Springs, New York 1974-2021

“I think we turn here……or maybe it was back there, one of those other roads” I said scanning the woods surrounding the car, the map on the phone was an excellent guide in trying to get to where we wanted to go but, in my mind, I had no idea where this was, so we drove one way, turned, and drove in another direction. None of the houses looked familiar, they were larger, set back into the pine trees and wealthier than what stood on this point of Long Island over 45 years ago. Springs-Fireplace Road winds from one end of East Hampton to the other, looping through all of Springs, New York like an unraveled garden hose. My memory of living there is formed in clumps, nothing linear just emotional pockmarks nestled deep in my amygdala, they are all lovely and safe, so it makes sense that I wanted to go back here, to find the place where everything was perfect for a year or at least felt that way. We drove from Ohio on my own mission that my partner was able to indulge me in, with care, love and most importantly understanding how I have needed to do this. We listened to a very long playlist I have been adding to for the past year, comic/crime podcasts and laughed as we went across northern Pennsylvania in one “straight-shot” (moves arms back and forth quickly as if performing a jujitsu move.) I had been planning of returning to this brief childhood home since I became an adult and started travelling to New York City in the early nineties although almost all the trips involved seeing music or on those earliest trips a girlfriend, there was not any time to explore the haunting of my childhood, the globs of childhood that spoke from deep within my mind were easily wiped away by concrete, amplifiers, and sights of the city. Besides, I was usually too drunk or too hungover to want to drive 100 miles for something that may not exist any longer.

                Leading up to the trip I began experiencing vivid dreams, most involved the ocean and some that were filled with the anxiety of travelling, of waiting to arrive but not yet being where you are headed. I had also received a message from my estranged father who turned eighty this past spring, and in a moment of clarity I realized that I did not want our final correspondence to be one of anger, which it had been—our last correspondence one of sharp words that left no doubt where I stood on our relationship—me, as the protective father he never was. And, so I sent him an email in some ways trying to offer something akin to a truce—and allowing him the opportunity to meet his grandchildren who are now teenagers. There was no answer to my email until a few days before my fifty-third birthday and about two weeks before the trip to New York. There was nothing different in his tone or his thoughts, it was the same as it has been for the past forty years and while I realize as a middle-aged man, he can no longer hurt his son, it stung like a small soul pinch (a soul titty-twister) and then I moved on. (Sigh), I tried. It was this event that loomed over this journey backwards forty-five years as we are straight shotted across Interstate 80 while Everything but The Girl and Lou Reed bounced around my white Volkswagen sedan.

                My mother and my former stepfather David had moved us from Youngstown to Springs in late 1974 or early 1975 where he got a job as a marine biologist working near Montauk, for David it must have felt as if he was going home. He grew up in Brooklyn, went to Syracuse on a football scholarship, joined the military, ended up moving to Germany for his PhD and ended up meeting my mother in Athens, Ohio as her marriage was falling apart. He took a job in steel mill in Youngstown in 1973, maybe doing mindless blue-collar work would help him make sense of his life and after a year he moved us to Long Island. The time we spent there has made an indelible print on my life as the soft ease of living in the woods, near water that was so large to me at the time it appeared that the sea could swallow the sky in several gulps and without the arguing of my parents during the first five years of my life—for me, the memory of Springs has been one of calm and discovery—like watching a nature show narrated by David Attenborough, while there was some danger in the bush everything would be alright and, in fact, everything held beauty. There were deep walks in the woods behind our house, where we would find box turtles, and with the ocean only minutes away we would walk after a heavy rain and stare at the crashing waves, the violence of the water holding my gaze because there was nothing else to do. When one sees such authoritative beauty one can only watch. I fell in love with the ocean during that time in my life, it’s attraction still holds me today, when dreams of water—of traveling over it, and succumbing to it as a blanket covers a bed still arrive with regularity. Ohio has no sea, we do have Lake Erie—itself mimicking the ocean in it is midwestern manner—it too has a temper, as well as lighthouses, barges, and fishing, but it is miles from Columbus and when one knows something is an imitation, it will never hold the same power as the real thing. So, I continue to go back to the Atlantic Ocean of my childhood.

