64 steps

Standing at the bottom of the
circular staircase, there are just 64 steps to the top and a couple of landings in between where you can look out. Sandy Hook and Manhattan lie to the far left, that maze of a new bridge crosses the river down below and leads to the sea, home is somewhere in the estuary to the right. Medieval in its feel, the brownstone building is eight-sided; not a perfect twin to its square southern sister who’s never been open to climb. I remember kissing a red-haired boy with my hands on the top railing during a class trip in the 7th grade. The teacher sent a note home to my dad the next day. It’s all at the bottom landing that I remember this, that cramped space that gives no hint of the view 64 steps up. There’s a restaurant at the bottom of the hill, under the old bridge, where you can eat steamed clams and mussels, tho I never did. I used to take the bus to Sandy Hook, hitchhike on the long road out with a friend to our favorite beach and come home with the sea in my hair. The salt from an afternoon swim still on my skin. The waves against my body, the caress of the sea, the embrace… that stayed with me back at home. I worked in a restaurant on the bay for a while and ate clam broth every night that tasted of the sea. I liked the potatoes but the clams slid down rough. I haven’t yet learned to like the texture of clams. There are 11 steps to go. This could be any place, this circle of stairs, but as soon as I think it, I know it’s not true. Nowhere feels quite like this. It stays with me and rises on the wings of a gray and white gull. It follows the boats through the green-marked channel below. Sea Bright isn’t far… where I would go to watch fishermen and plovers. Stand in the dunes and tall grass at the end of Surf Street. Watch the tide rush and the flow of the moon, let go to the arms of the sea. When I climb back down I’ll run for the sea, eager for its lick on my legs. I’ll wait for dark, maybe, look up from the sand to the moon on my skin, to the beam from this clamshell-shaped lens as it circles the sea and finds me, lost in remembering.

8 thoughts on “64 steps”

  1. Somehow that picture is taken through the great lens, but I can’t figure it out! I suppose people who have not grown up with light houses don’t understand their allure!

    Did you hear the joke about the admiral who was on a great ship at night and signaled a distant light – “Change your course.” And the distant light responded – “No, you change yours.” To which the Admiral signaled – “I am an Admiral, change your course.” And, to which the distant light reponded – “I am a light house.”

  2. I took the photo myself and can’t really figure it out either!


    This old Fresnel lens is on the grounds… still well above sea level, but normally reflects/distorts the white picket fence that lies opposite its place on the grounds. Somehow tho… I’m seeing a pile of folded beach towels or something, maybe stored behind the lens… do you see that?

    This lighthouse (Twin Lights) was a part of my growing up… funny to have a lighthouse that way, I guess.

  3. Twin Lights is so beautiful. I’ve been there a few times, but the spell it weaves never ceases. It’s a magic place. Your words bring it back to me.

  4. Ah–I remember that old “joke”–really more of a morality tale in nugget form.
    Lovely words, Laura. Poetic in sound, prose in form.

  5. I lived in Atlantic Highlands (next town over) for 22 years (my parents still live in the same house). My high school, Henry Hudson, was immediately adjacent to the Lights, and I played soccer in their shadow. I spent many a day at Sandy Hook. And many more eating in those restaurants below (some sadly gone).

    But I’ve never visited.

    (Maybe if I’d known there were cute girls to kiss!)

  6. A very fine and enjoyable piece of writing, Laura! I love lighthouses and have visited several when in Nova Scotia. They always seem a bit magical to me.

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