I am a Jersey girl born and bred; exit 155 on the Garden State Parkway. It’s the home of Bruce, Bon Jovi, and Jon Stewart. Three hot Jersey guys who I’d date in a minute if I weren’t so middle-aged and married, and they weren’t so famous and unavailable. Jersey. Our unofficial state t-shirt taunts: “New Jersey, we friggin’ don’t like you either.” Jersey. Our football team, the Giants, claim to be from New York, but they play in our Meadowlands and that pisses us off. Jersey. Where the best kept secret besides where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, is that we have 127 miles of miraculous coastline. In Jersey, we don’t say, “We’re going to the beach.” We say, “We’re going down the shore.” The Jersey Shore. Yeah! THAT shore. This is my 426-word love letter to those 127 miles.
I see them out of the corner of my eye — those girls with the long-legged swagger of youth — and I am reminded of that summer. It was the summer of fervent anticipation, five best girlfriends, and a rented house down the shore. It was having a driver’s license, a job, scorching tight jeans, and our freedom. It was the joy of being lifted by a lazy wave, the lure of being pulled by an undertow as powerful as first love, and the sting of a shaved bikini line in the salty surf.
It was the summer of slathering baby oil and Imperial margarine over every inch of skin until we would sizzle and char like cheap hamburger meat on the grill. It was lipstick melting in a beach bag stuffed full with Tolstoy, Sidney Sheldon novels, and near empty wallets. It was the smell of the ocean and the boardwalk tar and the salt-water taffy that followed us everywhere.
It was the summer of pruned fingers teasing uncooperative matches into cupped hands to light a Virginia Slims menthol. It was sticky lips and salty teeth biting into a gritty salami and mustard sandwich. It was the long, endless pull of an icy Tab under a razor hot sun.
It was the summer of Sun-In and lemon juice that made blondes turn golden, redheads turn penny, and brunettes turn orange. It was the blistering looks from skittish mothers as they dragged their children away from the melee. It was the silent exchange of smug glances at the women we vowed never to become.
It was the summer of surging beer shots and bong chasers, sleeping three to a bed and tiptoeing through a houseful of dozing bodies to make the noon shift at Maruca’s Pizza Parlor. It was nursing sunburns, sand burns, whisker burns, and rug burns with community tubes of Neosporin and aloe vera. It was allowing ourselves be swept away by the endless flirting, the public make-outs, and the sloppy breakups.
It was the summer of loose hair, blazing defiance, skin the color of a Hershey kiss, and the feeling that Labor day was a million miles away. It was the simple, secret belief that we all would be young forever.
Now, as I watch them out of the corner of my eye, those girls with the long-legged swagger of youth, I am reminded of that summer — that high tide of my life’s summer. “Remember this,” I whisper to them. “This will not last forever. Memorize it all by heart.”