My father arrived home from Hawaii today without his luggage (thanks for that, United!) but with a camera full of hundreds of pictures. I asked him to pull a few together–some highlights from his trip with my mom–and these are the ones he selected.
“Let’s go dancing!” I’ll say because I’m happy and want an excuse to wear a pretty dress.
But we won’t actually go dancing because I don’t dance the way you should. I just like to flounce about and spin.
So we’ll do that instead.
I’ll wear my long cream dress with the small pink and purple flowers, and if it’s sunny, I’ll wear my straw hat as well. I’ll be spring and summer and warm and happy weather personified. And you can be it, too.
So go on! Grab your favorite clothes and find a patch of grass and spin in a dizzy circle with me!
I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh and probably fall over once the spinning gets to be too much. And then I’ll lie on the grass and watch the world tip back and forth until my inner ear recalibrates.
Next, we’ll eat popsicles, the good kind, the type made with real frozen fruit and laugh as the melting juice covers our arms and drips down to our elbows. The last little bits will inevitably fall off the stick, hopefully into our mouths and not onto our laps or the ground. But even if they do, it’s no matter. We can always have another, and washing machines were invented for a reason.
We’ll rinse our arms off with the hose and compared dyed tongues. I’ll end up with wet patches on my dress, of course, but that’s no matter! That’s what the sun’s for, right? World’s best dryer.
And did I mention that this adventure is no-shoes-allowed? It is! All the better to feel the cool grass under our feet, the tickle of the blades in between our toes, and the hot, stinging concrete as we dash along the path or street. But step carefully! You don’t want to get a cut, though you have to admit that the slight danger is part of what makes shoelessness alluring.
Want to go to the beach with me? I can show you all of my special places. First, we’ll run towards the water and leap over the clumps of seaweed past the high tide mark.
Alright, roll up your clothes, so they don’t get wet. Now, stand here and feel the waves hit your ankles. Cold, isn’t it? See the way that water washes away the sand at your feet, letting you sink down a few more inches until the sand feels as fluid as the water.
But watch your hem there! Don’t let it get to close!
Come on! And move quickly, too–this part isn’t as fun if you walk. Okay, so just follow me, and be careful. If you aren’t, you could get hurt.
So do you see the end of that rock jetty? Now, we can’t go out there, it’s too dangerous, but we can go this far. It’s just a third out, and isn’t it fun to leap from rock to rock? If you go any farther, they get slippery and covered with seaweed and algae, and you could fall and break your leg or stung or pinched by something mean. But here, we’re safe.
Sit down for a moment. Feel the rock underneath you. You can prop your feet up on the one in front of you, if you like. Yes, just like that! That’s my favorite spot.
Let’s just wait a while and watch the ocean, let the sounds of everyone else fade away until it’s just you and the water and the rock. Don’t worry about the people playing with the beach ball or the squeals of the children running in and out of the water. Ignore the yells of the kids playing with the skimboards. I’m going to be quiet, too.
Just sit and be.
Once you’ve sat there long enough to feel almost dopey with relaxation, get up and follow me again! There are plenty more things for us to see this afternoon.
Of course, we could take a long walk down the beach, and I could try to add to my collection of rocks that look like seals (Okay, I only have one, but it’s lovely and needs a friend.).
But there’s a baseball game starting at the high school, and we just can’t miss it. And no, it’s not a high school baseball league. It’s a million times more exciting than that. It’s part of this special, selective summer league for college players to play against the best players their age and get scouted. They live with local families, and they all play in this big tournament. Our town won a few years ago, and I’m think that this year’s our year again.
If you look right behind the screen in back of homeplate, you can see the scouts. They wear plain caps, so no one will know what team they’re from (even though everyone already does. Word gets around quickly, doesn’t it?), and they write things on clipboards. I’m sure their notes are very important. But for right now, pick up your beach chair, and follow me. I know the perfect place for sitting.
Want a hot dog? I’m going to eat two, and I’ve got plenty of ketchup, sauerkraut, and mustard, if you’d like those as well. Go ahead, eat as much as you’d like. There’s soda, water, and juice, but no beer. This is a school field, remember? And don’t mind me while I score the game in this notebook and jump up and down every time something exciting happens. Did you see that catch?!
We’ve won! We’ve won! And yes, I know you’re tired and that the fog is rolling in, making it hard to even see the exit from the parking lot, but don’t you want some ice cream? We can’t count those popsicles as dessert, now can we? They were just frozen juice, after all.
