Mmmmmm Florida. I love recounting Florida stories. It makes me happy. Because I love Florida. In case you missed it, here’s part one. Here’s part two:
When I was in the hospital, unable to walk or even sit up, I promised myself that I’d take my running more seriously in an attempt to be grateful for the things I almost lost. I did for a while, but it was hard. I fought to wake up in the morning and lace up my shoes, fought to keep pushing myself, fought to keep breathing. It sucked. It was hard. My ever patient running partner suggested the elevation, I suggested the lack of humidity. Still, I felt like those were just cop outs, just excuses to make me feel better about being so out of shape, blaming the stupid accident, the days in the hospital bed, the weeks after where I did nothing but rest and heal. Regardless of the circumstances, I felt pretty crummy about how much I suddenly sucked at running. UMMMM ENTER FLORIDA WITH LOW ELEVATION AND HUMIDITY. I’ve never been such a good runner in my life. I felt like a marathon runner, breathing easy, never needing to stop, feeling like running was as easy as walking. Listen guys: the altitude/humidity business is no joke. It’s real. And my self esteem went back up to normal levels because it’s TEXAS’ FAULT that I can’t run. Ha! Unfortunately, it’s going to take conditioning, time, patience, and adjustment to be able to really run in Texas. Just like everything else—the people, the places, the weather. It’s just nice to know that I can always go back to Florida and things will be easier there. It’s comforting to have a safety net now that I’m realizing it really is going to be hard to adjust to this place—physically and mentally.
We walked to school together and I went all weather-happy again, loving the sticky humidity and the blazing sun and refraining from skipping all the way home.
I threw on some real clothes and headed out for the day. It started with a 15 minute drive, talking to someone who seems interested in every aspect of my life, who is good at listening when I ramble. I think it’s rare, but there are some people that cause me to just ramble, saying whatever pops into my head. Which was pretty much how the drive was spent. I hope those few ramble-inducing people don’t mind. Because I would mind if I were them. The drive ended with me being in possession of the car [such a generous, trusting, brave soul]. Oh, how I missed cruising those crazy streets with the windows down. I loved being in the Sunshine State, knowing all the back roads and short cuts. I even missed the rude people, like the one guy who gave me the finger, called me a bad word, and layed on his horn. Mmmm, Florida. Right at home.
I went back to my high school—something I never thought I’d do. I really didn’t like high school very much (it was really no secret, since I barely made 50% attendance…), and there weren’t a whole lot of teachers that I felt close to. But my relationships with some of them have changed since then and I was genuinely excited to see the faces of people who were equally excited to see me. They’re just more of my extended family, watching, caring, and supporting from several states away.
I took advantage of the opportunity to be a bad influence and got my younger friends (aka Jace’s friends) to leave class just for a few minutes. Which was totally fine, since the security guards were also my friends. It helps to know all the right people :)
It was weird walking around my high school feeling elated, being excited and nervous to go into these classrooms, seeing myself as someone who’d accomplished something, as a good person. It was quite a change from who I was when I went to school there. I didn’t get to see everyone that I wanted to, but it was enough to make me feel satisfied. It was nice to be able to thank these people in person who—again—have been as helpful and supportive as they can be from so far away. I have support systems all over the country. Heck, I have support systems all over the world. Ha.
When I left the school it took some self-restraint to not just cruise the streets and visit all the old places I used to drive to. All the parks with the green grass shrouded by trees, the pool we used to swim at, accompanied by friends, fading sunlight, and $5 pizza—where we’d hop the black iron fence and dive into the cool, chlorinated pool, avoiding the smaller pool where all the little kids peed. I passed the canals on every block—home to turtles that I kept as pets, gators that I didn’t keep as pets, and those retarted, ugly cancerous ducks. I love you, ugly duck.
Instead I settled for observing the things along the road from the high school to the middle school. The warm air and cool breeze, the scratchy grass, the swales and medians lined with palm trees, the wide, winding, sun soaked roads, my fellow drivers that were just as crazy as me. Driving brought floods of memories—the time I almost got in an accident, the one time I got pulled over by the mean motorcycle cop, the time we made a U-turn from the far right lane, all the days that I rescued Jada from school and took her to work and then to the store to blow all her money, all the long days filled with joy, the long evenings spent running up and down Sunrise Boulevard to combat sadness, this place will always hold more memories than any other place ever will.
