The Bottom Bunk
Stone Harbor, NJ. It’s a ninety-minute drive, but it feels like a world away. There’s something about the salty smell of the air and the ocean breeze that awakens the soul. Time moves slower. All the worries and responsibilities of home are left behind. It’s true when they say life is better at the beach.
I’ve been coming to Stone Harbor for most of my life. Growing up, summers here lasted a lifetime. We had a routine of hitting the beach around 10am and staying till 5pm. Most nights we’d cookout on the deck and maybe go down to 96th street to shop. Mini-golf, the boardwalk, boat trips, we never had a dull afternoon. Each night we would lay our heads down and fall fast asleep dreaming of all the fun we had and of all the fun soon to come.
As a kid, one of my favorite things at the shore was my bunk bed. Probably still is one of my favorites. Growing up, Shane stayed in my room with me, even though he had a room down the hall with another set of bunk beds. I would sleep on the top bunk and he’d be on the bottom. We would laugh and laugh together before falling asleep. The topic of conversation mostly being complete nonsense about something we had seen on TV or something funny that happened at the beach. Or we talked about our crazy boat adventures like how we drove out to the ocean and Shane told my dad there was going to be a storm. Low and behold we ended up racing in a storm that afternoon. Shane always had a sixth sense for the weather.
The bunk beds served as a template for a fort where Shane and I and our cousins would hide out and tell scary stories and eat snacks. We’d hang a quilt down from the top bunk and put chairs under to prop it up. It was our special hangout and only the kids were allowed in.
As Shane got older, he wanted to sleep in his own room, which left my bottom bunk vacant some nights. Other nights it was filled with a friend of mine, or my aunt Clare, or a cousin, or our dog Nelly. As my older brothers grew up and started dating, my bottom bunk was reserved for whosever girlfriend was staying with us. There weren’t many, but I can remember a time or two going to sleep first when I shared a room with the ones I didn’t like, so I wouldn’t have to talk to them.
My current sister-in-law Shannon was a long time roommate. She was one I enjoyed talking to! We had so many laughs together before falling asleep. I think we shared a room for 7 or 8 years. I can remember we were chatting one night and she told me that she loved my brother. I felt so privileged to share girl talk with my older brother’s girlfriend. She and I became close friends because of those bunk beds.
One summer, she had the brilliant idea of purchasing the “clapper” so we wouldn’t have to get up to turn the light off. I am a big fan of devices that eliminate reasons to get out of bed. We unfortunately discovered the “clapper” isn’t as a great a tool as those commercials make it seem. That thing ended up in the trash.
No matter the guest, I always slept on the top bunk. My room my rules. I also had a slight fear of the top bunk falling on the bottom bunk, but anyway. After about 15 years, the original bunk beds grew old and we had to get new ones. These new ones have created the same kind of memories, but now my nieces and nephews use them. My niece Grace loves being able to sleep in “Kate’s room.” These days, I am a “grown up” now, or so I am told, so obviously I share a bed with my husband. While it is great to finally be able to share a bed with a boy under my parents’ roof, I do miss those bunk bed days sometimes.
Last Wednesday night, I snuck off to the shore for the night without Zach. I entered and the cutest little people tugged at me and urged me to play. I finished up dinner with everyone and then my parents and I took the kids to get ice cream, which was an adventure in itself. After arriving home from a successful ice cream binge, it was time for bed for the kids. Grace asked, “Will you sleep with me in your room?”
I got to be the inhabitant of the bottom bunk that night. The top bunk belonged to my niece and Goddaughter, Gracie girl. My brother told me, when he brought Grace up to bed, she told him to make sure to turn down the sheets on the bottom bunk, so it’d be ready for me when I came up. She also asked him to keep the door open. The thoughtfulness of her astounds me. She’s five and she has the heart the size of a person who has lived 100 years. When I went to sleep, I snuck in quietly as not to wake her. I brought my dog Nelly in with me and set up a quilt for her to sleep next to my bed. As I lay down, I smiled to myself. All the memories of the guests of the room flooded my mind. The late nights I spent with friends and family telling stories and laughing. And now here I was, with a new roommate. My oldest brother’s daughter. My Goddaughter. My friend.
At 7am, I got a wake up call. “Wake up! Wake up,” said a tiny, excited voice from above. My eyes rolled open and I saw the most perfect little face grinning back at me ready to face the day of fun. “Jump in here,” I said. She lay down with me just a few a minutes to tell me about her dreams. She dreamt she and I were mermaids and there were big fish jumping over us in the ocean. “Wow,” I said. “That sounds really cool.” I gave her a hug and relished in the moment with my niece. Moments like those are the ones to think back on when life doesn’t look bright. Those are the moments that make me realize how blessed I am to be able to watch my brothers’ families grow. I have lived in that room in the summers for over twenty-five years and new memories are still being made. I hope the room and bunk bed will serve her well the way they served me. I smiled and gave her an extra tight hug. She broke free, the excitement in her little body unable to be controlled.
“Let’s go! Let’s play,” she rejoiced. And off we went for a day of fun at the shore.