I’m getting Milky Way, and maybe you should, too. But there’s a huge chalkboard up there with all of their homemade flavors. Everything here is good. Just remember that when they say jimmies, they’re talking about what you probably call sprinkles, and frappes are milkshakes and don’t actually have any coffee in them.
Isn’t that delicious? I know that I’ve probably got chocolate on the tip of my nose and the scoop is threatening to fall off the cone, but isn’t this just the best day ever?
We can walk home from here, past the kite shop that might still be open and is the best place to buy toys and the most spectacular kites. If it’s windy tomorrow, I’ll show you mine. It looks like a dragon and has a tail that stretches on for yards.
There’s a trash can to your left, if you need to throw away your napkin. And I really should go to the post office in the morning to check my mailbox, even though I can never open the darn thing on the first try.
And there’s the bar/pub which is showing the wrap up commentary on a MLB game. If you feel like staying up, we could watch the rerun at one a.m. But you’re probably tired. It is late after all.
But before we call it a day, look up. Throw your head all the way back and look at the sky. Can you see the real Milky Way? I’m not talking about my slowly melting cone of ice cream. Look at all of those stars! Makes you feel small, doesn’t it?
Sometimes, when I look up at the night sky, I get scared by just how little I am. In the grand scheme of things, I can be awfully insignificant. But then, I turn my gaze to everything back here on earth, and I’m reminded that it’s all rather relative. I’m not tiny. And you’re not either.
We get to do fantastic, amazing things, and run around barefoot and climb on rocks and stand in the ocean and eat popsicles and ice cream and watch baseball games. And tomorrow will be just as wonderful. I’m thinking about taking a motorboat out of the harbor to go look at the seals and explore that inhabited island a mile or so off the coast.
But for now, we can watch the stars and marvel at how clear a night it is and what great a day it was until it’s time to say goodnight and go to bed. It won’t be too long until we can go on another adventure.
You can also find me bopping about on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.
I will be incredibly sad if there ever comes a day where I do not get excited that we have chocolate pudding and mango juice in the house. And by excited I mean crazy-dancing-in-the-kitchen-with-the-cats-when-no-is-looking excited.
I also miss the beach. It’s getting too chilly for weekend getaways, and I can no longer sit on top of our kayak and read for hours on end. It’s carefully covered in the basement now and I’m many miles away, spending close to eight hours a day in cafés, writing. But even though I’m feeling nostalgic and wistful, part of me doesn’t want to be there. If life consisted solely of summer at the beach, it wouldn’t be special anymore. I wouldn’t get excited stomachaches the night before we left or enjoying walking into town for milky way ice cream every evening. I wouldn’t like having to constantly change clothes to deal with the temperature changes or having to put up with how the humidity makes my normally very straight hair bushy. It’ll be seven months until I return, so for now I’ll look at pictures and sigh.
Today seems like a good day to tell you some stories about the beach.
Every time we go to our beach house, we try to drive up to a town* about forty minutes away and spend the day there.
My mother likes the stores and galleries. The stationary store there sells the incredibly fancy wrapping paper she adores. The type that comes in huge sheets about the size of poster board and is often so soft that it feels like cotton or a well-worn dollar bill. Sometimes, they’re thin and almost like lace made out of paper, so delicate that you’re scared to touch it, lest you rip it. But mostly, the paper is thick and soft and heavy with excellent “texture and patterns” and “deeply saturated colors.”
She’ll spend hours in there, picking out the best sheets, because Christmas is coming soon, and heaven help us if every present isn’t beautifully wrapped. I’ve been taught never to rip the paper, you have to carefully slide your finger under the tape so it won’t tear, because you can use the paper again, you know. Family and friends say that they always feel bad when Christmas comes, and you finally have to rip it all away. So we go to the stationary store for her and for us because hey, we all rather fond of leather bound notebooks, fancy pens, and stationary, too.
Pippa loves the ice cream. The store there, she says, is the best. I don’t agree, but it’s the rare day that I’ll say no to a cone of Junior Mint–mint ice cream so authentic it’s white with chocolate chips and real Junior Mint candies. In the same store as the ice cream, there’s a fudge and candy shop. The type of candy that gets called penny candy, even though the cheapest thing there–tootsie rolls–cost a nickel a piece. When Pippa and I were younger, we’d load little clear plastic bags full of sucking candies and peppermint sticks and huge chocolate bars and dozens and dozens of gummy bears and worms. “Only two pieces a day,” my mother would say, “And only one if you’re having one of the big pieces.”
