The summer of 2001 was a tumultuous time for my family and me. My divorce was almost final and my soon-to-be ex-husband and I planned for him to take the kids, then ages 9 and 13, for a week. I could not bear the thought of being in my house without them, so I decided to look for an escape.
I found a beachfront hotel in Montauk that had a room suitable for one. I love the beach and thought it would be perfect. Upon arriving there with its ocean view in the distance, I immediately felt different — relaxed, calm, but most important, free. I had found my happy place. I stayed in the hotel for a week, enjoying views of the ocean from my small balcony. Each morning, I walked for coffee and a newspaper, enjoying both on a bench overlooking the ocean. That week flew by, but I knew I’d be back.
The following summer, I booked the same room for the same period, only this time with girlfriends staying for part of it. Again, that calm and relaxed feeling took over upon entering the town. For the next 10 years, I enjoyed the same week in in the same room and added other short trips there as well. After about 10 years, the trip morphed into a girlfriend getaway where five to eight of us shared a suite at the same hotel, always the third week of July. We brought more food than we could consume and took turns making lunch. We had a beach-themed gift exchange each year that became one of the trip’s highlights. We stayed outside until sunset, then went out each night, enjoying all Montauk has to offer.
Then came the pandemic. What would have been my 20th year in my happy place could not happen. We could not possibly share a room among the five of us who were slated to go this year. I was determined to go somewhere with these “summer sisters.” We could not find anywhere in Montauk where we could have our own rooms in the same hotel. We did find, though, a lovely hotel in Hampton Bays where we could have our own rooms, maintain social distancing and bring some normalcy into our lives. One of us created a wonderful wine-tasting event and another had T-shirts made for us all. We spent most of the three days just sitting masked in a circle, six feet apart, talking.
Since all of us are educators, we had plenty to talk about. Instead of gifts this year, we exchanged masks. While I did not get to celebrate the 20th anniversary in my original happy place in Montauk, I did get to celebrate sisterhood and friendship with the people who have been there for me, in good times and bad, over the past two decades. Those three days of talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company were exactly what we all needed. I learned that it is not where you are but who you are with, whether it be all together, six feet apart or even virtual. It was a true reminder of what matters most.
Reader Sharon Lasher, principal of Oyster Bay High School, lives in Kings Park.