Barnegat Light

I return to the yellow iron steps that will carry me to the top of Barnegat Light. They twist and curve around the center pole, spiraling upward like a moon shell.

I learn about myself from a new vantage point: Barranquilla, Maceió, Havana, Santiago. I now find myself taking higher ground in a lighthouse above a place so integral to my roots: Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

As I ascend, I’m reminded of the space and sea I put between myself and my home since my dad died seven years ago and transformed into a texture so familiar, a granular form much like that of the beaches he called home. 

Of the unbearable moments of grief abroad, knees buckling, heart sinking, tears falling. On floors and beds, buses and planes, beaches and mountains. 

Of the Chilean mountain pass I descended, legs aching, heart pumping, grief swelling. Feeling connected to his infectious spirit, his laidback laughter, him saying “You gotta have fun, kid.”

I’ve been searching North and South America for a place to heal and it was here all along, after all this time. 

These 217 steps to the top of Barnegat Light are not strenuous, but they are monumental. 

I keep rising. Sun rays poke through the holed steps above me. I move through the lantern room and step out onto the catwalk. Circling my hands around the chipped red paint of the metal railings, I pull myself forward to press my cheeks in between them. An unobstructed view looking south over the sandy shores of Long Beach Island, Atlantic Ocean to my left, Barnegat Inlet to my right.

The deep green bay below surges onto the jetty. I drink it in: the brisk breeze, the squawking seagulls, the grounding sense of belonging that my dad must have felt here. 

I feel his presence in the in-between, just before a wave recedes into the salty abyss. The softest sizzling sound as the waves ebb and flow. 

It is why I return to the sea year after year, place after place. I wait for this opportune moment, and I let it wash my grief away. 

There is a belief surging to the surface that I am meant to be here, to return home. Not only to this familial place, but to myself. Like the current below, I too move forward on a ceaseless path.

photos of myself and my dad taken in Long Beach Island decades apart

written june 2020

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