Growing Up by the Sea MAG

May 31, 2011
By Elizabeth Ostertag BRONZE, Scarsdale, New York
Elizabeth Ostertag BRONZE, Scarsdale, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

I am blind. As my fingers turn the rusting padlock on the wooden door, I am no longer Me. I may pretend to be oblivious to the shards of shell digging into my feet or the minuscule spiders prancing out from beneath the door. I may even pretend that what’s behind the door means nothing to me, or I may pretend that what’s behind it means the world to me.

Either way, I would be lying.

I grunt as I attempt to turn the rusty lock. Even unlocked, the door stubbornly refuses to give way. With the sun beating down on my neck, I give it one last pull and it opens slowly, creaking.

Spiders thread between forgotten boogie boards, half-filled sand pails sit deep in the purple sand. Shovels are heaped in a pile, waiting for a child’s hand to free them. It is dark down there, and the dampness seeps into every corner of the sandy wasteland beneath my house.

Then I hear the footsteps.

The pounding footsteps of three blonde children, different as can be, returning from a long day at the beach. Shouts of “I call shower first!” echo down the streets. Our streets. The island was a children’s paradise simply due to the absence of cars. We could run free.

The “Do you remember?”s could go on forever. From outside the door of the storage area beneath our beach house on Fire Island, I see the curtained window of our room. At one time, all three of us piled together in those wooden bunk beds. Emily and I, the two oldest, naturally claimed the top bunks. The heel marks on the ceiling remain as proof of our late night musical endeavors.

I could pretend to be like the other passersby, walking by with a mere, “Oh, what a gorgeous house. And look at those flowers!” But I would still be able to see my mother’s proud smile as she overheard the neighbors’ praise.

But if I were only a passerby, flowers would just be flowers. I wouldn’t remember the musty smell of my mother’s shirt after hours spent gardening, her face flushed with happiness. Buried in her shirt, I first smelled the bittersweet tang of hard work. And I would never have flown. That’s what it felt like, perched atop the lifeguard chairs at night, after all the day-trippers had gone. I would scream, laughing, as I jumped onto the sand, as Emily shouted at me from below.

But I can’t see the memories naturally, squinting into the darkness of the past. Looking at the toys, my heart swells with the regret of growing up. The broken wheel of our red wagon lies buried in the sand. Those wheels, once silver, were entrusted with rolling three children, buried in blankets, for late night ice cream cones. On the way back, we would fall asleep on one another, our unfinished cones slack in our hands.

Then there was the summer Emily didn’t play anymore. I remember when her boogie board was first claimed by the spiders, forgotten in the back of the sandy closet. I would watch the spiders climb all over her toys and pretend not to notice, instead fleeing the storage area with Jack, my little brother, pulling our toys behind us.

I would still leap from the lifeguard chair, but it was my little brother who watched from below, no longer Emily, with silent awe at my fearlessness.

Then it was my turn.

Though I had grown up with the ocean, I thought I’d outgrown it. I would watch the rising, crashing waves longingly, but pretended to prefer baking in the sun. I would take long walks on the beach, watching people from behind my thick-rimmed sunglasses. Walking, walking, walking, but not knowing what I was running from. I told myself my parents wouldn’t worry about me, that they didn’t care.

I had run away once before. As a toddler, I wandered from the house and walked down the beach alone. I had waddled about two miles down the shore when a woman found me. Confidently, I had directed her to my house, where my parents were in hysterics.

But things had changed. I didn’t know that I had the confidence to lead myself back home.

All this is hidden among the piles of forgotten shovels and pails. And so I close the door and latch it, blind to the memoirs of another.

Another who just as well may be Me.

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