When Pippa was five months and my mother was holding her while eating a cone of coffee ice cream, Pippa suddenly leaned over and took a huge, few tooth bite of it. It wound up all over her face, and as my mother stood there in shock and amusement, Pippa looked around with a huge grin and tried to go in for another bite. It’s safe to say that Pippa’s love of sweets has never been a secret. So every time we visit, we walk up to the window to place our orders, and then sit down in the green plastic chairs, warmed by sun, to eat our dripping cones.
My dad goes mostly for the history and adventures. The whole drive up, he points out the historic landmarks, even though we seen them all many, many times before, and tells us their significance. He’s usually read a new book about the subject, and suddenly we’re caught in a deluge of information about the area’s original inhabitants and the first settlers. I find it interesting, I love to know places’ stories, but Pippa always groans and sloaches more deeply into her seat and tries to see if she can stick her bare feet into the pocket on the back of the driver’s seat without getting in trouble.
Frequently, he’ll veer away from the normal route, and we’ll suddenly find ourselves at what looks to be the top of a hiking trail or a beach or a bay or a marsh. We’ll all pile out of the car and follow him as he leads us down some path until we end up some place magnificent. It’s never ever any good to ask him any questions, you just follow him and trust that he knows what he’s doing. Sometimes, after you’ve walked an impossibly long distance, he’ll take a sudden, seemingly strange, turn into the trees, and then we’ll all discover that it was actually a shortcut back to the car, which he somehow discovered even though it was his first time there.
But me? I like walking in silence, spinning stories in my in my head, and trying to notice every detail. Usually, I’ll have the camera with me, and so I’m at least twenty feet behind everyone else, stuck trying to aim a shot just right so that I can remember that scene forever.
Last year when we went to Puerto Rico, I spent the whole time taking pictures of the brightly colored buildings with their huge, heavy dark wooden doors and their European balconies and people.
As I walk, I plan out blog posts, scenes for the novel I’m writing, other pieces of fiction, and just narrate it all. And the words come like the air I’m slowly breathing, smooth and unhurried and easy. I just feel them. And I keep taking pictures and being silent because suddenly being trapped inside of my head is the most wonderful prison in the world.
Later, when I plug the camera into the computer and upload the pictures, it all comes rushing back. It’s like the images have taken bits of that running stream of consciousness and pinned them down with thin, silver sewing pins. I find myself picking back up right where I left off and having new words to weave together with the old ones, creating some sort of braid that strings all of the images together. And it’s wonderful.
*It’s the town that Lily lives in every summer!
I continue to be monstrously surprised by just how tired eight hours in the car will make me. I did nothing but sit all day, and I’ve been ready to go to bed since I arrived home a little after six.
Stupid hurricane ruining vacation.
In other news, I just discovered this picture of me at the beach with Pippa and a cousin. Pippa’s the cutie in the middle, and I’m the rugrat on the right with the demented look on her face. It’s surprising how much and how little both us and the house have changed since I was four.
I suppose that by the time one reaches eighteen their reaction to news of imminent catastrophic weather impacting their area should not be one of somewhat giddy anticipation. But I can’t help myself. Something terribly exciting is about to happen and I’m pretty much guaranteed to be in the middle of it.
I’ve lived through category three hurricanes before. I know how it goes. Trees fall down and hit things, often knocking down wires; the electricity goes out; sticks are littered everywhere; the grocery store is a mad house; no one has batteries in stock; you nearly light your hair on fire with some candles; and you have to eat all of the perishables in the refrigerator and freezer before they go bad. I’m particularly fond of the eating all the ice cream part.
Unfortunately, this hurricane means we have to cut our beach time short. After we make sure everything here is secure, we’re headed home tomorrow morning to batten down the hatches in our non-vacation-fun-times-abound house. Plus, the cats shouldn’t be left alone in the storm.
I leave you with one funny story from the time Hurricane Isabel hit Washington, D.C. when I was ten.
At the time, I was, to put it lightly, obsessed with the Sheryl Crow song, Soak Up the Sun. I had a dance I did to it while lip syncing, and everyday after I finished my homework, I would play the song over and over and over again. It got to the point where my dad had to physically pry the CD from my hands and confiscate it so that no one would commit suicide or go bonkers from being forced to listen to it too much. So just as the sky was turning a sickly shade of gray-green and the wind was picking up, I popped the CD into the stereo and hit play.
As soon as my index finger hit the button, I heard a wooshing noise, the lights went out, and the house became oddly silent. That’s odd, I thought, A fuse must have just flipped. But then I looked out the window and noticed that the power was out in the house behind us and in both of our next door neighbors’ houses, too. I panicked. I just cut out the electricity for the whole neighborhood, maybe even the whole city! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What did I do? Oh, gosh! Dad is right! This song really does wreak havoc!