I headed to Jada’s old school. Man, if I thought the elementary school was emotional…I was in way over my head here. EVERYONE knew Jada. EVERYONE loved Jada. For once I didn’t have to explain how wonderful she was or what a tragedy it is to not have her here anymore. Her math teacher (who also happened to be my math teacher) told stories of how Jada would walk through the halls, flanked on either side by several friends but never being the center of attention, never being the one talking. How free periods in his class would involve people surrounding Jada who was the center of the activity, the gravitating pull that brought everyone together, yet she was never the one dominating conversation. It was so representative of who Jada was—someone who was willing to listen, to be the silent center of attention, to be the person you wanted to be around because she didn’t beg for you to be. Selfless, caring, and patient. How on earth she achieved that as a middle schooler I will never be able to comprehend. She is a huge example to me. I still look up to her, and it was comforting to see that others saw her the same way.
After having my heavy heart lightened by all the lovely people there, after hearing wonderful stories about my beautiful sister, and after a brief parking lot meltdown, I headed to the place that’s always been a refuge—the beach. Simply driving there cheered me up—the wind rushing through the car, the music keeping me company, my mind being clear and the eagerness to be at the beach building with every mile that I put behind me. Somewhere along the way I made the most rewarding phone call of my life reminding me, again, that my family and I are deeply loved and that some things don’t change that. It was so gratifying, so wonderful, to be remembered and welcomed home in such a glorious way. I was giddy with delight and I grinned the the rest of the drive. As if life couldn’t get any better, I was at the beach!
It’s calming and peaceful and beautiful and lovely and everything else that’s good. I love the colors—how the sand is an endless stretch of beige and the sea and sky are endless stretches of turquoise and blue and how they work together to create a beautiful canvas that contrasts with the brightly colored beach balls, towels, umbrellas, with my slouchy red and purple bag, my hot pink nails.
I’m telling you, guys. The sky is bluer here. I don’t even edit my pictures at all.
I love the way sand gets everywhere. There's usually a process with me where I try to spread out my towel without getting sand on it, try to get sand on nothing but my feet. Then the sand creeps up on me, starting with a few grains on my towel, then some on my arm, then it makes it’s way to my face and my bag and eventually I give up the fight. I let the sand win. It celebrates by getting all over every part of my body, in my bathing suit, embedded into my scalp where it stays for days. But it’s all part of the beach experience. The best beach days are ones where I come home trying to get sand out of my cell phone keys, out of the crevices in my elbows and in between my toes and in the corners of my eyes. The more, the better.
I love stretching out on piles of soft sand underneath the glimmering sun, inviting it to pour out over my whole body, lightening my hair and darkening my skin, already anticipating getting home and checking to see if I have tan lines or not (which, by the way, is how you can tell if you’ve had a good beach day or not).
I love little kids at the beach. Wow, that sounded incredibly pedophilic. I just love how they love as purely and as freely as I do. They don’t care that it’s hot or sticky (well…until they get into the car) and they never get bored.
Honestly, all they have is sand and water. Yet there are hours and hours of entertainment—new things to explore, create, and discover. They're effervescent in their love for the beach, for this natural playground.
As we were driving home it started raining. Ohhhhh rain, how I’ve missed you. I love the dark overcast skies making everything cozy and safe and warm and wonderful. I love the rain just as much as the sun (except for the part about getting tan…).
I spent the weekend with two beautiful girls who feel like my little sisters. We played games and made messes and I relished in feeling like I was home (for the millionth time that weekend). Saturday morning was sunny enough to go swimming.
Walking down the street to her house I noticed more things about Florida that I hadn’t before. Like the way that the trees line the streets, offering shade and a respite from the blazing sun.
Like the way that everything is green everywhere and it’s natural—people don’t have to go to great lengths to keep plants alive.
I miss the pure sunshine in summer time (even though technically September isn’t summer) and the way it feels to have the sun toasting your skin, the smell of sunscreen and chlorine, the warm and humid air.
