The summer I worked on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk was one of the worst summers of my life. It was the summer of 1991. My parents moved from Clifton to Toms River that fall while I was at college. All that school year, I bummed space at friends’ houses and with my cousin in Nutley during breaks in the semester. That May, the summer job I had in Wayne fell through and my boyfriend at the time was a Lifeguard in Ortley Beach. So, I made the decision to just settle in off of Indian Hill Road and get a summer job. That’s how I ended up at the scrunchy, ear piercing, temporary tattoo stand on the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights.
At first, it was pretty cool. The job was easy. Put a few tattoos on kids, pierce a few ears, and make sure no one stole anything. I worked the day shifts, Monday-Friday, with two other college girls. We ate Sawmill Pizza for lunch, pierced each other’s ears two and three times and ended our shifts with a ride on the log flume. I spent my nights with my boyfriend and his summer friends, scoring beer and playing quarters in weekday parent free bungalows in Ortley Beach.
Then, a week before fourth of July, the boyfriend broke up with me. I should have seen it coming. Her name was not Sandy, but her D-cup boobs and bleach blond hair blowing back from her perch atop the lifeguard stand next to my boyfriend should have sounded my own personal tsunami alarm. Without a boyfriend or access to alcohol, I fell apart. My North Jersey girlfriends made the pilgrimage down to check on me and cheer me up. Some urged that I bag the boardwalk and “just come home.” But this was my home now, and I had to make the best of it.
After that heartbreak, I became somewhat of a Jersey Shore slut. Not in the sexual sense (sorry, no juicy story here) but in the sense that my love for all shores Jersey spread from Sandy Hook to Cape May. The OD and La Costa in Sea Isle were the scene of many a college summer night. Later on it would be the scene for our family vacation. My aunt’s beach house in Loveladies, Long Beach Island, was the scene of many a bachelorette party, and the safe place I still go to in my head while in yoga. Summer afternoons in Sea Bright have been just ten minutes away for the past 13 years.
That hot summer of my heartbreak wore on. That scrunchy stand wedged between games of chance and hermit crabs began to push in, making me able to only answer questions in sighs. I felt that same humid heavy feeling as the footage came in from Sandy’s terrible strike, each breath an exhale of sadness. Then I remembered that it was about a year after that summer of 1991 when I fell in love for the last time on the beach of LBI. We drove over the bridge with the windows down and lights from the bridge whizzing by, as we made our way to the beach to see the fireworks. It was like that old heartbreak had never happened.
The Jersey shore, much like my heart, will heal. Our shared memories of falling in and out of love and of childhoods spent splashing the summer away will heal us and help us to heal our hearts and our shores.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.