My history of beaches

Personality quizzes like to ask you if you prefer the mountains or the beach.  I’m never exactly sure what this is meant to symbolise, but I always choose the beach.

Water baby from the start
Water baby from the start

I like music about beaches and water: as a kid I loved ‘Kokomo’ by the Beach Boys and ‘Orinoco Flow’.  I even convinced myself that Rod Stewart’s ‘Rhythm of My Heart’ was the actual soundtrack to C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  (Incidentally my favourite Narnia novel).  It does make sense–a lot of the song is Stewart mumbling incoherently and one of the few clear lines is the last one in the chorus, ‘Where the ocean meets the sky, I’ll be sailing.’  You guys, that’s what they were doing in the book.  But I digress.  What I’m trying to say is I feel a pull to the water, and while my associations with mountains (or other landscapes, for that matter) are generally vague, I have some very strong memories of beaches.  Like…

Jones Beach, Long Island, New York

So. Many. People.

Jones Beach was my standard for beaches for a long time.  In a way it was awesome–when I was about 12 I realized that kids in many parts of the country had no immediate access to the ocean, and that struck me as very strange.  I had Jones Beach at least.  But because it was my standard, I never really understood what articles were talking about when they lauded the ‘best beaches’.  I loved Jones Beach, but to love it you have to really commit to the idea of loving beaches, because it kind of sucks: you park miles away from the sand, and when you finally get to the sand you have to walk across a mile of it to get to the water.  The water is the Atlantic Ocean and it is always grey and freezing, even in the middle of July.  Even when that was refreshing because it was 95 degrees outside (not exaggerating), the waves are so rough you’re guaranteed to get dunked under.  Yet I keep going back, because…nostalgia?  I even look forward to taking my kids there.

The gorgeously grey water and rough surf.
The tunnel between the parking lot at the beach.

Paupackan Lake, Poconos, Pennsylvania

My grandparents bought a house outside of Hawley, PA before I was born.  They had it newly built and chose everything, and their choices were deeply and profoundly reflective of the 1970’s, most especially notable in the skunk striped shag carpet in the living room and the matching paisley bedspreads and curtains in the bedrooms.  That house was the setting of my childhood summers until the age of 17, and I friggin’ loved it, apart from a couple of super moody teenage years.

The house.  Also visible, some of my grandfather's many many collector's plates.
The house. Also visible, some of my grandfather’s many many collector’s plates.

It was kind of a weird place–there were all these houses dotted in the woods, many of them the same because it was a development, but without the manicured suburban feel.  There was also a lake, and the lake had a manmade beach with the grittiest white sand.  Of course the lake, being a lake in the mountains, was freezing, and that was amazing.  I spent entire days swimming in that lake, coming out only to drink some of the super strong iced tea my mother made, the kind that you mix up from a powder.  She brought it in a cooler with a spout.

Not pictured: the dock.

You could tell the beach was manmade because there was a concrete barrier keeping the sand back from the water.  They included a step going down to the water, and this was always covered with green algae that looked like a tiny underwater lawn.  There was also some of the sand at the bottom of the lake bed, but after about 3 feet deep it went to mud.  As a kid I was revolted by that moment when I would wade out and plunge my foot into soft mud as opposed to gritty sand.  At one end of the beach willow trees dipped their boughs into the water and it was like swimming in a fairy world.  The end of the swimming area was marked off by a dock, and as a kid it was my life’s ambition to be big enough to swim out to the dock.  All the older kids did, and they looked impossibly cool as they cannonballed into the water.  When I finally achieved this goal, I found I was scared of plunging into the murky water, but I did it anyway.  When we went to visit my grandparents in the winter the lake would be frozen over and the sand covered with snow, and it always struck me as bizarre that all the merriment of summer could be so completely stilled.

Megan’s Bay, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

My sister at Megan's Bay
My sister at Megan’s Bay

My dad worked in real estate development when I was a kid.  I think he approved loans for people to build hotels, although I’m a bit murky on the details.  All I know is that he went on a lot of business trips and people treated him–and us, when we went along–really nicely.  Fruit baskets in hotel rooms, fancy dinners out, that kind of stuff.

One of the deals he did was in St. Thomas, and he wound up going there several times, and we got to come along a couple of times.  I feel like I missed school for the trip, but more likely we went during winter break.  I was about 7 the first time, and it was the first trip I remember taking outside of the continental US, and our first big family vacation in awhile. I remember dressing for the plane in a corduroy jumper and a long sleeved blouse, and my mother warning me that I would be really hot.  I didn’t believe her, until I stepped off the plane into the sweltering heat and cried ‘Mom!  I’m boiling!’

St. Thomas was amazing.  Leon drove us around the island, and when it looked like our bags were lost, he took me and my sister for ice cream while my mom sorted it out.  Glover was our baby sitter, and I don’t remember much about her except that she had beautifully dark skin, that kind of complexion where she looked almost velvety, that she had a soft, accented voice, and that I had one of those kid crushes on her.  I also remember Megan’s Bay.

When the plane descended over the Virgin Islands, my mom pointed out the aquamarine water to me, and I was astounded.  Most of my experience was with grey and murky water, so I couldn’t believe this was the sea.  I remember admiring how suddenly the clear turquoise would stop, giving way to sapphire blue.  I asked my dad how that happened and he told me it had to do with depth.

This captures the essence of it.

My mom is a big beach goer so while my dad was wheeling and dealing, she found out the place to beach it, and was told to go to Megan’s Bay.  One of the first things I recall about Megan’s Bay is how much my mom loved it.  When you’re seven, everything is new, so the most astonishing sights blend in with the ordinary ones.  I certainly liked Megan’s Bay, and I could see its superiority to Jones Beach, but I didn’t quite grasp how idyllic it was.  All I knew was the water was clear and calm, so I could swim without fear of drowning, and those sun drenched days were extraordinarily happy.  In thinking about it the memories come back more and more: the toy shop where I got a cockatoo on a perch that sang, the Pizza Hut where I watched the video of ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ while we waited for our food, Java Wraps which sold island print dresses and my mom bought a ton of stuff for herself and us.  It was mostly me and my mom and my sister, and I don’t think I ever really appreciated that it was one of the best times of my life until now.

I think this post will have to be two parts, because I’ve only gotten through the beaches of my childhood, so to be continued…

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Source: Beach

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Contented Ever After

The (very famous) opening line of Anna Karenina is “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  This is one of those literary moments that became famous because it is a universal pearl of wisdom that Tolstoy shrewdly pointed out.  Most people focus on the ‘unhappy families,’ and all the problems and drama therein–after all, isn’t that the very basis of story even in life?  But I find myself in the first part of the sentence at the moment, settling in to contentment.

I think that’s the exact sentiment–settling in, and contentment.

There is nothing wrong with either of these things, really.  In fact, I’ve wanted both for a long time, and have tried to fabricate contentment all the years when I was alone and something was missing.  In our long stretches apart, the husband spoke very fondly of a time when we could be together and do nothing together.

So here I am, in happily ever after.  All the hullabaloo is over, and I have exactly what I’ve always dreamed of.  And I’m *not* ungrateful.  I’m very content.

Just…happily ever after feels a bit anticlimactic.

I’m not used to a quiet romantic life.  Up until now, my love story has had a sort of novelesque feel–finding someone so serendipitously, knowing we were right for each other so quickly and then making a relationship work across an ocean through sheer perseverance and the wonders of Skype.  The way he proposed so quickly, and as such a romantic surprise, planning a wedding and worrying how we would ever be together with draconic immigration rules getting in the way.

Because our time together was so limited, every second felt precious, and we felt the need to fill it with excitement and activity.  We were always going out somewhere, doing something, and when I arrived at last to live, the fairy tale continued, for we were gearing up then for a wedding.  I thought life had its quiet moments then, but I was wrong.  This is quiet.

After everything, I think that’s what I’m struggling to get used to.  The biggest day of my life, that I hoped and planned for since I was a little girl, is over, never to come again.  That’s an odd feeling.  I don’t think I would want to stage another wedding, not with all the stress of coordination involved, but it’s weird to know that I can’t dimly look forward to being a bride.

And life is so quiet.  Due to visa stuff I can’t work at the moment.  Tomorrow all my fellow teachers will be heading back to school, preparing course contracts, writing out lesson plan calendars, fighting for space at the copier.  In July I thought I’d never miss it, but now I find that I do.  That’s the trick of teaching.  You get to feeling like your life has some real drive and purpose.  But here I am, looking for ways to fill my days.  At the beginning of July, when it was all still like a fairy tale I thought I could happily be a housewife.  That’s because it was still novel, and still this illusion of peace in the midst of turmoil.  Now it’s all to easy to spend the day melting into the sofa cushions and watching bad reality tv while playing iPad games.

I’m *not* complaining.  I am happy to have my story, and I’m happy to be a wife, and to know in a few hours my husband will come home, and we’ll have dinner and live the ordinary life we’ve been craving.  I don’t even dislike the quiet, I’m just…struggling to adjust.  Everything went quiet so quickly.  It’s like when I would visit my grandparents in the Pocono Mountains in the summer.  In New York, even in Queens, there is always street noise.  Even if we didn’t live on a main drag, there was always one nearby, and the rush of traffic, punctuated by sirens and sometimes people wandering about, doing who knows what at 2am in the hours between Monday and Tuesday.  It was its own lullaby to me, and I grew used to the sounds, found the constant company comforting.  Then we would go to the Poconos, where there were no streetlights and the darkness closed around the car as we wended our way up barely paved roads with no sidewalks.  When I would lie in bed at night, all I could hear was crickets.  They were so loud, and so natural, that I missed the rush of the city.  Eventually I got used to the crickets, and they lulled me to a better sleep than I got in Queens, but there was still that period of adjustment, of learning how to cope with quiet after noise and bustle.

What I find weird is how the husband and I are settling in to our old routines even while everything is new.  I’ll happily sit chatting to my best friend while he plays Xbox.  There’s not anything wrong with this, but there’s still a part of me that wonders–shouldn’t we be glued to each other’s sides just that little bit more?  Is all the romance leaving our relationship already?  Probably not–we’re still quite sappy with each other, but it’s just another example of how quickly things are slowing down and how normal married life is.  When I was single, marriage seemed like this fantasy land, a nirvana where one has achieved perfect bliss.  That of course is hardly the case–it’s just life, with someone beside you.  And I’m struggling to get used to the normalcy of that.