We wear flip flops all winter long. We go to Seaside after prom. Bonfires at the beach are how we keep warm on cool summer nights. Senior skip day means you can find us at the beach, before the tourists get there. The beach is our life, and we love it even more in the winter than we do in the summer.
Mom knew we snuck out to the beach after a school dance because we left a trail of sand up the porch steps and smelled like salty air instead of the smoke and grease from the diner. But we were never sorry about taking time to lay on the sand looking at the stars, listening to the waves crash around us as we pulled our jackets closer around our shoulders. We sat shoulder to shoulder, breathing in the salty air and making memories.
We have memories of running down the boardwalk barefoot, after midnight, while crashing at a friend’s shore house. Sing-alongs on the beach in November or July- it didn’t matter. We know all the words to “Jersey Girl” and danced to it at prom. Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi provided the soundtrack to our lives. We are used to working with the sound of jetskis in the background, or the screams of kids on the waterslides at Runaway Rapids, and the smell of Mack and Manco’s Pizza in the air. The beach is where we belong, “`cause down the shore everything’s all right”.
Your tourist destination is our home. LBI, Seaside, and Brigantine aren’t our vacations- they are our lives. Just like Union Beach, Keyport, Middletown, Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach, and so many other towns along the coast. We can walk to the beach and frequently do. We all know the best spots to go crabbing, the best beaches at Sandy Hook, and when to go see the migrating birds resting on our shores. The beach is our serenity, our hope, and our love. It’s home.
I never imagined that I would turn on the news to watch my neighbors, my family, my students, my friends sifting through rubble. When we got power back last night I turned on the local news and sat in silence, my hands over my mouth, as they showed 40 minutes of video taken at the shore. The boardwalk my parents took me to growing up is in pieces. The bumper boats I rode as a kid are laying in people’s front yards. The roller coaster in Seaside is in the ocean. Houses that used to be on the boulevard in LBI are now in the middle of an inlet that didn’t exist just a few days ago. The scope of destruction is mind-blowing.
My parents had water over their 6-foot fence during the height of the storm, and they live on the “dry” side of town. The water line in the basement is up to my father’s shoulders and he is over six feet tall. They spent today ripping down sheetrock to prevent mold from spreading. My parents and my grandmother still have no power. It’s going down to the 30’s tomorrow night and this weekend. Gas lines are three hours long, with people fighting over food and fuel. We can’t drive anywhere because we don’t know when the gas lines will grow shorter and we are all afraid that the gas will eventually run out. School is closed indefinitely in some towns. It’s chaos.
I have spoken to students who lost their first floor to flooding. Others watched their neighbors’ homes float away. Instead of reading the news, we are the news. The pictures coming up on Facebook and Twitter are like some post-apocalyptic version of the Jersey Shore. That’s not my Jersey Shore. That’s not where my friends got married, that’s not where we built sand castles, or danced in the waves. It can’t be real.
But it is. And the pictures blow my mind. I can’t fathom them and I don’t know how I will react when I can actually get to the beach. As one of my students told me today, “The beach is gone. It’s just not there anymore.” It’s in the middle of the road, it’s in people’s homes, but it’s not where the waves meet the sand right now. And my heart is broken.
But in the words of Bon Jovi, words that every New Jersey resident sings at the top of their lungs when it plays,
“We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
Cause it doesn’t make a difference
If we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot
For love – well give it a shot”
Right now, it feels like many NJ residents are living on a prayer and not much else. But we will come back. As my students have been saying for the past year, we are #JerseyStrong. And now we can show the world.