Ella Explores the Beach

Thanks to a hurricane power outage, please enjoy some teaser pictures from my vacation in this post written before the storm struck. I’ll provide the story behind them as soon as we’ve got the power back!

Bright Skies and Salt-Scented Air

Let’s hope this gets my mind off of all of these sorrowful goodbyes, If being at the beach doesn’t work, I can always lock myself in my room and watch Frost/Nixon and Miracle over and over and over again.

Questions You Don’t Want to Ask At Four AM: Is the Muffler Supposed Hang That Low?

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?

As It Turns Out, Eighteen Doesn’t Feel Any Different

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.

Wild Geese

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.

On Childhood Songs, Turning Eighteen, Going to the Beach, and Becoming a Real Life Voter

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite songs was “Going to the Zoo Tomorrow.”

This version isn’t the same as the one of the CD, which was infinitely better.

It’s the sort of song that I still think about a lot. I like to sing it when I’m going to be going some place terribly exciting the next day or whenever I’m home alone and feeling a little bit scared. I just change the words to fit the setting. Anyways, we’re going to the Cape tonight until Monday or Tuesday. And in my world this ranks as EXTREMELY IMPORTANT JUMP UP AND DOWN NEWS.

It’s going to be excellent for many reasons. I plan on taking walks incredibly early in the morning, eating ice cream, going kayaking, reading on the porch, writing on the porch, sleeping on the porch, staring at the water on the porch. There may or may not be a theme to what I’m excited about.

Also, I’m going to turn 18 tomorrow, which is a moderately big deal. I had a very nice, small party last night that’ll I’ll write about soon. I’m going to celebrate by going out to dinner, eating clam chowder and Milky Way ice cream (not at the same time), and writing. It should be a pleasant day.

In other news, I just filled my voter registration forms. This is definetly the best part about being eighteen. Well, this and buying those things they advertise on Nickelodeon.

Fling Open the Windows

Many years ago, when I was just a baby, this is what the view from our beach house looked like:

The porch has changed a lot since then. The old chairs and sofa got replaced with newer, fancy ones, white carpet was put down, all of the beach chairs and toys went into the basement, and the whole porch was insulated and re-paneled with beautiful maple. And while those changes are all very nice, I don’t totally love the Porch 2.0. You see, we had to install new windows with the double panes to keep the outside air out and the inside air in. But these windows just slide back and forth. They can’t be thrown open with gusto, and they don’t make you feel like you could fly out of the window, all the way down to the sea, and truly become part of the salty air and feather-light sand.

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 139. It reads,

“If I take the wings of the morning/and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,/Even there your hand will lead me/and your right hand hold me fast.”

So when I am at the beach, I want to become that part of the Psalm. And mostly, I do. I feel it when I stand at the top of the landing at seven o’clock in the morning after returning from a run or walk and the fog is just begining to rise. I feel it when I’ve finally worked up the courage to dive into the gentle surf. I even feel it when I’m in the kitchen, sitting on the floor with my back up against the refrigerator, drinking juice and letting the condensation from the freezer drip down onto my hair. But looking out of the porch window isn’t what it could be. You aren’t thrust into the joy and that Psalm. You’re just you on a porch, admiring a pretty picture.

It’s rather silly, feeling this way. I’m nostalgic from something that changed when I was eleven. But windows are important. They let you see what you are so nearly a part of, beckoning with promises of joy, if you would only stray a little farther, out the door and into the world.

I like windows that cry out, as Whitman does when he write this in Song of Myself:

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

But the new windows don’t have that passion. They slide with duty and purpose, never with jubilation. Opening them requires forethought, not reckless abandon. They don’t scream euphoria, and they never will.

I want the old windows back.

Desktop Stories

As I was writing a speech for a Model Congress trip I’m going on at the end of the month, I kept thinking about my computer background. Here’s what it looks like:

It’s a beautiful picture from a trip to France. Everything is picturesque, and the water is turquoise. By all appearances, it seems like the perfect place to go swimming.

It’s actually Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach of World War Two’s D-Day fame. I took this picture in the Normandy American Cemetery while the wind whipped my hair about and the sun made the top of head unbearably hot.

There were white crosses that went on forever like this.

After some wandering down paths and tripping over a step, I noticed that there were some people carrying beach chairs. I edged closer to listen to hear what language they were speaking. American English. People rarely come to cemeteries with beach chairs, so I started to follow them. In a non creepy way. A let’s just pretend there is something really interesting right behind them that I must go examine sort of way.

They stopped to confer at the top of a path that led down the bluff. Could you really go down onto the beach? I started follow the path. After winding around some trees, I saw this.

People playing on Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach. The place where thousands of men died, rushing out of boats to take the Germans by storm. It was just a holiday place to them. I could still see the blood in the water and the bodies slumped over motionless. I stood at the end of the path, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, thinking about all of the sacrifices made in that war and how it would feel if I had been born many decades earlier and had lost cousins or brothers on this very beach.

