I am never going to leave Virginia Beach, where the boardwalk is stone and the hotels are a wall of blocks flanked by mulched banks of flowers. The bike trail veers from the oceanfront through a pine forest, deep and green. The waves are so gentle they almost don’t break. We have a coupon for a free drink at the bar.
In Narragansett, the bay is true navy with white sails scudding, the beach a smile of sand in a rocky clasp. There is no retail anything anywhere, not a hot dog stand, not a hotel. We dragged chairs for a quarter-mile to study real estate listings on the beach. If we had to leave we would surely return.
As we did to Long Beach Island, in the cool of October, to look again at the yellow house moored like a yacht between the ocean and the intracoastal. A silver fish was on the wall. It cost a million dollars but came with two beach badges.
Retail everything, candy and more candy, a drunk bus, a thousand condos: in a tacky lowdown town like Ocean City, you can never leave. But no easier can you preppy Rehoboth or suburban Bethany. Some day you will get around to Lewes, and once you do you will be in love. June after June you are in love for the first time and the last time. Like a crab, you dig a hole in the sand and call it home.
(That crazy long-gone boy, running across Miami Beach in a gauzy turquoise wrap, platinum extensions flying.)
In Port Aransas, where you cleaned the tar from the children’s feet several times a day: you would still be there, eating shrimp your boyfriend cooked on a motel stove.
No one is leaving Key West, Port St. Lucie, or Assateague, sunburnt, wind-washed, mosquito-bitten as they may be.
In 1979 and 1980 you will not leave Puerto Escondido. Why would you ever be anything but a girl in a black bikini serving fried fish in the palapa of a woman named Petra? Wild pigs lived on a hill near the beach. There were no bathrooms and you slept in a hammock, Petra on three chairs placed in a row.
Like Virginia Beach, Hilton Head has resort-style landscaping and beautiful bike trails, but when you were there you knew the true political meaning of everything and were young enough to care. You thought you would be able to leave Big Brother’s hot tub but your mother-in-law had a time share, the petit bourgeois simulacrum of the Eternal Return.
In Nags Head as in Kitty Hawk, in Okracoke as in Duck: the vacation homes rent Saturday to Saturday, Saturday to Saturday, Saturday to Saturday. As it was in the beginning, is now, and always shall be, world without end, amen.
On Stinson Beach, the cottages sit right on the beach, sides drifted with sand. Two little girls play a game called Wedding in the room with the bunk beds while their mothers squat on the patio, grilling oysters. This goes on for days.
At 5:44 this morning the sun rose over the water and made its golden path. I saw this vision for the first time on a beach called Phillips Avenue, near Asbury Park, where I grew up. That day I was a teenager, stoned on pot, completely dazzled. In those years before the hurricane, Phillips Avenue had a yellow striped pavilion, Lavallette a whole village of tiny bungalows. Seaside Heights was a honkytonk with a roller coaster.
This is me and my sister on the beach at Elberon with our babysitter. We have cheese-and-tomato sandwiches in a brown paper sack. Our mother is late to pick us up, and if she never comes, that is fine. We will live under the boardwalk, where it is shady and cool.