Which is why Montauk and the Hamptons were such a revelation to me, to my wife. “It’s like a different world,” I commented later that same day as we drove, a little nervously, across the scarily elevatedPonquougeBridgetoward a late dinner at a seaside restaurant, the sinking sun making the dunes sparkle. We were in theHamptonsbecause of my son, who has always had an odd fascination with the idea of Montauk. He obsesses over maps, studies them like a religious scholar might an ancient tome, and more than once has corrected me or my wife when we’re traveling to some unknownLong Islanddestination. “You should have turned left, Daddy.” And I’ve learned not to argue; he’s always right. In his letter to Santa last year? He asked for an iPad, matchbox cars, a basketball, and anEasternSuffolkCountymap (he already had theWesternSuffolkCountymap, of course). He stretches out on the floor of the living room, map spread before him, tracing the route to Montauk with his finger, amazed that if we drove up Mill Road just a half mile to Sunrise Highway and turned right, then kept going straight (mostly), eventually we would run into the end of Long Island, halted only by a circle in the road and that venerable lighthouse.
MaybeTyler’s maps are his version of “The Woods,” imagined adventures and exploration in lieu of the real thing. Children have an insatiable curiosity to find out what’s just down the road, or over that next hill, or under that rock. Which is why I’m so thankful we finally listened toTyler, and for the first time after making LongIslandmy home 15 years earlier, we journeyed as far east on this island as you can possibly go.
At the lighthouse, when we returned to the shore, shoes damp, fingers slimy from overturning rocks, a small pinch on my left forefinger from a crab angry I had disturbed his domicile,Tylerfound the remains of a dead crab. Delighted, he picked it up and studied it. I waited for my wife, a germaphobe of some renown, to scold him, to order him to drop the vile remains, frantically digging for the sanitizer she keeps in her purse at all times. But she stayed silent and simply watched, perhaps transported to her own childhood in theDominican Republic, walking to the beach with her brother and sister and an endless array of cousins and neighborhood children, heading off on their own adventures.Tylerheld up the unfortunate crab to show me and he smiled his beautiful smile, with the crooked teeth that will soon need braces, just like his Daddy’s once did.
Naturally, I took a photo. We were tourists, after all, a camera dangling from my neck like some sort of garish necklace throughout our entire vacation. Earlier, I had snapped a photo of the mystery creature, too. I figured that with the miracle of Google images, I could eventually answerTyler’s question. “What is it, Daddy?” We could research the creature together, maybe make it a family project, fodder for some fourth-grade school report, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” But even when we were back home, and we watched the slide show of our vacation, landmark after landmark, picture after smiling picture, when the slithering injured creature appeared on my iMac screen,Tylersaid nothing, even as I paused the slide show and let the image linger before us. He did not repeat the question, “What is it, Daddy?” It didn’t seem to bother him, the not knowing. Perhaps not every question needs answered. As every child instinctively knows, on adventures, you sometimes choose mystery.
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