My heart hurts so much tonight. The power loss and our rapidly chilling house seemed beside the point as we sat in our shadowy kitchen, peering at the photos sliding across the screen of the smartphone, and I had to believe what the captions said.
That this had been a boardwalk. An amusement pier. A row of little shops where you could grab a Coke or a tube of sunscreen or some boardwalk fries.
The Jersey Shore, to those of us who really know it, has always been so much more than the loudmouthed reality show that stole the name and made it a punch line.
“That was my childhood,” said my oldest, staring at a neat row of concrete blocks on the smartphone screen. The caption called it the Spring Lake boardwalk.
“Mine too,” I said.
Well, not Spring Lake, in my case. But Manasquan. Point Pleasant. Wildwood. Ocean City once. Seaside Heights for sure, as a teenager – who didn’t?
I have a sister who lives a mile from one of those former boardwalks. Walking the boardwalk along the Atlantic, the sun just rising, the salt breeze blowing and the day just starting, is one of the joys of her life.
I can’t reach her yet. I know that on Monday, as the storm was prowling off the coast, we talked about what we were dreading and what we thought we were prepared for.
But nothing prepares you for the sight of nothing, in place of something that was so beautiful and uplifting to the spirit.
And no, it will never be the same, as my kids keep saying. I want to hush them, and say they are wrong, but they are not. And yes, it does break my heart.
I do believe it will be back, though. It will be just as wonderful. Different, but wonderful.
Perhaps to come to terms with what we are just beginning to understand, my kids and I began talking about the summers, all the summers down the shore. I wanted them to have the shore the way I had the shore when I was little, and they did.
Just as I did, they have memories of the good stuff and the bad stuff and the sometimes scary stuff, like the ride at Seaside Heights where my older child was too scared to get on until the operator said, “See this coin? I’m going to put it on the floor, and it’s not going to move.” And she rode, and it didn’t.
Or like the first time my youngest got rolled by a wave at Long Beach Island. She was maybe a year old, and I thought I was standing in a good spot but you know how tricky the Atlantic can be. One of those breakers got us good, and broke her out of my hold, and she went pinwheeling, somersaulting through the shallows as I splashed after her frantically.
Oh no, her first wave and it’s a horror show! She’s traumatized for life, I was thinking. My husband and I dragged her up and shook the water off her and thumped her back, crying, “Are you all right? Are you?”
She beamed up at us, grinning ear to ear.
“More!” she said.
The shore will be back. And so will we.