My Mermaid Life, My City By The Sea
For so many years and for so many reasons, I had a bit of a block in fulfilling my poor heart's only dream: to live in Asbury Park. It was a strange little request that had haunted me every time I had to return back to the place where my bills were sent. Making the transition from a person who just frequents this progressive and marvel of an ocean side city to a full time resident has been one of the weirdest but most fulfilling experiences of my life.
Visiting was always some sort of emotional high upon entering the city; sailing on a prayer through the twisted circle, peeping the vacant Coca-Cola plant for any life and feeling the internal tug of war between excitement and ultimate peace. The race down Route 18 was always of that of a mad woman, consistently testing the bounds of the set 65 mph speed limit and a self high-five every time I successfully slipped another lazy patrol car into my rear view. Each day spent in Asbury Park stretched longer and longer, when night turned back into day, my work clothes purposely placed for easy access and my trek home not nearly as fast as my arrival.
I'll never forget the sound of the moving truck's back door making it's final curtain call, my husband tapping the side to let the driver know it was okay to take off. Walking up the front porch stairs and into my life in boxes, the moment was surreal. My dogs sat on the back porch, confused as smelling the ocean air wasn't always the normal but only on special days. Finally, we were home.
My affinity for such a place began some sixteen years earlier, introduced by a friend's not so cookie-cutter mother, who was a mix of rock and roll and flower-child. She had taken us on a convenient, self-serving detour to pick up what we'll call alternative medication and laying eyes upon the city's abandoned, broken and tattered boardwalk, I was in love. It's absolute stillness, as if some plague had mopped the city's inhabitants, haunted my young mind for weeks and months to follow. I'd frequent this peacefully decayed wonderland often with my German Shepherd dog, Chino. Each morning, before work, we'd make our way to the empty beach, greeted by leaning parking meters, brilliant colors of sunrise and that same magical stillness that until this very day has kept my imagination rolling. The people who used to live under Convention Hall grew to know us by name and once afraid of who they'd call my wolf, saved him old pizza crusts. I'd drop his leash and he'd run the shoreline with such care-free, thunderous happiness while I'd talk with those who continually reminded me of how fortunate I was. It was perplexing that such a place that could house unpleasantries and despair, made my heart sing.
I can remember vividly having a conversation with Mary, a woman who waited for us each morning and passed her time feverishly collecting bottle caps and plastic shopping bags, noted how attached I was to Chino. She said, “one day he'll leave you lost, baby, I hope you know that.” I patted his sides as he tugged at his own leash, tossing sand from his black and tan lion-like mane, and explained that we had a deal; that I would see it that he'd live in Asbury Park some day as long as he lived old enough to see me to my first born.
The night of our move, I saw his old face shining beside a moving box marked “Fragile.” Looking back, it was fitting and foreboding as it would only be two months when we would share our final glowing sunrise, him leaving me just a few weeks after I had my first child, in our beloved city by the sea. Even though it pains my heart to see a new season come in without him, I have to believe that he's still with me, walking along the streets that were once considered unsafe to travel alone. And just like this resilient animal that I will always treasure, Asbury Park opens it's arms to anyone and everyone who needs it with an unconditional love. Sure, it's bite can be mean but it's gentle and loyal side is never far away. It's always here and waiting for you.
Now that I am living here, despite all of my so called "mermaid mornings," I couldn't ever really imagine what it's like to watch this city truly come alive, day in and day out. Drifting in and out of town, even as regularly as you think that you do, you will miss the details. How the morning sun can impair your vision on Sewall Avenue, that patrol car that parks at precisely at 6:05am in the 900 block of Fourth behind what was an appliance store, that section of Third that is closed for school traffic with the crossing guard high-fiving students on the way in. It's intricacies like sunrise fighting the daily slow climb to peer up above the Empress Hotel's signature skyline signage, the shops along Cookman patiently waiting to open their doors. The traffic comes in waves with mostly work vans and utility vehicles leading the pack. The systematic and formulaic start to the road and construction works' day drips in slowly as buses and taxis begin to seep into the streets of this ever changing city. The core of what keeps Asbury Park going, the community that often at times is fiercely over-protective of it's one point four miles, hums like no other. Littered with society's labels... gay, straight, divorcee, addict, hipster, straight-edge, vegan, retiree, playboy, rich, recovering, poor, barely surviving, hippie, debonaire, artist, writer, sober, drummer, student... all come together to live, work and play almost effortlessly. Everyone who has ever known me, has known that I would live in Asbury Park. Everyone here that I have met always seems to asks me, whether it be excitedly or confused, “why?” And all I can ever respond with is, “ Are you kidding? Look at her. Why not?”
This is my mermaid life and this is my city by the sea.