Thirty-two years ago, a summer share advertisement in The Village Voice changed my life. According to the Voice classifieds, half-shares were still available in a large beach house on Fire Island. My friend Caryn and I were fed up with our frustrating boyfriends and ready to fill those vacancies. We just needed to meet Bob, who was managing the rental, and come prepared to write our checks.
Living at home after college with overprotective and controlling parents was akin to occupying one of Dante’s innermost rings. My boyfriend had recently returned from his swanky ten year high school reunion and stated that he wanted to be free to see other people. He sure could see those other women as he was financially secure and had his own Brooklyn apartment. My $16.2K salary from working in municipal government barely enabled me to pay off student loans ($30,000 total, $116.78 per month) in an ethical fashion. An office job based at a remote Queens shopping center was not my idea of what a post-Barnard career should involve. It was as if those four amazing years on the Upper West Side had never happened.Two years of low wages and residing with my parents had broken my spirit. Infuriated by my boyfriend’s decision, I decided that a major change was in order. When one of my boyfriend’s house mates suggested that I get a Fire Island summer share, it gave me hope. Perhaps I could escape my family and figure out how to build a new and happier life.
Our Memorial Day ferry ride from Patchogue to Davis Park was magical. As a cool breeze blew through my hair, pain and sadness melted away. After landing, we strolled past “The Casino” (the only local bar and, thus, akin to Rick’s in “Casablanca”), rejoiced in armadas of sun-kissed children pulling red wagons, and headed towards Ocean Ridge, the last inhabited community on Fire Island. Wind chimes tinkled as Caryn and I wandered wooden walkways and found “The Red Barn”, a spacious shack on Seafoam Lane that would become our home away from home. For a grand total of $525 each, we would have a place to stay every other weekend for eight weeks and the right to spend a mid-week vacation after an assigned weekend. Bob (not sleazy in the least!) was delighted to fill his “B” weekend with gainfully employed, attractive young women whose checks would not bounce. Surely life would change for the better…
My intention was to secure breathing space and sanity, to have a place of my own apart from a childhood bedroom and an overstuffed desk inside a windowless office. No way I was going to sit at home and wait for the phone to ring! However, I wanted more than a mere respite from alienated labor, the dreariness of my entry-level job, romantic disappointment, and a combustible family situation. That summer I wanted to write. I didn’t know exactly what I’d write about but planned to discover what that might be.
Unfortunately, my mother freaked out when I informed her of my new summer plans.
“You’re going to the Land of Sodom and Gomorrah! You’re going to get AIDS! If you go to Fire Island, then you’ll be charged rent.”
“Mom, if you are going to charge me rent, then I might as well not live here.”
Fortunately my father had a more rational response.
“Take a ride with me in the car and tell me why you want to do this.”
While he drove around Fresh Meadows, I spoke about my loneliness and the desire for independence. My father appreciated my candor (“Dad, the last thing I want is another boyfriend!”). He confided to my mother that my long-time boyfriend would soon be consigned to the dustbin of history. My mother was eager for this problematic relationship to finally end (“Do you really think she’ll stop dating ‘Napoleon?’ “) My father was also relieved that I’d be in the company of a good female friend (“It’s not like she’s going alone, she’ll be with Caryn”) and parental objections were shed. It wasn’t like I was asking them for money, emotional support, or permission. All I wanted was my freedom.
That summer I didn’t write. In mid-June, a tall, dark, handsome stranger materialized on a rooftop balcony, beneath a canopy of stars. I’d noticed him earlier during cocktails at a sunset party and secretly hoped our paths would cross. It turned out he was a bit older than he looked, that his biological clock was ticking when it came to matters of children and family. I wouldn’t think about writing for myself until after our son was born, when the world became enchanted once again.