I've entertained the idea of moving away from Boston once or twice, but it's really hard for me to imagine living anywhere very far from the ocean (sorry, Austin). A witch in Salem once told me that in past lives, I lived on the coast of England and on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Greece. She also told me I belong near the ocean, regardless of where I end up. Say what you want about tarot and reincarnation, but she was right about that.
I love to travel, and I've noticed a pattern in the places I'm drawn to: if I don't have access to a beach at some point in the journey, I am noticeably less excited. It's not about getting a tan (although of course that's a nice bonus); I just feel more like myself at the beach than anywhere else. No ipod or book required -- I'm perfectly happy to just sit on the sand and watch the waves crash.
Happy Mandy! Temple of Apollo, an hour or two outside of Athens, Greece; August, 2007.
My love of the beach started when I was a wee little Mandy. In addition to an amazing vegetable garden, my grandparents had a beach house in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I spent at least a few days every summer from the year they bought it (I believe I was around three years old) until I moved to Boston. Some of my happiest childhood memories took place there: building sand castles with my cousin Maggie, playing putt-putt (also known as mini-golf to you yankees) despite my utter lack of skills, eating blueberry pancakes and bacon, slurping down frozen lemonade from the wheeled carts on the beach (reliably driven by cute college students), trips up to Calabash, NC, for fried popcorn shrimp and hush puppies.
It's hard to articulate how devastated I was when I learned my grandparents would be selling that house in 2010. It was never really "mine," but it felt like it; in many ways it was more of a home to me than anywhere I'd lived in my hometown, especially because of my parents' divorce and the resulting housing changes. There were no traumatic memories attached to it -- it was my happy place. Even though I'd lived too far away to spend much time there for quite a few years, I couldn't imagine the option of visiting being removed.
Me and TJ on my final trip to the beach house; May, 2010. Photo by TJ Miller.
But more than that, the sale of the beach house was a painfully clear acknowledgment of my grandparents' declining health. Despite the physical struggles they'd faced across the previous decade, they always did everything they could to make trips to the beach house. It felt as if resigning themselves to Concord meant resigning themselves to death.
I understood intellectually that they couldn't possibly be around much longer -- they were in their 80s at that point -- but you can never fully prepare yourself for losing someone you love. Weirdly, it was my grandmother who went first, not due to some long-term health issue, but from a freak accident. The day of her funeral, my grandfather -- the man who I'd spent most of my life avoiding hugging because it was so awkward, who showed affection by teasing me mercilessly and hiding my shoes -- would periodically burst into tears and wail, "What am I going to do?" He would be gone about seven months later.
I don't believe in God, so I can't really console myself with the idea of seeing them again one day (although I do occasionally have extraordinarily vivid dreams about them, which helps). I try to be grateful for the time I had with them and forgive myself for the time I missed from living so far away. My grandmother really tried to understand why I chose to leave, even though she didn't like it, and I hope she forgave me too.
I think about those trips to North Myrtle Beach and feel instantly calm every time I step foot on sand, so in response to Day 4's prompt: my favorite place is anywhere with a beach.
Aruba; January, 2012. Photo by TJ Miller.
Based on a photo taken in San Francisco; May, 2011.