The Edge of the Earth
I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and spent my formative years in Bay Ridge; moving to Long Island as a teenager. Looking out of the windows of our large living room gave a view of the whole street. Brownstones, an apartment building, an old Colonial from the pre-Civil War era and street level row type houses near the end of the long block. There was no grass or flowers or trees to speak of amongst the bricks and asphalt. However, this was no concrete jungle as I spent many days walking the streets sometimes alone. As luck would have it both Bliss Park and Shore Road were within walking or biking distance from my home. It was in Brooklyn that I first became aware of the power of the ocean to offer a soothing tranquility of mind and spirit.
Dad worked as much overtime as possible trying to provide our family a better life. Mom was intelligent and likable but we rarely saw that person behind closed doors. As the oldest of three sisters and a brother their protection and well-being became my concern and subsequently my burden. Mental illness was something a person never admitted to having unless they desired being ostracized from society like a leper. Having no consistent follow up allowed her to amass large quantities of prescription drugs to “calm her nerves”.
Having a yard was seen as a luxury and having a tree of your own was unfathomable to a working class family in the city. Bliss Park or Colonial Park as it was known to the kids of the time was lush and green with a playground, walking paths and “Dead Man’s Hill” which was a very steep and rocky hill. From some parts of the park you had a nice view of the nearby ocean. For an even better view you travelled to the walking/bicycle path off of Shore Road by the Verrazano Bridge which runs by the Belt Parkway. I would usually go here alone walking my bike along the cobblestone walks of Shore Road to get to the path. To me the view of the bridge and the ships on the water was amazing! The warm rays of the sun calmed my frazzled nerves as they kissed the waves with their glistening light. Here, I wasn’t the frightened little girl fighting for survival but had a connection with the water that offered hope, strength and respite.
When my Dad was promoted to management we moved to West Babylon. I initially did not want to go so far away from the comfort of familiarity. It was a whole other world! There were no sidewalks! The house was in the middle of grass with trees, flowers and a swing set in the backyard. I thought “Great! Our parents moved us to the park! This place is in the middle of nowhere!” Day trips out east to places like the Long Island Game Farm revealed even more park like remoteness.
Dad thought it was great! He grew up on a farm so having a piece of land meant he was finally seeing the rewards of all his hard work. I must admit the fresh produce he grew really did taste better. Mom continued to be consumed by her illness to our detriment. My siblings and I eventually got used to living in the park. Squirrels and birds inhabited the tree outside my bedroom window. It gave me some peace but I really missed not being able to just walk or bike to the ocean. That feeling had been left behind on Shore Road.
One day, some years later my friend Cathy suggested we camp out at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk, N.Y. Camping was a typical middle class people’s vacation. Yeah it was hot and buggy and you cooked over a camping stove or the barbecue and showered outdoors. However, where else could you get an ocean view so cheap? It was a perfect vacation for two young women on a tight budget. Loving this absolutely great idea we set out on our new adventure.
We arrived in Montauk a little late after being stuck in traffic along Rt. 27 through the Hamptons. We managed to check in and get the tent set up just before dark. Thank Goodness as this was the first time putting up a tent by ourselves! We were not even hungry and just grabbed a snack from the cooler. Then we found a flashlight and went in search of the bathroom before settling into our sleeping bags for the night.
I woke to Cathy shaking me saying “Debbie, get up! You have to see this!” I shouted “GO AWAY!” Then I realized it was still dark and now I was annoyed. “What time is it?” I asked. Cathy just pleaded “Come out here. You have to see this!” So I reluctantly dragged myself out of my comfortable sleeping bag to see what all the fuss was about. When I stumbled outside she excitedly exclaimed “Look up!” My annoyance quickly turned to awe.
Against the black canvas of the night sky there were thousands of stars! It was a sight that we had never seen outside of a planetarium. Oh you can look up anywhere at night and see stars but not with such clarity. Out here the sky had no competition with street lights, homes or shopping centers. Just pure mother nature in all her naked glory!
We tried counting the twinkling stars but there was too many. Next we started picking out the constellations. It was more difficult to find them because of all the stars. Cathy thought she found Pegasus but I could not see it. To her credit she was definitely more educated about Astronomy. She found the North Star but it was not as bright as I imagined it would be. We found the big and little dipper. Apparently, Drago the dragon, winds his way between them to face his eternal mortal enemy Hercules. Before we knew it the stars started to give way to a lightening sky.
We decided to walk down to the beach where a large yellow sun seemed to simultaneously touch both the sky and water as it peeked over the horizon. It truly felt like we were standing on the edge of the earth! My nostrils filled with the scent of salt air as the sun slowly energized me with its warmth. We watched as the sun’s light danced along the water making it sparkle like glass. Our bare feet were nestled in the cooling sands of the shoreline. The rhythmic rolling waves licked our feet with their warm frothy tongues as they came ashore. I suddenly realized this was even better than the feeling I had left behind on Shore Road!
For those moments in time nothing else existed but complete peace and contentment. A feeling of total relaxation and renewed energy that allows you to believe that you possess the ability to handle anything life wants to give you. Montauk remained a place of immeasurable beauty and tranquil solace even after moving to Shirley. There at the end of the earth I’m not a person who struggled with PTSD or any other disability. I’m empowered serene and free!