There’s a saying that goes, “If you’re lucky enough to live by the sea, you’re lucky enough.” I’m lucky enough to live by a sea, an ocean, a sound, a bay, a river and a dozen lakes so I’d say that I’m more than lucky enough. (I’m also lucky enough to live in the shadow of the greatest city in the world, objectively speaking, but that’s an urban story worthy of its own praise.)
I grew up jumping over horseshoe crabs; climbing to the top of lighthouses; and skipping school to drive to Montauk with my dad, a fisherman who has always enabled my obsession with the sea. My dorm room desk at college is riddled with seashells from the Atlantic, each one a vessel for a favorite memory or sandcastle or late day in August. This is my Long Island, my anchor.
Growing up, my friends gave one another hermit crabs as birthday presents and summer days found us digging holes in the sand, all the way to China or Narnia or Hogwarts or your fantasy realm of choice. When we were older, we stayed up all night and then watched the sun rise, a pile of sleep-deprived teenagers with sun-tanned skin (or in my case, sun-kissed freckles) intertwined on a rickety lifeguard stand. The day before I left for college, I sat in the parking lot of a nearby beach with the windows of my Jeep rolled down, trying to mentally bottle the sound of seagulls and Van Morrison and lobster traps being dragged along coral-covered docks.
Yes, Long Island is 7/11 convenience stores and bodybuilders who migrate to the Jersey Shore come July. Long Island is 3 a.m. diner trips, delis with the best bagels in the world, concentrated Long Island Iced Teas intoxicating their namesake population, and a little too much emphasis on the “aw” sound when pronouncing coffee. Between the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, all of these things demand attention. But they are trivial facets of my favorite place on Earth, and unfortunate pop culture references that will never by garish or gaudy enough to overshadow the feeblest of riptides.
Because Long Island is also the sound of the sea slapping the shore, whether it be the rocky north shore ports of my harbor town or the expansive sandy beaches of Robert Moses. Long Island is the smell of freshly-caught fish that I’ve learned to love, salty beach waves that can’t be attributed to any shampoo or styling product. Long Island is a message in a bottle, sent to an unnamed pen pal in Spain, and skin that is sunburnt more often than not. Long Island is knowing that, whether you’re in the deep South or Morocco or traveling around Asia, if you close your eyes, you’ll be able to hear the oceans of your anchoring childhood calling you home.