Roller Coasters

In the first few weeks after I moved halfway across the country I dreamt of family—husband and child, parents and siblings, in-laws—on various beaches facing towering waves. I have dreamt of families and homes on sand for years.

When I was twelve, my family moved to Rockaway Park in New York City, the oh-so-un-city spit of sand at the end of the A-train line. Compared with Brooklyn, the community at first seemed too tame, but in time I learned to appreciate its seclusion—summer nights with friends on the boardwalk after daytime visitors had left; fall and winter walks on empty beaches; springtime bike rides along quiet streets that held the promise of chance encounters with acquaintances.

My parents separated when I was fifteen, and it was soon after my mother left that my siblings and I began to leave one by one. At first it was an innocent summer away, but the groundwork was laid for the dissolution. Within a few years only my younger sister remained with my father in our creaky, old house.

Dreams of living on a beach became my almost-too-perfect metaphor for the precarious nature of homes and families and the transient nature of our lives’ bearings. In my adolescence I dreamt of living on the exposed beach, building shelters in the sand, and being threatened by huge waves. Yet for years the home in Rockaway remained the place of family, and I found refuge there when needed. Eventually, though, the house was sold, my father moved to an  apartment in Brooklyn, and my younger sister to an apartment in Rockaway.

One day my sister called to tell me that she and her husband were moving to California. I went home, to Rockaway, to see them before the move. And again, too perfect a metaphor, that weekend, from my sister’s balcony, we watched as the amusement park, Playland, was demolished.

Built on sand, Rockaway is a community not so much unlike other ones. Lives are lived and passed, and memories are eroded away by time and change. Eras are washed away with the inevitable passage of time—the whole becomes fragments and eventually grains. We pass on things—trinkets, houses, businesses, and myths—our goal to create a permanent presence.

There are no traces left of my family having once resided in Rockaway.

I miss the sense of home that once existed. I miss a seemingly permanent place. Eroded by one wave, the sands shifted forever.

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6 Responses to Roller Coasters

  1. lmussehl says:

    Great piece! Love your work.

  2. Pam says:

    Another nice quilt.

  3. What a beautiful metaphor about the transience of our lives. I spent many years at the Attorney General’s office where one of my tasks was to review building permits for Texas beaches, particularly after hurricanes, when people would want to rebuild and be as close to the new water line as they could be. It was hard to understand why they continued to argue against this fundamental truth: water always wins. Yet, as your piece lays bare, memories die hard….they won’t dissolve in the rush of waves and water.

  4. Thank you–and yes, water always wins; such is the nature of the shoreline.

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