Anser Journal

Ocean City

By Lucy Levin

It’s a three-hour car ride down U.S. 9 South to Ocean City, New Jersey, and my father cranks NPR for two. There’s less legroom in the Toyota today between my sister, Hannah, and I in the back seats and the boogie boards in the trunk. We pass acres of marshes, highway billboards for Jesus and used cars, and eat bags of dry Cheerios for lunch.

This is our redemption trip. Two years ago we fled the beach for grandma’s house in a hurricane, carrying our luggage to the car in a downpour with dry bathing suits under our clothes. They dumped truckloads of fake sand on the shore when the storm cleared, so next summer we went back ... with the taco stand gone, Hannah with an arm we didn’t realize was broken and Dad a twisted ankle. We made her try to raise her hand an inch higher every day in the pool and called it water aerobics, and by Sunday she could go four inches before wincing. Dad limped across the boardwalk for George’s vanilla chocolate-covered pretzel ice cream, all of us guilty that he cared too much about fun to stay in bed.

Some people tell us that Maryland’s Ocean City is better, but that’s a lie. It doesn’t have Preps Pizza to eat three times in one weekend, and the pirate mini-golf bonus hole is a sham. It doesn’t have our favorite motel, the Beach Club, which smells a little like mold but enough like chlorine to convince yourself it’s fine. Maryland’s “city view” isn’t a balcony over a parking lot — or maybe it is, I’ve never actually been. But there is no state more honest than Jersey, and Maryland is too far a trip.

At least, that’s what I tell other people. Really, I don’t want to dry my towel anywhere else. I want to wake up to the smell of mom applying her sunscreen in New Jersey. Collect sea glass and play cards. I want to watch my parents walk along the water together and wave to them from the carnival swings. I want to go a whole weekend with red cheeks — young, sunny, bright in good company — there and only there.

So, this weekend, we’re on a mission. Mom might actually swim. Dad might buy a “Life is Good” shirt. Hannah brought two books, and there’s a sugar-doused funnel cake-shaped hole in my heart that I need to fill. We drive, drive, and drive. Because how many more years can we go, really, before the fudge kitchen closes, the “WELCOME TO THE GUN SHOW” muscle tanks disappear, the ocean chokes in plastic, or we’re all too old to love it anymore?

Not this time. Not with the Castaway Cove Ferris wheel creeping up in the front windshield, Brian Lehrer’s faint whisper through the speakers, Dad cracking the windows for a familial whiff of salt. The sky is blue, we’re healthy, and they can’t kick us out this time.

Lucy Levin is a bisexual Jew who currently lives in Allston, Massachusetts. Her work has aired on WBUR and appeared in the “Boston Book Festival” blog. On the clock, she mentors students at “Teens in Print,” a journalism publication for Boston-area high schoolers. Otherwise, she’s probably binging reality dating shows or tweeting at @lucyrlevin.