The Chunky Cotton Summer Sweater

It is ivory and old now. But I remember standing in that fancy shop, Calypso St. Barth, on the circle in downtown Montauk, in July 2011 seeing it so striking, snuggly and full of promise on the mannequin in the window. It was my first time ever visiting this extraordinary end of the world, surrounded by salty sea. I purchased the sweater even though it was ridiculously expensive and impractical. It had weight and thickness to it, but it also had holes and lacked warmth. It was not a smart purchase–like a jacket or a wool sweater would have been–to keep out the cold. It would also show all the dirt, since it was a solid off-white color. And it was also an absurd 500 some-odd dollars.

But there I was, purchasing it gladly like the pathetic tourist that I most certainly was. I know now that I was just trying to buy my place in this new world with that chunky sweater and its pointless hood. I wore it to the Surf Lodge that night, back when it was casual and surf-focused, and sat beside Bethanny Frankel and felt like I could be cool–but I was most definitely cold in that sweater. I pictured myself casually tossing it on, post surf, to flop around warm bonfires at cookouts on the beach. I would be the essence of cool. I could not wait for it all to begin.

Well, I was a total kook. And in many ways, I was the worst kind of kook. I was a kook with money to burn. And because I harbored a deep unhappiness as a Westchester housewife, I was extra eager to throw myself into a whole new world. Montauk felt like the perfect one. It ticked all the boxes: wild risk, ocean danger, anti-everything, and endless nightlife. I entered in, and was crazed and crazy, reckless and careless, and not just because I bought this stupid sweater and started surfing.

I took my first surf lesson that weekend and was deeply hooked– the life-long kind of hooking– from that moment on. Surely this cotton sweater would seal the deal and make me a Montauk surfer. I’d be part of the ship, part of the crew with this thing hanging on me all lounge-like and chill. I could see it all before me. I could see my new cool self relaxing on the beach all salty and sun-kissed wearing this sweater and talking about all the great waves I rode that day.

“Oh please” says my current day self to that clueless old me.

Fast forward to a sunny day in late May 2021 just before Memorial Day weekend, the official start to a post-pandemic summer. It has been 10 years since that sweater purchase. And I live in Montauk now. My home here in this small fishing town is modest, beachy and fun, facing the sunset and the sea. I have filled it up with all my grandparents furniture from their home in Bermuda. The one I grew up going to. I keep their memory alive every day by sitting at their old table and eating off their old dishes. I think they would be pleased and proud.

I still consider myself a kook, and in many ways I am still on a mission to fit in here in this brave new anti-world. But today I am wearing that chunky sweater while sipping hot tea and walking my dog at Ditch to check the waves, like I do every day. The sweater reminds me of the foolish 42 year old mom that I was, thinking I could buy a seat at this surf town table, where a counter-culture has forever lived and breathed, and laughed out loud at others and the ocean, and partied hard and long into the moonlit night.

I have spent the last ten years, ever since that first surf lesson in July 2011, pulling away from another kind of life–one where soccer sidelines reign and crazy risk is curtailed. I have put countless miles on my car to travel and transform from one world to another along that Long Island Expressway. I did it to be in the throes of the ocean, where wild exhilaration reigns supreme. Surfing carries the craziest highs and lows, and I would not trade this wild ride for anything.

If this sweater could talk. It would tell of so many wild days of adventure, world travel and recklessness. It could also tell of my fair share of beach bonfires and cookouts where a carefree spirit was unleashed. Of course surfing became my obsession, and my guiding light to a new life. But the sweater was certainly there for the beginning of this metamorphosis.

I almost got rid of that sweater so many times because it took up too much shelf space and did not pull its weight in my closet, from a practical standpoint. But it somehow made the cut in my recent move, and so I am wearing it again right now, while writing this little tale of admission, as the rain pours down here in my sea swept neighborhood. I watch the wind whipping the saltwater into whitecaps and I wait for the rideable waves to arrive.  

The sweater has come full circle. And I am exactly where and what I wanted to be ten years ago when I walked out of that fancy store–just another surfer. But I will always carry my kook heart on my sleeve along with a very deep appreciation for how long it took, how much I gave up, and how hard it was to get here.

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