HomeA business trip took me home recently. I suppose it's not really "home", as the place I live now is the same city I have lived in for the majority of my life. But coastal North Carolina is home to me. Has been from the moment I first arrived there. I lived there for four years when I was younger, and leaving was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done.
My life has been very unsure for the past couple of years. Very chaotic. When I had the ocean in front of me, available to me, I was more grounded. There was perspective there I have never been able to find anywhere else. I long for those beaches. Long for the crash of wave on sand, for the echoes of eternity that they bring.
One beach here. Surf City on Topsail Island. It's the place I spent the majority of my time on the sand. It was the place I first glimpsed the ocean. The "real" ocean, not just the Gulf of Mexico. The town I lived in has changed. The people are gone. But the ocean, the beach...it is always the same.
I came here with my ex on our last vacation together. The first time my children saw the ocean. That trip was riddled with uncertainty. It was the absolute last ditch effort to save something that couldn't be saved. I thought coming home would fix the problems we had. Or remind us of what we wanted when we were in love.
It did not do that. It calmed me, sure. But there were so many conflicting currents in my life that I couldn't breathe. And I left the coast with more questions than I came with.
I have not been back in two years.
When I found out I was coming home, I planned on visiting this beach, as well as the town I lived in. I'd be driving not very far from it, and it would be easy to go by for a few minutes. But the trip dragged. Things took longer than expected. The town I lived in was so changed. So many of my old haunts out of business. So many friends gone. We finally arrived on Topsail island near sundown the day before the trip was over. The little seafood dive I love so well didn't open until March, and I was reeling with the disappointment. Nothing would be made right with this visit either.
It seemed that home really wasn't home anymore. Nothing to hold me here. Nothing to call me back.
The next morning, a later start than anticipated. We had just a few minutes to visit the beach. It's just a beach. Not home. And though I could almost feel a tangible pull towards those steps over the dunes when we drove past, I knew deep inside that it would not be what I'd hoped.
I stepped out of the car into the familiar sandy wind, my nose full of the salty smell of the sea I love so deeply. My heart begins to beat faster as my foot touches the steps, and my hands start to shake. I don't understand the lump that begins to rise in my throat, and I'm fighting to overcome the emotions swirling in my head.
It's February, and the beach is almost deserted, the way I like it. Just a few locals jogging along the waterline. Tourist season is still months away, and I know this is my beach. My first sight of the pier, of the water crashing into the sand, of the birds and the grass on the dunes being pummeled by the wind, and I am moving. Haltingly at first, then a little faster -- I leave everyone behind, and am tripping, stumbling, and running through the loose sand, kicking off my shoes. The frigid temperatures have no place in my thoughts, I'm running, hopping, rolling my pants up, almost falling several times...needing the kiss of the waves on my feet.
By the time I hit the cold hard sand with the freezing water just lapping at my toes, tears are falling fast. Everything that has been weighing on me for four years begins to wash away like the footprints in the sand around my frozen feet. The people around me forgotten, I stand there, sobbing, not really sure why, staring out at forever, sinking into the sand of my home, rooted now, grounded.
I cannot even begin to understand the tide of emotions that flooded through me, as I stood there - I just knew they were flowing, and outside of my control. Long moments passed before I even spared a thought for the other people around me. Crazy lady with windblown hair, sobbing on the beach. I didn't care. I didn't try to explain. I finally managed to pull away. Walked along the cold hard sand, sniffling. Picking up sea glass. Settling into my old routine. Letting the release of pent-up emotion wash over me, wash through me.
No matter how many times these things happen to me, I still am always surprised at the depth of emotion the sea creates in me. I remember so many times...some I have written about here, some I haven't...but the ocean has the ability to erase the tumult in my mind. To calm it. It seems to speak to me with the wisdom that can only come with being as old as time itself. It tells me my problems are fleeting. That my life is fleeting. It allows me to feel the things I don't allow myself to feel, because I think I will come apart. But here, sinking deeper into the sand as the waves crash over my feet, I can feel them, and they're somehow not so heavy as they would be elsewhere.
Jimmy Buffet sings about the ocean in his song A Pirate Looks at 40. He calls the ocean Mother, as so many sailors have. He laments to her of the things he can tell no one else. He is too late for the life he was born for, but she is there, she knows. She remembers. She is the only one who can understand his follies and sorrows. To so many, the ocean gives this council. She is always there. She cradles us in her waves, rocks us to sleep at night. She tosses us about. She hurts the unwary seaman in her anger. She takes the things she wants. She is, like so many women, fickle. The ocean is powerful. She can hurt. But She can heal too. And for the currently landlocked Glowy, she is an absolutely necessary part of life.