Then, my father came into the room and informed me that even though the world would be a much happier place if we didn’t have to listen to Soak Up the Sun ten times a day, I was not responsible for the power outage. It was just lucky timing. “Oh,” I said as I felt my muscles relax and the lines on my forehead fade, “Good. I didn’t want everyone mad at me.” And the storm raged on with me not the cause of darkened houses, missed TV shows, and slowly warming refrigerators.
So the plan for last Thursday night was to drive up to the beach after the Senior Awards Ceremony. It started at seven thirty, and we figured it would let out at nine thirty at the latest. Well, we were wrong by a long shot.
A little after ten thirty Cecelia, Audrey, George, and I hit the road only to discover that most gas stations are closed that late at night. I’ve never seen gas stations closed late at night before, I thought, This is so weird. Apparently, only the highway and centrally-located big gas stations stay open late or all night. I filed away this misconception between glass won’t cut your feet when you walk on it and electric fences don’t shock humans.
As we pull onto the highway, I started feeling really, really excited. This was it. Here we were. On the highway. In the dark. Alone. Then, I remembered that being alone also meant that I was in charge of directions and not getting us lost in the middle of the night, which is more than a major buzz kill*. I am a big fan of responsibilities and being in charge, but I hate to fail. And failing when you’re directing a car is a lot worse and has more immediate consequences than failing to verify a trig identity**. It usually involves being snapped or yelled at, and man do I hate snapping and yelling.
We drove across the state line and over what I like to call the world’s longest bridge. It curves across the water just like the Golden Gate, it just isn’t red-ish gold, over the San Fransico Bay, or that high up. They’re supposed to be rebuilding it because it was built during a materials shortage during the Korean War and designed to be used by far fewer cars, but the plans are still “in review.” So driving across it at night is more than a little scary. I know how to get out of cars underwater, but my chances of being able to swim to shore without collapsing are very slim to none.
We passed under the big EZ-Pass arch, and I reminded Audrey not to change lanes directly underneath it because they’ll send you an angry letter. She laughed and said she wasn’t planning on it. It’s tidbits like these that make me think that I’m an excellent driver’s assistant and probably annoys the actual driver. We got on Cecelia’s favorite highway and kept going under stone bridges built by the CCC and tree canopies. I counted rest stops and furthered my theory that Mobil Gas and McDonalds must have a contract with the state that allows them to be a monopoly.
The part of my brain just above my ears and a little to the the front (probably my temporal lobe) was aching in exhaustion and my eyelids were drooping. We were going to have to merge onto the big highway soon, and I was not going to screw it up by sleeping through it. At this point, I can’t remember when I actually fell asleep with my face turned into my left shoulder. I slept through most of the state, leaning over to sleep with my head on the driver’s seat when they stopped for coffee. I woke up somewhere around two with a surprising amount of alertness and clarity and offered to sing Gold Digger for everyone, which was my first impulse upon waking.
A few minutes later, Cecelia asked, “What comes out of exhaust pipes?” I responded with a stupid amount of certainty, saying “Carbon dioxide!” It’s actually carbon monoxide, as Audrey calmly pointed out, which makes since seeing as people lock themselves in confined places and run the engine to kill themselves. But three o’clock me was imagining that cars had exhaust systems that resembled a human’s respiratory system complete with noses. Cecelia rolled down her window a bit and said that she was concerned about Jeff’s exhaust pipe and muffler. Apparently, it had looked like it was hanging a little low when they had stopped before. We stopped at a gas station to ask if it was serious and they said yes. Whoopee.
My dad had told me to text him updates from the road, and I had been sending one every hour or whenever we changed highways or stopped without response. So when I sent him a text a little after three, I did not expect him to immediately text me back. I was lobbying hard for us to stay at a hotel for the night rather than push on and have something seriously horrible happen to Jeff and us, and my Dad urged us to do the same. After discovering one hotel that was way too expensive ($180) and that Extended Stay America is not hotel, we found a Holiday Inn Express. They said it would be $130 a night, which is totally reasonable in my book, but the other girls wanted to keep looking. At this point it was nearly four, the muffler was scraping on the ground every time we hit the slightest bit of incline, and we were exhausted.
I checked us in, half (well, more like three-quarters) hoping that they ask if I was really eighteen****. Of course, this was really, really stupid considering that my only form of identification was my one from school, which besides having me maniacally grinning with my head tilted disturbingly to the left does not have my birthday. I could be seven and still in the class of 2011.
