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The first photos that appear on my phone, right below the contact pictures for my closest friends, is the wreckage of the Jersey Shore. Currently it has been almost a year since my last visit. “Last” in this context meaning “final” rather than “previous”. Until now, my father and I held a tradition to vacation there every year on my summer break. It had reached the point of staying in the same hotel room and people at the front desk remaining in my memory. For various reasons, we have decided not to go there this year, and honestly, no matter how much I will miss the beaches and boardwalk and arcades and swimming pool and my dad assuring me it’s not hot enough for sunscreen right before I get a sunburn, I don’t wish to return.

Natural disasters have usually evaded my perception. I would hear about them, talk about them without being in denial, but always from a distance. Never in reach of me or my own life. I even managed to delude myself as the winds of Sandy rattled the windows of my home, as my mother expressed her fear of our tree crashing through my bedroom window, as the power went out, and the buzzing and flashing from the transformers kept me up at night. But the storm ended. And hey, it got me a week off from school.

When my internet connection returned one of the most trended pictures over social media was a roller coaster sinking into the ocean. At the time it did not register to me that what my eyes were seeing was the Jet Star they saw every year on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Because I could not imagine it could be from my boardwalk.

So seven months later (in my vacation of last year) my father and I went through our usual habit of driving down to the shore. I had expected to see some debris. Planks of wood, here and there. It began as we arrived, when we crossed the bridge over the bay and saw that the dock was no longer there. It was not the damage done, but what was missing. Just the summer before I had taken pictures there, carefully holding the camera above the water to get a better image of the glowing pumpkin that was the setting sun. It was the only time you could look into it without a glare in your eyes. I didn’t drop the camera (even when a girl leapt out and shouted the lyrics to “Call Me Maybe” at me), and I still have the photo. A swing set once there was also gone. Water and tall grass replaced it. That’s when I began to capture it all on my phone.

Looking at them now, the pictures tell a tale of emptiness. Of something that was once there being violently torn apart.

Even so my father and I checked in to pack our things in the familiar room and left for the beach. The sand was clean, if laden with more trash cans than before, and the sky was clear. The waves rose in farther than I had ever seen, offering a floor of smooth pebbles and broken shells along with clumps of crab claws and splinters.

After the beach we drove to the boardwalk. The destruction there was less prevalent than it was months ago, but damage was still there. Though most of it was blocked off by steel gates bent by the storm, other tourists still took pictures beside the rides stripped to metal skeletons and rusted girders. A sign for FUNTOWN AMUSEMENT PIER was standing, welcoming us the edge of the snapped-off bridge leading to the endless ocean. Walking further I realized more than that one roller coaster was taken away. The spinning Rock & Roll ride I rode with my cousins as gravity pulled us to the sides of our seats. The Haunted Stillwalk Manor, Pharaoh’s Fury, The Mouse Trap. All gone.

Looking up at the splintered edge where the Jet star had once stood it hit me that it was that specific roller coaster from the pictures online. What was in that picture was a real thing my eyes had seen before. Burrowed in my memory what was the one ride no one I knew would brave to go on, both for its intimidating size and its placement at the very end of the boardwalk forced whoever rode it to face the unfathomable depths of the ocean. I had an irrational fear of the ocean at night. The water reflects the sky, so when it becomes dark and the active neon boardwalk fades out the stars, the ocean blackens. And when my family would take me far out enough on the pier, beneath my feet in-between planks would be dark waves. My family considered it a nonsensical fear. When I grew older, so did I. Moving on to the beach beside the boardwalk, debris still washed up onto the shore. I found a rusted bolt, which presume held up the roller coaster or boardwalk itself. I kept it.

It went on and on and on. As neat as the construction workers kept it, every step further led to broken garages or a battered door off its hinges or discarded flip-flops. My dad tried to be optimistic as we entered the “Restore the Shore” sale, telling me that with the repairs can come a reinvention of the boardwalk. But entering the store, seeing a poster hanging up of a helicopter shot of wreckage on the pier, and the manager telling me he saw houses “fold up like an accordion”, I found difficulty in looking on any bright side on that beach. Seeing all this felt like a friend of mine had died. When expressing about the pictures to my mother, who was at home, she texted back, “well at least the hermit crabs are safe.”

When it became dark and we returned to the room in the hotel I walked out to the balcony. A cluster of tiny beach houses stretched out to the highway, but there were no lights. No glowing towers or ferris wheels to brighten the sky. Only darkness and nothingness and void.

The remainder of the vacation was quiet. With the hotel mostly empty I stayed in the lounge to read or message my friends, saying I had the “entire hotel to myself”. Though I couldn’t bring myself to go in the arcade at the hotel. When we were returning from the boardwalk the radio informed us that James Gandolfini, the actor who portrayed Tony Soprano, had passed, and it hurt to play the Sopranos pinball machine with his face on it. But we would return to the boardwalk for the operating stores and to have the best pizza ever. The broken spectacle had not written kite flying and sunbathing out of our schedule. It was enjoyable overall.

Every picture I have tells a story, breaching into a different memory. The final photo I took was of the Funhouse Pier house, before it burned down months later. All of it was a broken spectacle.

When returned home “Jersey Shore” the reality show was on TV. It brought back another memory, when I happened to be there while they were filming an episode. A wave of people passed on the boardwalk and I put together what they were following when I saw the cameras and lights. Snooki was not there at the time, as she was preoccupied with being in jail. I stopped to watch the first episode in an attempt to get myself to laugh. As I sat on my couch and watched the first episode a number of things depressed me in more ways than one. Not only the indulgence of stereotypes depicted on my screen but the lights of the boardwalk rides were in the background and establishing shots. I couldn’t watch it anymore. Reality TV depressed me more than the boardwalk

The Shore was a part of my life for nearly a decade. In some cases, it reunited my family. If my family decides to return there in the future, it will not be the same. The memories have still taken up memory in my mind and camera. At least for me. It would not be something I’d mind if this was the result of changing times and the decline of the trends I’m used to. But all of it was taken by force. The summer retreat I remember for almost a decade was, literally, swept away by a wave. It will be somber to move on to something else, but I suppose that’s a part of life and nature.

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