62: Jersey Shore Promises

62: Jersey Shore Promises

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Jersey Shore Promises

Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home . . . it is your responsibility to love it or change it.

~Chuck Palahniuk

It was unseasonably cool that August day, almost sweater weather. Thick layers of stratus clouds stretched out overhead but my boys, ages eight and four, didn’t seem to notice. With their little blue suitcases clutched tightly in hand, they bubbled with excitement as they climbed the steps of the magnificent hotel in beautiful Cape May.

It was the first time they would see the ocean, the first time any of us had visited the Jersey Shore. Even the three-hour drive from our Maryland home had been an adventure. My husband Jeff and I hurried to keep up with our sons, relishing their delight. But beneath it all, we both knew that the purpose of this long weekend was far more sobering than we had let on.

We had come to Cape May to save our marriage.

It had started to unravel the year before, when a car accident on my way to work had re-ordered life for me. Things prior to that had been pretty stressful, too. Jeff and I were working opposite shifts, shuffling the boys back and forth to school and daycare, and I was going to class at night to finish my college degree. As a computer systems analyst, I was part of a team tasked with taking over some existing computer applications from another company. I disliked the work and didn’t feel very good at it, not to mention that the company from which we were migrating the computer applications wasn’t happy about the takeover. To say that it was a hostile work environment was an understatement.

Jeff was experiencing work complications of his own. He had just accepted a job at IBM as a third-shift computer operator and while we were thrilled with this new opportunity, third shift was taking a toll. Jeff scarcely slept, and when he was home, I wasn’t. We talked just enough, it seemed, to juggle schedules. My car accident added a whole new layer of misery to our lives, and the attendant pain, surgeries, and doctor appointments often left me cranky.

As summer approached that year, I was depressed and worried. We had somehow fallen into a rut and were fast becoming a statistic. Having wed shortly after high school, we’d had our first son by the time we were twenty. I knew many teenage marriages didn’t survive, but I’d never before envisioned that outcome for us.

It was Jeff who came up with the idea of traveling to the shore. He’d heard about Cape May from a friend and booked us a room. “A lifesaver,” this friend of his had said. “You’ll think you’ve gone back in time.”

As I stood on the hotel’s expansive front porch, I couldn’t help feeling skeptical. The going-back-in-time part I could definitely see. The hotel was an elegant lady dating back to the 1800s. It boasted shared bathrooms, no phones or TVs, and no air-conditioning. We were also required to dress up for meals, which convened at set times and with assigned tables that we shared with other hotel guests, most of whom were senior citizens. My skepticism grew.

But there is something magical about the Jersey Shore. And even though the next day dawned cloudy again, little by little the sun began to peek through. It was as if the present was unfurling, wrapping me within its sweet embrace. There was no past and no future. There was only this moment, this hour.

Maybe it was the sea that ultimately moved me. Like the hand of God caressing my ravaged soul, its ebb and flow seemed to cry out for transformation. Every ray of light struck me anew, every deep breath expanded my heart. The very salt air whispered revival.

Maybe it was the way one of the elderly women patted my hand at dinner. “In forty years, dear, you’ll come back here and wonder where the time went.” Her gentle words told me things that I am only now beginning to fathom. They told me that life is fleeting. They told me that the world can change in a heartbeat.

Maybe it was the joy my boys radiated at every turn, their little faces as bright as morning. Everything held fascination for them: the arcades of Wildwood, the sand castles we built, the incoming tide that tickled their tiny toes. Their smiles reminded me that the bond between parent and child is eternal and so very precious.

Maybe it was the way Jeff said, “How can we make things better?” and really listened as I explained how trapped I’d started to feel. He confessed that he sometimes felt trapped too.

He asked me about my dreams and I told him I’d always wanted to be a writer. “Let’s see if we can make that work,” he said.

It was also there, beneath those Jersey Shore skies, with the sun finally achieving full breakthrough, that we vowed to recapture another long-held dream: to adopt a child from a foreign country. In Jeff’s soft brown eyes I suddenly saw that change was doable. I saw that he still believed in love. He still believed in me.

That was thirty years ago.

As I look back now, I marvel at how we could ever have been at that impasse. Our marriage today is strong. I like to say it is Jersey Shore strong. The changes we crafted back then took some implementing, but steadily we set them in motion. Jeff soon left third shift but stayed at IBM, and he has just retired from a distinguished thirty-year career. Nearly two years after our Cape May outing, we adopted not only one child, but two, five-year-old twin girls from Korea. And as for me, well, I’m still plugging away at the writing thing.

There’s just something about the Jersey Shore. I was a stranger the first time I visited yet somehow it became part of my family, part of my heart. It is in my blood, in my very sinew. I can still hear my sons’ voices calling on the sea breeze, as tender and free as the memories we made. I can still feel the beach, smell it, and every time I imagine it, I am at peace.

Yes, we went to Cape May to save our marriage, and over that long August weekend, we did just that — and so much more. The Jersey Shore promises we made have lasted us a lifetime.

~Theresa Sanders

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