We dragged our suitcases out of the car, into the elevator and into a nice room on the fourth floor. As I stood in my biking shorts and tee shirt, picking up my skirt from the ground with my toes and tossing into the air to catch with my right hand, I thought about how strange it was that we were all so perfectly calm in the face of what could sensibly called a crisis and how wide awake I was. I drifted off at around four thirty after repeatedly turning from side to side, rustling the sheets and probably disturbing Audrey, only to wake up at seven thirty, ready to take on the world. Why this can happen after four hours of sleep and not after twelve when I have to go to school is a complete and utter mystery to me.
To be continued.
*Amusingly, I only discovered a month ago that “buzz kill” has nothing to do with killing bugs that buzz. To be fair, this assumption was somewhat reasonable seeing as your good mood would be disrupted if you got murdered. Welcome to the way Ella’s brain interprets the world, everyone!
**Remember that time when I said that I was going to conquer them? Like here and here and here and especially here? Well, I still suck at them. Unlike every other academic endeavor I have undertaken, hours and hours and hours of study have gotten me nowhere. It stinks. But I am going to figure it out. I just have to.
****Registering to vote and checking into a hotel are the first rights I’ve exercised since my birthday, and it feels so good to do them. I might go buy spray paint just for that wave of excitement and power (and so I can fix the part of the driveway I accidentally painted white*****).
*****How do you un-paint the driveway?
Today has been one of those perfect beach days. I got up early and took a shower outdoors while the air was still clouded with fog. Stupidly, I left my towel in the back hall, and had to put my pajamas back on while I was still soaking wet. I marched my way back into the house, the grass sticking to my ankles and feet, feeling pretty defeated. Walking around in wet clothing with your hair deshelved is not a very elegant way of inaugerating being eighteen.
But things quickly got better. I dunked oat squares in lemon yogurt and drank a glass of orange juice, trying to see if I could keep the pulp out my mouth by making a sieve with my teeth. Then, I went out to the porch to talk to my grandmother and aunt and stare wistfully at my presents. I was really give maturity a run for its money.
We finally got around to present opening, and there were sun dresses from Free People, pretty cards, more clothes, a beautiful blue wooden box with a scarf inside, checks, books, and iTunes gift certificates. Tied for first place with the dresses was a poem by Mary Oliver that my aunt wrote out and backed on gorgeous blue paper.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I’m going to have to reorganize my bulletin boards at home to fit this in. It’s lovely, and I plan on memorizing it. That way, I’ll have more happy and beautiful things to repeat to myself when I’m bored or sad.
The house still needs cleaning from having been closed up all winter, so all five of us attacked the living room. All the furniture was pulled out from the walls and every picture, bowl, shell, doohickey, etc was dusted by my aunt and me. Then, I rearranged the mantle so that everything was in height order. As much as this makes me feel happy and organized, it kind of looks wonky and needs fixing. Clearly, I do not have a future in candlestick and trinket arranging.
I ate a goat’s cheese and roast beef sandwich for lunch, which is not a combination I would recommend. However, it’s still above eating Provolone cheese (the spawn of the devil), my other option. I did homework, sent in my voter registration forms, and fooled around until dinner. We ate at my favorite restaurant in town, and I ordered poorly. Scallops in cream sauce with bacon over fettucini seemed like a really great idea until it was right before me and screaming, “I AM PROBABLY OVER A THOUSAND CALORIES!” in my face. I just ate my mango salad and dubiously poked at it for the next hour.
And in the way that poor meals typically go, I ended up feeling so depressed that we just went home after eating. I had been planning on having my all-time-favorite-best-ever Milky Way ice cream for dessert to celebrate but even getting up to walk to the car felt like a chore. We drove home and watched the Bruins beat Tampa and the Red Sox beat Detroit as my dad periodically yelled at good plays, and my grandmother laughed.
Later, I pretended to officiate a church service while wearing a UConn snuggie backwards, and my dad and I went for a walk through the fog. Drops of water dripped down from the condensation on the leaves as we meandered down the roads near the beach. Maybe one night it will be so clear we can see the Milky Way. But I like how it is now, the way I feel cosy and enclosed in the safety of the house. Nothing can hurt me here. Going to sleep should be easy.
Today more than ever I felt loved. People kept texting me, and relatives called to sing Happy Birthday. It is so easy to forget experiences like today when I’m overrun with emotions. I am blessed, and I have a good life. Pain is always fleeting.
So here’s to another year of my life. Let’s see how it goes.