My boyfriend came to visit me in Amagansett in July. One night, we built a fire, a neat pyramid of logs that burned with thin sheets of orange flame. The sand and water were black. Late at night, headlights appeared a mile or so down the beach, lighting up a run of foaming, grainy waves the color of newsprint.
We lay on our sides facing the ocean and he fell asleep. I stayed awake, watching the moon rise above the cloud-cover, moon rampant, so a river of light appeared on the water.
Earlier, we’d talked about how happy we were. “It’s the exact opposite of a trauma,” he said, “something so good it could ruin you forever.”
That’s another, strange worry about being here—you don’t want to let it be as good as it is. You worry about what could change between this summer and next, that you won’t be able to find your way back.
Last summer, my parents separated after thirty years together. My brother is in a psychiatric hospital onStaten Island, where he will remain for at least a few months. The pain attached to these two things is indescribable. It is deep; it goes down for fathoms and fathoms.
When I’m surfing, the pain drops away like a net. My entire body is keyed to the ocean, to diving deep enough under oncoming waves that I will avoid being pummeled, to scanning the middle distance for good sets, to balancing, to staying up for as long as I can.
And it drops away on the shore too sometimes, especially at twilight. Then, the ocean is calm and violet, nearly as pale as the sand, and I think of all the people who have lived here in the three centuries since Amagansett was settled, and before that. I think of them coming down to the shore, and watching the ocean, and wondering at its size and depth and contents. I imagine they felt demented with happiness at being so close to it.
On the night he arrived, my boyfriend and I stood on the beach at Napeague and watched a thunderstorm move east. Lightning burst down to the water, and we stayed until the storm was almost on top of us. Part of me thought it would be a good way to go, and we joked about returning to the beach in tinfoil suits.
The logic was backwards, though. I didn’t want us to die, I wanted us to become immortal, or some variant thereof. I wanted a white flash of lightning to reverberate around us, after which we would be able to move around independent of time. Live for years in what would normally have passed in a minute. Spend six months on a surfboard riding one wave, the whitewash rolling underneath, the sky streaked pink, and a month driving home through the cratered dunes. Spend five days at dinner at Bostwick’s, and three weeks on one gin and tonic at Indian Wells; two months bicycling under the pines on Old Stone Highway and a week drifting on the raft moored off Albert’s Landing.
And spend at least, at least, four years on the beach with a fire burning to our left and the ocean in front of us. That night, I listened to the dry wood crackling and the waves breaking and thought, As long as I stay here I’m safe.
I’m still there.
The same way that in my landlocked house in the middle of the country, in the dead of winter, I fall asleep and I dream, all the time, about surfing. These dreams don’t make surfing seem better or worse. It’s just how it is. The whitewash runs below the board, the dark shadows of rocks pass underneath, the ocean glows green, and somewhere in the distance the sharks nose through the water.
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