The day after I turned 18, I left home forever. To this day, the fragrance of honeysuckle and salty air brings me back to that summer.
We had been on the road for hours,when the old woman in the front seat next to me directed me to pull into a narrow lane cut into the dunes. The bottom of the station wagon scraped on the hump of the lane; we were loaded down with a summer's worth of supplies, so much so that I hadn't had a rear view for the 10 hours I had been driving. I had no idea of where we were until I opened my door and stepped out of the car. Then I heard it- the crash of the surf pounding the shore of the beach across the dunes no more than 50 yards away. The air was damp and salty and heavy with the fragrance of the honeysuckles that grew 4 feet thick on the trellis that was the entryway to the house. I looked up and saw more stars in the sky than I had ever seen over my suburban NJ home; the sky was ablaze with them! A meteor shot across the sky at that moment and I made I a wish that I would never have to leave this place. Across the dunes I saw the sweep of the lighthouse beam, both a warning and a welcome for those out to sea. My thought was that I had found my paradise.
I bundled Grandma out of the car and into the knotty pine paneled house. I went back to the over-packed car and managed to find sheets and a blanket for her bed, which I duly made up. She was exhausted and only too happy to climb beneath the covers, whispering that we would unpack the car tomorrow. I gave her a kiss, having already developed a fondness for this sweet little woman with whom I would be spending my summer. I turned out her light and quietly slipped out the front door, breathing in the thick honeysuckle'd air. I skipped down the lane, across the street and climbed the dune keeping me from the beach. As I topped the rise the sound of the surf grew loud again. I stopped and stood as still as a tree and saw a beach like none I had ever seen before. It was wide and flat at the foot of the dune; the stars were so bright that I could see clearly: the waves as they washed ashore, their foamy white edges as distinct as if it were day. Overcome by the beauty and wildness of this place I ran down the dune, falling and jumping back up and laughing , filled with gleeful wonder. I ran in circles like a small child, with my arms outstretched behind me, chortling, and whooping with pure unadulterated joy. This was a feeling that I had never in my life experienced: pure joy, and a feeling that was to stay with me for the next 3 months.
When I finally exhausted myself with my wild capering in the sand, I set off walking. This was an odd thing for me too do as I had always been afraid of the dark, and never went outside alone. I felt no fear, only exhilaration. I walked at the edge of the surf, realizing only then that I had at some point lost my shoes and socks. I scuffed my feet in the surf as I walked. I looked down at my feet and saw the glitter and glow of phosphorescent algae in the surf, a magical sight. I threw my head back and laughed again at my marvelous luck. I broke into a run unable to contain my exuberance, spinning and jumping, until I fell back into the sand and looked straight up into the star-filled sky. 3 of them shot across my view in 3 different directions, but I made only one wish, the same as before, never to have to leave this magical place, having fallen head over heels in love with Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod.
The next morning, I woke up to see the sunrise over the ocean. I climbed out of my sandy sheets, and after making a cup of tea, walked down the lane following my path from just a few hours before. The view from the top of the dune was breathtaking. To the left were towering cliffs topped with grey weathered cottages that overlooked the water. Directly across the sun was peeking up over the the end of the world in a blaze of red and yellow. To the right was a huge expanse of beach and high dunes and behind those dunes a sea of green, a salt marsh. I ran down to the edge of the water and dipped my feet in the cold surf. There was not another soul in either direction. I drank it all in until my eyes overflowed with happy tears. So this is what dying and going to heaven feels like.
I fell in love many times that summer. I was very young and felt such things very intensely. My heart would soar then crash and I'd be crushed, only to get up and try again. It was like learning to surf, something did with one of the boys I had met. But they were on vacation, and I was living there, and a two week holiday is a short time to form a relationship, much less really fall in love. I remember those romantic interludes so clearly. I felt so powerful, so full of life, so alive I was unconquerable. I have never had that feeling again.
I would get up every morning and take my tea to the edge of the sea and watch the sun rise. Back at the cottage I'd go about my daily chores which were minimal: make Grandma's breakfast, a fried baloney sandwich-ugh- but that's what she wanted, I'd sweep up the sand, wash up the dishes , make our beds, then set Grandma up in a lounge chair, wrapped in a light blanket, facing the beach, I put up her umbrella, brought her a glass of tea and was finished. Free until lunchtime. To the beach I'd go! Mornings were for me. Walking north, I'd escape the small beehive of tourists and find a quiet spot to read and swim and skim stones on the calm days. I'd walk for an hour or two then head back to the cottage to make Grandma lunch. Usually she wanted grilled cheese, or a tuna and tomato sandwich on white toast; her tastes were bland and simple, even though I was an accomplished cook I had little to do. After lunch, I'd help her to bed and she would nap the afternoon away. I'd clean up and hit the beach, this time scanning the beach for boys, or rather, the boy. I felt I had my pick since it was my beach. Sometimes I'd walk south, beyond the protected area and find a party happening at the point, where trucks could be driven onto the shore. There would be music and beer and friendly people, but never the same group twice. But never was I lonely.
Every 18 year old girl, especially those who'd had a sad childhood such as mine , should have a summer like that summer. I have never since felt the way I did those 3 months, really a very short time span now that I look back from 40 years later. Yes, I was wild and reckless and free. But I was happy, truly happy, I felt pretty, I was confident, and there was nothing I could not do, for the first time I could ever remember. I thought that my future was so bright and that there was everything to look forward to. I lived in a happy bubble, a refuge from the angst and confusion of adolescence.
I did not realize that life had a different agenda for me, a very different agenda. But I was very lucky, and to this day, I bless that luck and I hold those 3 months close in my heart like the lighthouse, a beacon of hope that I will find that place again one day.