She’s been going to Fire Island since she was about twelve or thirteen, with her lifelong best friend, whose family has a house there. She spent enough time there growing up to become part of a crew of kids she’s known ever since. In college she spent a whole summer there working as a cocktail waitress. She has made out with boys on the beach. She has forgotten them over the winter and made out with their brothers the next summer. She has made out with boys her friends have made out with in previous summers and compared notes. She has been called a Fire Islander by Fire Islanders, about which she has a weird kind of pride. She has, for the most part, nothing but great memories associated with Fire Island, which is something she can’t say about any other place in the world.
This time she’s here for two weeks, basically by herself, basically on vacation, although she’s not sure what that means exactly. Her best friend’s house is not entirely preserved in amber, but the vibe is still very much We bought this house in the sixties with the furniture still in it. She likes things that don’t change. In theory, she likes things that change too, but when there’s a change that you do not plan, a major change that is decided for you, when you know you can come out to a place where you grew up and find it like it was forty years ago, it’s a bit easier to access that hope you had for the future when you were twelve and sixteen and twenty-one.
She meets a friend from her old crew for a morning walk on the beach. The only thing that’s notably different about it now is that they text to meet up. You used to just meet up. You knew you’d see each other on the beach, or in town (= a few blocks over where the candy store and pinball room are), or people would just stop by. You might have picked up the phone a time or two. But they aren’t teenagers now, and they aren’t here forever now. Go ahead and assume that these two made out on the beach in 1980 or something, whether they did or not. They did, though. But they were only ever friends. Occasionally there was a more fully realized boyfriend-girlfriend situation in their loose crew, but mostly it was exactly what summer romance had to be, by definition.
So they walk on the beach and they catch up on the last ten years or so since they’ve seen each other and she’s pretty sure she’s being flirted with, knowing this person and this place and its history and their history, though current circumstances make flirting, well, weird. She’s not interested in flirting and hardly remembers how anyway, although she’s not completely opposed to being flirted with. But she’s still married, and she’s been married for a long time. She may not be married for much longer, but she’s married now, and she’s been separated for about five minutes. She still has no idea what happened in her marriage, not really. Her husband moved out just over a month ago.
She came here to get away, get a different view, cry in a new location. Maybe crying with a view of the ocean would be better than crying on her sofa. She knew she might be risking her romantic view of Fire Island as the magical place where boys noticed her for the first time, where her day was made up of bike rides and beach glass and no cars and cans of Tab and her best friend, that if she chose this place for this purpose, one possible outcome would be that forevermore her Fire Island romance would be bittersweet at best and totally ruined at worst. But yesterday was made up of bike rides and beach glass and no cars and giggling with her best friend like they were still fourteen, and yes, crying, and today she’s walking on the beach with a cute fifty-seven-year-old boy who still thinks she’s cute. Who would leave you? he says.
This is what I keep asking myself, she says.