Of all the cities in the world, there’s something about this one that seeps into my veins. Even in the dead of winter, this place calls to me, tugs at my heart and pulls ferociously with the strength and vigor of a gusting tide from the ancient sea rolling and lapping against the sand of this place.
It’s a dangerous safe haven. Outside the glass, there’s the squawking of gulls fighting over a remnant of food, trash or a fish they plucked from the sea. I fix my gaze on the ocean. The summer is too busy to really see or know this place. You can get lost and caught up in the massive pleasure-seeking crowds that are only in town to catch some sun and self-indulgence. They don’t care for or appreciate the unique history. They don’t know that this was once a wild barrier island, untamed and unkempt, a desolate wasteland guarding the New Jersey mainland, inhabited by Native Americans and lone whalers who built shacks in the dunes. They don’t know what it’s like to walk lonely hotel corridors in the dead of January, feel the frosty gale of cold salt water smacking their face while trekking a snow-covered boardwalk, a glittery coastal skyline disappearing behind them in a fog of fading lights.
It’s the kind of place you could write about forever and experience again and again. It’s the whole coastline, really. Nothing short of sacred. From Sandy Hook to Cape May. And as much as I love it in the warm months, kayaking the bay or the ocean, swimming beneath the waves in September, building castles of sand, collecting shells early in the morning and reading with a blanket just before dusk when the crowds vacate; it’s the cold, harsh, lonely winter months when I truly appreciate it, see it for what it is and fall deeply in love with it even more so than the year before. Since I was young it’s been a place that I claimed, and life fatefully brought me back to live and work. I’ve mingled with and have now become part of the sphere of influence. I’m hard pressed to find another place that makes me feel this way. No other city or town in the world has infected my bloodstream with its salt water.
I’ve fallen in love with other coastal places like St. Augustine, Florida, Astoria, Oregon, Malibu, Laguna and Huntington Beach in California, but for some reason they just don’t even come close to comparing to the uniqueness. They’re nothing more than temporary thrilling flings in comparison to an eternal bond of love.
I’ve always said that the northeast is the greatest place to live, even in the winter months. And New Jersey specifically boasts everything from incredible beaches and bays, national and state parks, mountains, Pine Barrens, small towns, inlets, harbors, wildlife preserves, lighthouses, lakes, rivers, forests and big cities. It’s overwhelming how much there is to explore in such a tiny state saturated with hidden gems. Yet some live here their whole lives and never know that.
Although I’m thankful for where life has led me, I openly confess that there’s a loneliness and a feeling of missing out. Here I am in the most densely populated state in America, surrounded by the ocean and the bay, a mainland of scattered towns and the incredible Pine Barrens, a bridge away from Atlantic City, a short drive from Philly and not too far from New York, but I’m all alone in the prime of my life without anyone to share it with..
Now that’s not entirely true, I do have friends, employees, co-workers and other friends that aren’t far, but it’s not the same as sharing an apartment building or a city block in close knit community.
The summer is one thing: we’re bombarded with tourists, vacationers, day-trippers, friends, family, etc., but it’s the winter months of solitude and isolation that leave me with a heavy feeling of unfulfilled longing. While others are going out to new places constantly, dating new people and meeting new groups of friends, I’m frequenting my coastal coffee shops and restaurants, the boardwalk arcade and the local library down the street from my apartment which is one block from the Egg Harbor bay and five from the Atlantic Ocean. They know my name or at least my face, and I theirs. I feel a sense of homeyness and comfort on the barrier island, knowing my 24/7 diner is just across the bridge, and the salt air smell is never going away. And yet in the midst of this sometimes painful lack of community that I see others living through social media, I’m so grateful for the space, time and solitude to inspire, marinate and build my most creative writing.
Trust me, I’m happy here. I travel often and as much as I can, but this is home. I love being a writer, a journalist, photographer and an Editor for a magazine I love and is now starting to become my own. And I especially love being a writer here. With an endless amount of history and material, from pirates to prohibition gangsters to Jersey Devil folklore and haunted beaches, woods and homes, I’m hard pressed to find a better place to write and write about. I could trade the freedom of of owning my own business, managing my own schedule for a 9 to 5 corporate job in the city alongside all the other young people I long to be surrounded by, but I know I’m not meant for that and never was.
But I wish others appreciated and saw this place through the same lens as I do. I wish they were as captivated and enthralled as I am and wanted to make a life, job and home here. I wish they knew the uniqueness, the variety, history and beauty. I wish they were under the same spell because maybe then it wouldn’t be such a lonely place in the winter.