Since the start of our relationship, my boyfriend Danny and his family have owned a shore house in Ocean City, New Jersey. And each summer I’d spend every weekend there with Danny, his parents and his siblings.
Danny and I have been together since high school, and he and his family have always been extremely generous and welcoming to me. That’s why my family never kept me from spending nearly all of my summer weekends with them, even if they’d have to miss me for a few days at a time. I was in good hands.
Like clockwork, Danny would pick me up each Friday afternoon, and we’d ride down the Atlantic City Expressway with the windows down and our favorite songs playing. He’d fill me in on the details of his work week at his family’s bus company, and then we’d talk about where we’d eat first: Manco & Manco Pizza or Aunt Betty’s Ice Cream Shack.
We’d spend some time planning out the song we’d play when we reached the Ocean City bridge ahead of time. I think that was our special way of setting the tone for our weekend.
I couldn’t help but smile each time we’d come around the bend and see the house waiting for us exactly how we left it the weekend before. The pastel yellow siding shone brightly under the perfect summer sun. And classic rock echoed from the speakers in the area of the house that was transformed by Danny’s dad into the ultimate hangout — dubbed the Lizard Lounge.
Danny’s parents sold the house, so our summers on 16th Street and Bay Avenue are over now, but that only makes the memories we made there more valuable. It was more than a weekend getaway for all of us; it was a home away from home.
Aside from the rides on Danny’s family’s boat and Mallon’s Sticky Buns, I think the most special part about the house is that during the past four summers, it was the symbol of something unique for each of us who spent our weekends there.
For Danny’s brother Eddie and his wife Sonia, it was the house where we all toasted to their engagement in Paris and planned what would end up being the wedding of the century.
For Danny’s mom, it was full of nostalgia; she could sit on the deck and look out at the house formerly owned by her late parents right across the street. And it was where she’d sit with me at the dining room table long after we finished our breakfast, so we could catch up on whatever happened during the last five days.
For Danny’s dad, the house was a project he could work on and a place where he could unwind and play his music loudly after each stress-filled week of running the business.
For Danny’s sister Melanie, it’s where she and I sipped lattes together and borrowed each others’ clothes, igniting the sisterly bond neither of us biologically had on our own.
For Danny and me, it’s where we did a lot of growing up and growing together.
It’s where our music taste evolved — for the better — and where we stayed up late on rainy summer nights watching classic movies we weren’t born in time to see in theaters.
It’s where we spent so much time in the Surf Mall on the boardwalk, we began noticing when they added new posters to the cluttered, collaged walls and new vinyl records to the bins of overpriced, reissued albums.
It’s where we compared tans after spending entire days on the beach.
It’s where we’d hang out in the Lizard Lounge, dancing, singing and laughing with his older siblings until they called their Ubers to the Sea Isle City bars, which for us, meant hopping on our bikes and pedaling to our next adventure.
Our expeditions rotated between late-night beach trips, ice cream runs, chilly boardwalk strolls and when we were feeling extra curious, quests into unknown corners of the island that were usually vacant and made us feel like the only people on the planet.
And when we didn’t feel like riding bikes, we’d buckle up in Danny’s Jeep — doorless and almost too high for me to step into without assistance — and cruise from one end of Ocean City to the other.
Our voices intertwined with the hum of the engine and the notes of our alternative music playlist, as we commented on our favorites out of the houses we passed. We’d imagine life in the mansions that stretched over the beach the same way we talked about living in cities we haven’t visited yet.
Then we’d drive back to our actual favorite house and creep through the back door, trying our hardest not to wake anyone up with our giddiness.
I’m grateful that’s how I spent my youth: sharing secrets and sweet nothings with my best friend under seagulls and starry nights.
I know it wasn’t even my house, but it’s a huge chunk of what I’ll remember of my adolescence. And so far, it’s what I’ve known as summers spent with Danny.
Anyone who knows the Jersey Shore knows not every day is a beach day. But with our clan, inclement weather didn’t mean sitting inside, staring at screens and sulking. For us, it meant cranking the music up louder and twirling around under the Lizard Lounge bar lighting and sometimes even out in the rain.
It meant taking turns chanting each others’ names while we performed like we were on stage. If that sounds silly or embarrassing to you, I don’t think you’ve quite found your people yet.
ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” was our anthem. But several songs by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival take me back to damp August air and bare feet on the cold stone tiles we called a dance floor.
Melanie’s arms flailing in the air and Danny’s mouth wide open chanting AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” are like Polaroid photos in my brain.
Danny’s family has some amazing summer plans in store that I’m so excited and grateful to be included in. But until we start wreaking havoc in a new shore town, the thought of summer will involve a trip down memory lane for me.
I hope the new owners know they’re living in a landmark.
Each room comes with an inside joke we left there, and each floorboard has been stepped on by someone special and fiercely loved. I hope they enjoy their time in that pretty yellow house as much as we did, and I hope it’s more than just a house to them someday, too.
And I hope they like rock and roll.