                “Let’s go to New York City” I mentioned to her one night, we were trying to plan our summer, both of us having a busy July and August planned, while trying to juggle children  and all after a global pandemic. Looking over dates we choose one and she asked me about Springs. I told her about my hopes of always wanting to return, to fold out the wrinkling brittle map of my childhood and see if I could connect the emotional dots by seeing the proof of when I felt a certain type of joy and calm. “Let’s go!” she said, kissing my forehead. “But it’s a far drive from the city—it is literally on the longest end of Long Island,” I explained, “probably a two- or three-hour drive.” “I always like driving with you” was her answer followed by another kiss. For my birthday she procured a motel room on the beach and off we went. Love is indulging in the other’s dreams. So we drove and drove and after a day in the city drove again out to  Springs, battling traffic and the male Australian voice from the Google Maps app on my iPhone  seemed to grow annoyed by my ignoring his advice. At one point I was expecting him to just say, “well fuck it then, find your own way mate.” We found Springs, and the ocean for which we tried to swim in—I was braver and stayed in longer, making several efforts before the cold water pushed me away so we collected shells, watched the clouds, and in one beautiful instance watched two deer climb upon the sand dunes to our left, their bodies holding our gaze until they slipped away into the darkness.

                That evening as we searched for a house that no longer exists, I phoned my mother asking her if she remembered the address of the house, “I don’t know Bela, let me think….if you go down Springs-Fireplace road and see the Pollack-Krasner House the road we lived on was right after that but I can’t remember the name—but the houses on our street were tiny they were probably destroyed for new builds. Our house didn’t even have insulation. Lee Krasner had another house that was next to ours, but she wasn’t there much—she was elderly if I remember correctly. I wish I could remember.” I can picture my mother looking up, trying to remember but drawing a blank.  I texted my brother and sister, but they could not remember, we were children, and it was so many years ago. We kept driving and soon realized that we may have driven by the place where the house had stood and in fact, the entire road may have been removed for the development of these newer houses. She touched my face as I drove, “are you ok honey?” I was and replied, “perhaps it’s best we didn’t’ find it, I don’t think it matters if we found it or not.” We went and got dinner at a seafood diner that had a list of famous people who had eaten there, and I fried seafood and had a chocolate egg cream.

                The next morning, we drove into Montauk where we ate pancakes that were not as world famous as the sign out front claimed there were, more like Mediocre Famous but the post-COVID interaction of the crowd inside meant for delicious eavesdropping and we played finger tag on the countertop and grinned at each other. We then journeyed to the  lighthouse that didn’t appear how I remembered it, nor did the drive to the end of the island but we paid the extra amount to walk around the lighthouse and gazed out over the rocky cliff into the boats below us, the swirling water and felt the sun against our faces. We held hands. “How do you feel?” she asked me midway on the drive back, “I feel good, it was worth it—thank you for indulging me.”

 David passed away about a year and a half ago and with his death some of the questions about Long Island and my time there are now lost, although my mother remembers some things, the long stretch of time since that period of our lives have grown so thin they have disappeared in places, invisible except for the emotions that come when I see the waves and smell the salt of the ocean, when I plunge my head into the waves I can taste my childhood, the salt sitting on my tongue from 45 years ago. It isn’t important if I saw the house or visited the library in East Hampton where we would watch black and white horror movies on spindly film reels, munching on bowls of popcorn, or even driving on the same road—the connection is there and although I would have liked to see it, to touch the places I once played there isn’t a need to do that. It is here, in my heart and I hold them inside of me. This summer my children will not be going to the Netherlands as they have for almost every summer of their lives, because of the pandemic they have another summer in Ohio—but this may be one filled with adolescent memories as they discover crushes and new experiences, they are pulling away from their parents and learning who they are. Everyday is something new for them, and while I want to pull them back—to have them laugh at my dad jokes from the backseat, this is their time to create new safe spaces of joy that will carry them through life.

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