concerned that I had chosen unwisely. When we arrived, the sky cleared up just enough for the sun to break through and it’s light to refract, creating a mix of purple and pink so vivid that for a moment, I forgot about my colorblindness and wished I had dedicated my life to the mixing of colors.
I brought a bottle of Laurel Lakes’ Cabernet Sauvignon and assured my date that not only was drinking on the beach accepted, but it was encouraged, an undeniable part of the east end culture The only rules being that you must drink with grace and leave no trace of trash behind.
The sky continued to clear as the sun set and one by one; stars began to shine down until they became impossible to count. A light breeze chilled us and when I put my arm around her she welcomed my touch and leaned in closer. “Cue fireworks,” I joked, aware of how overly romantic this first date was turning. She smiled and laughed. Less than five minutes later, in a line from Aquebogue to Cutchogue, fireworks shot up into the sky. We could see fireworks going off in at least six locations, perhaps leftovers from the Fourth of July weekend, or rowdy teenagers enjoying the power to cause an explosion of light.
“Cue swans?” she joked and looked at me with her big brown eyes, her long blonde hair swaying against her face. I had spent many nights on this exact beach drinking wine and talking with friends about life and writing until the sun came up, and never had I seen a swan. Had I known she was fond of waterfowl, I would have taken her to the pond at Agawam Park in Southampton, a place where I was once accosted by an indignant goose.
We stayed at Sebonac and talked for an additional five hour, each story sparking another, each anecdote revealing more and more the person in front of us until we both realized how comfortable we were around each other, that we had forgotten to put up our walls our filters and presented the naked versions of ourselves, the awkwardness and weirdness not hindering us but endearing us to each other.
At 2:00 am, we picked up our empty bottle and plastic cups and gave one final look out to the bay and saw two swans swimming east. I don’t remember who moved to kiss first, but I remember our lips parting, my eyes still closed, a smile stretching my face and knowing that when I opened my eyes, she would be smiling too.
I have given up on perfection. What I have not given up on is the attempt. I fully believe that life is an act of failure. We fall short of what we want to say, do, or create, but we keep trying. I hold fast to the idea that the world is broken and that is on us to fix it, but there are always moments in this world, in life that can surprise you, moments that appear perfect, that inspire you. Perhaps that is what writing and art are, recognition of something beautiful in the world.
I grew up on Long Island. I have hated it and fallen in love with it time and time again. Maybe this woman will break my heart, maybe I’ll break hers, and maybe I’ll move inland and away from the ocean. I am thankful for that experience on the beach, to feel fractals of magic in the sand and the water, fragments of love in the evening and night sky.