During the 1980s, my parents had, depending on how you look at it, the foresight or stupidity to buy up a whole bunch of houses in Seagate, Brooklyn. Seagate, the small gated community about one mile from all of what was then the danger and prostitution and general seediness of Astroland, Cyclone, Thunderbolt territory, was summertime to my family and me. We knew nothing of this Disney World all the kids would write about in their “What I Did Over the Summer” essays on the first day of school. We had a few brief encounters with the Turkish variation of the Catskills in upstate New York, but for the most part, we were a family of beach combers, spending all day or even heading over at dusk to eat dinner on the sand. Seagate was a destination spot- a vacation and it represented all of the gorgeousness of summer. Fuck spring and its cold spells and sinusitus. Summer was the season I loved most. Off from school, my father included, and we had the longest, loveliest, laziest days to look forward to spending on a beautiful Brooklyn beach.
Suddenly, and with all of the viciousness of a famished seagull attacking a carelessly discarded bread crust, my family as I knew it disappeared. My Dad died. Minus one. Late May. My Mom. Even now in my thirties I am only beginning to understand the horrifying details of her experience with death and the the family that it left behind. Deeming my brother old enough to be left alone to cope with his sadness, she gathered up her girls aged six through twelve, some bathing suits and towels, a couple of bottles of suntan lotion and cheap shampoo and took us right back to the only beach resort she had ever known.
It was different that summer, without the men, without our Dad. I think we were all pretty numb. Afraid of what was so very obvious. My parents had rented out the apartments in the houses on the beach, so my Mom set up shop in one of the basements. Semi-finished. A small TV. A couple of beds. Running water. Stove. Refrigerator. Water bugs. Centipedes. She would wash our hair in the kitchen sink and comb it straight with a rough hand. We were slathered in Coppertone and then sent off to the beach, my sisters and me. Off to the beach where we could run far away from our sadness and loss. Where the enormity of the ocean would soothe our broken hearts. We were so tiny in that ocean and though we could never articulate it then, there was something calming in that smallness. We didn’t know it, as we tumbled and rolled along the sandy bottom of the sea, but we were learning the valuable truth that there is something greater than us, some force that is so much more powerful than we are and that it is so wildly uncontrollable that maybe it is ok to succumb to it.
And so, this is how my tenth summer came and went. Eventually, we had to pack up and return home and face the scary truth about what happened that late spring, but somewhere in between the gray and scary basement of an Atlantic Avenue mansion and the gray and scary waters of an Atlantic Ocean basin, I grew up. And gave in. And let go. A little.