I. My fingers cling tightly to the edges of the pool, as I persistently tread water, staying afloat. The deep end tests our resiliency, our strength.
I peer at the male lifeguard, tanned and subdued and mysterious under black shades, and then return my attention to the blue water passing around and through me. I float on my back, creating tiny ripples with my hands, while I will any tension in my body to vanish.
The sun casts a serene light, illuminating the Long Branch condominium, where my great-grandmother resides for the summer. A light breeze gently caresses my face, and in that moment, I feel safe.
II. Tiny shells are engrained within the hot sand. The beach is rough on the feet, but it’s worth it to see the ocean shimmer in a silver, glitter-like glow. The view, along with the sea air, helps heal raw wounds and encourages compassion – compassion for the self, for the human experience. The wind howls through my hair that is wild and free.
III. I sit in the living room, the room that encompasses soothing salmon-colored walls and bowls of chocolate candies and pistachio nuts. I write sappy poems about someone I care about as the scent of Syrian cooking permeates the kitchen nearby; Kibbeh (fried croquettes filled with minced beef), Yebra (stuffed grape leaves, with dried apricots and prunes), and Fawleh (Syrian style string beans with Flanken). As my pen etches words onto paper, my stomach growls, and I eagerly await the elaborate Friday night meal.
My grandmother places gorgeous china plates on the table for the occasion, and when the food is ready, we indulge in the cuisine while listening to her stories. Stories of her youth, stories of her family. When she speaks, she radiates warmth and kindness and elegance. “For someone who has been through a lot, she has an incredibly positive outlook,” my mother says.
IV. When the sun sets, I fidget with the squeaky sliding door to the small porch and step outside into the night. The balcony overlooks the quaint church across the street, the ocean, and all the pretty lights that sparkle in the dark; I breathe in peace and exhale contentment.
V. We drive through the tree-lined streets by the water, passing decadent homes, beautiful properties, and private pool clubs. This scene contrasts with the undercurrent of Asbury Park, a a seaside community rooted in Jersey Shore history. Whenever I envision Asbury Park, I conjure up images of Bruce Springsteen, The Stone Pony (one of their renowned music venues) and a boardwalk that’s comprised of teenagers, funnel cakes, old rides, and rundown arcades.
I’m alert on these drives, breathing in the slices of life and summer vitality.
It’s a place that will always be a part of me. Times spent at the Jersey Shore were a call to action; a call for rejuvenation of the spirit.