And as I stared out at the people and the water, I was struck by the fact that a situation can be two separate things at once. People must have vacationed here before the war and they do now. The beach was both a place for quietly remembering the dead and for laughing and swimming. I may have been sobbing at the thought of all the dead men, shot down on the land that I was standing on, but I was also giddy with excitement as I explored my favorite war. It was all rolled together into one and felt funny and strange inside of me. So I remained rooted to the spot until time ran out, and I had to turn away and amble back up the hill. The same hill that men had fought to climb so many years ago.

In other news, I wrote the speech without crying and only minor rolling on the bed.

Euphoria on an Island

I thought that instead of writing about medication for the umpteenth time, I’d tell a story.

Instead of going to Junior Prom last year, I went to Audrey’s summer house. That trip was the best two days of 2010.

I begged my parents for weeks to let me go. I had only just gotten back to school, but I was stable and done with my outpatient program. Everyday was sunny, and I loved being surrounded by classmates again. It all seemed too perfect to be real.

After a half day at school (which actually I didn’t attend due to a doctor’s appointment), we were off.  We had to ride on two trains and take a ferry to get there, and the farther I got from home, the more excited and happier I got. The whole way there I imagined exactly what it would be like, adjusting my mental image as we got closer and closer. On the ferry ride, our hair flew all over the place, and I tried to reassure myself that the ferry wouldn’t sink or flip over.

Once were on the island, we walked to Audrey’s house. I could feel little grains of sand under my feet, making scratching noises against the concrete path.  The houses were raised a few feet off the ground and were low structures made out of wood. Finally, we rounded a corner and walked down a small street that ended at the beach.

Audrey’s house was lovely. The kitchen, dining room, and living room all ran into each other and felt both spacious and cozy at the same time. After setting down our bags and changing, we immediately headed down to the beach. I slapped myself in the face when no one was looking to verify that this was all really happening. I felt happy the way that I do when I’m hypomanic, but this time I was entirely in control.

Audrey wore my shorts that say “COCKS” that were purchased at University of South Carolina, home of the Fighting Gamecocks. I find them amusing, especially when I combine them with tee shirts from church. On the beach, I watched Cecelia and Audrey dash in and out of the waves while Alexandra and Grace ran around on shore. I took pictures and laughed.

Sometimes, there would be a huge wave that would wash all the way up and stop a few yards away from my towels. I watched the pieces of foam it left behind. It felt springy underfoot.

Grace and I drew huge patterns in the sand.

We went back to the house once everyone was worn out and hungry, and Cecelia and I cooked dinner. Sitting around a table on her back deck, I thought to myself, all those months out of school and the week in the hospital were worth it if it means that I am going to have more and more days like this.

We walked all the way back to the landing where the ferry had docked and watched the sunset. I held my glass bottle of Ginger Ale and let my feet dangle over the side. We played on a playground, and I thought about how ironic it is that I hate heights, but I love swing sets. I watched Cecelia clown around, and then we headed back. I tried walking toe, heel, toe, heel.

Back at the house, we did the dishes, eight hands scrubbing, rinsing, drying, and putting away. Water spilled down our fronts. In the living room, we curled up on the couch, watched episodes of The Office, and ate ice cream. I didn’t look at the nutrition facts.

And at midnight, I turned 17. Sadie called to wish me a happy birthday, and I unwrapped a beautiful white tank top from Audrey. It was perfect and wonderful and lovely. Later, when I was lying in bed, I couldn’t sleep for about an hour; I was too happy to relax.

The next morning, we packed up, I made lunch for the road, and we took the ferry and two trains home. Cecelia and Audrey went to my house to get ready to leave for my beach house that evening. But that Memorial Day weekend story is something separate and special and a tale for another day.

When things get difficult, I have to remember these moments of euphoria. I need to cling onto them tightly, hold them close, and drape them around me. I must remember how I felt in this picture.

With my dress billowing out behind me, I ran, full of hope, happiness, and optimism. For that day and a half, nothing was wrong with the world.

God, I Love Shutters

Today was one of my lie-in-bed-and-try-to-calm-down days. Aren’t days like this the bomb diggity? (That phrase is totally underrated.)

So after I had had my lovely morning cry, I started going through old pictures in my iPhoto. Besides discovering a bunch of pictures that I took of myself back in 2006 (oh God) when Macs first started having built-in web-cams, I found all of my pictures from the summer I spent in France when I was fourteen.

I went with a program to Angers to study French at a university and live with a host family that had eight kids. It was a wonderful experience, but it wasn’t my memories of Versailles or Saint Malo that kept replaying in my mind, instead it was my walk to the university and how gorgeous it was.

The front steps of the house:

The house:

The lamppost on the corner (Yes, I did try to re-enact Singing in the Rain here, and yes, people thought I was crazy):

God, I love shutters:

A Catholic Church:

A sign for the University:

University, itself: