I grew up in a dinky beach town on the north shore of Long Island. Streets were wide, and speed limits ignored, but the homes along those roads were humble. The lawns were well maintained, though small. Properties were crammed together, and half the lot was pavement. Then down the road was a peach farm, and beyond that a flower market. My grandfather was very good friends with the owner of the pizza restaurant we ordered from every Friday, and went by the name "Paco" at his dart bar. The family next door was only around in the summer. We would get all our basic groceries from The Handy Pantry. All of these details are important to me. It was a special kind of suburbia.
My Long Island is not the one people think of when they hear that name. It was small, and there were families, and a locally owned ice cream parlor everyone went to and saw each other at, and there was scenery that you can't imagine. The Long Island Sound is my haven. It's warm waters were my first taste of the ocean's salt. My mother and I would spend whole summer days with my cousins on Scotts Beach, and bake in the sun, explore the shores, collect seaglass and pretty rocks and charcoal remnants from an extinguished bonfire, fraternize with our neighbors, and swim for hours. We would tread water until our toes were pruned, only breaking to visit the ice cream man.
I established a connection with water in those years. Even during the colder seasons, my mom and I would walk down to the shore and breathe in pastel, gray tones, looking for even more seaglass, and staring out at the blurred horizon.
We went swimming in November once. It was an indian summer, and it was late in the day, but an otherworldly, yellow glow was hovering, making our swim feel apocalyptic. If we didn't swim now, we might not ever again.
In Maine, the ocean is the only good thing. It's cold, but beautiful in a different way. My favorite summer spent with the Maine ocean was when my work schedule was from 5:45 am until 1 pm. I would wake up at 4:30, go to work, then speed to my spot on the beach, sleep in the sunshine and smell the salt without noticing until 6:00, go home for dinner, then out to spend time with my friends, and go to bed at 1:00 am, rinse and repeat. For five hours everyday, I was a mollusk on a rocky coast. It was divine.
Every spring, I have the tendency to get very existential. I'll assign more meaning to insignificant occurrences than I already do. I will meditate more. I will slow my life down. I will be patient. All of those thoughts are punctuated with the first swim of the season. It'll still be a little early for swimming, but it's such a hot day, that all I can do is maintain a steady, shallow breath. I'll be on my way to or from somewhere, and decide then and there that the moment is right. I will find a place that isn't too populated, go into the water up to my waist, and then dive. Then the cold water hits my face. That first moment every season is like waking up all over again. Then, just like collecting the seaglass on Scotts Beach, I'll funnel some of the water into a perfume bottle on my necklace, and keep it until it evaporates or spills.
Today was my first swim of this season, and it was quite the joyful punctuation on a week of happiness. I'll spare you the gratuitous symbolism.