I can’t remember the last time I was in a pool. Which means it’s been way too long. Pools were a daily activity in the summer. I remember my first real sunburn—the day that I was at the pool from 8 am-9 pm, sans sunblock. It was a glorious day and a painful, painful few days after that. I love the way it feels to be immersed in the cool water, feeling weightless, letting my mind drift, feeling like I’m in another world. I used to pretend I was a mermaid when I was younger (you know, like 18) and I’d see how long I could sit at the bottom of the pool, scraping my knees and letting my hair swirl around, adding to the illusion of another reality. Being in the pool always takes me back to those long, hot summer days where I hung out with my friends and cousins and siblings. The really good days.
See that tree to the right? It grows these weird fruits:
I don’t really know what they’re called, but I know that they taste really, really, really sour.
I’m sorry Carin. This expression was just too priceless.
The kids spent some time catching lizards. Another activity representative of my childhood.
It was quite the reptilian household. Typical, since it held so many boys. This was their bearded, fire-breathing dragon.
And they had a turtle. Well, they had two of them. They'd lost one a few days prior and stumbled upon it that afternoon. It was in the couch [Insert stomach-ache inducing laughter]. I was convinced it was dead, but luckily I was wrong.
The bipolar weather flipped it’s switch and turned the sunny skies into rainy ones. We tried to stick it out but were driven inside by the first sound of thunder.
But it was fine because I’d soaked up enough sunshine to last me a while. And there were more good things to soak up.
Like carving tiki warriors out of corn cobs. And eating Karl’s cookies (note to self—learn to make cookies like that. It’ll be the height of your culinary career) and a huge delicious brisket. And fashioning surf boards out of bars of soap.
I just love these guys. I love what they represent and what they have done/still do for us. I love the associations they have with a good time in my life, the good memories that are brought back of my last few weeks in Florida. The reminder of what’s really important to me and what I need to be happy and to keep going. They heavily remind me of Jada and our trillions of inside jokes. I think these pictures are going to be what cheers me up what I’m sad.
Because they’re awesome.
There were some more reptiles that weekend—this one being tossed to me excitedly by an enthusiastic little boy who, I swear, has grown up over night.
Then I spent my last night there watching trashy television (a secret obsession), eating apple cinnamon cheerios, and changing up my hair.
It was a long, tedious process. Thanks, Andrea, for your time and patience. And for being good company—I enjoyed the time it took for the chemicals to set in. Plus I’m super hip now.
Morning came way too early. The end came way too early. I threw random things into my suitcase and fought back tears that were 50% sadness and 50% lack-of-sleep-ness. I waited until I was alone in the airport [paradox, much?] to be torn up and hysterical about leaving. A large part of me wanted to miss my flight—on accident, of course—or even find a way to end up in the hospital or something [yes people, I’m secretly a self-destructive psycho] just to stay a little bit longer. But doing so would have only prolonged the inevitable and I sort of to get on with my life.
I needed a pair of headphones, since mine had long-ago been destroyed. I bought some from a vending machine—true story—and the instant I picked it up and looked at it I had this sinking feeling. I had no scissors.
Now why on earth companies feel it’s necessary to make the headphones impossible to open, I’ll never know. I tried with my nails and my teeth. I tried to use my brain to outsmart it and find a secret, hidden way to open it. Fail. After a while I dug my fingernail clippers out of my makeup bag and started hacking away at the stubborn plastic, taking all my frustrations out on the helpless packaging-from-hell. I finally got the headphones free, much to the relief of my worried fellow passengers. I probably looked like a deranged terrorist.
As the plane took off I took a last opportunity to observe things that have always signified home, things that will always bring me comfort; the palm trees that line the highways and encircle the airport, the overly populated land where buildings are stacked up and cars are parked on the roofs, the communities that are built haphazardly because they’re built to surround the bodies of water that were there first.
The airplane flight pattern was even familiar to me: fly out to the coast—suspended over the deep blue ocean, high above the white dots that look like huge boats to someone else—turn around and cross the coast line again, coming back for one last look at the place you love. And you want to get a good look at it because it doesn’t last for long. Alligator Alley shows up sooner than you expect, dividing civilization from the Everglades. [I was shocked the first time I met someone who didn’t know about the Everglades. They’re a nationally protected park, people. Look it up.]
And then it’s over. There’s just endless stretches of land until you’re too high in the clouds to see. That’s the part where I lean back in my seat, close my eyes, and sort through the memories, the images, the feelings of the previous trip. Where I relish in the good, outlining the details in my mind, willing my brain to lock it in and remember it and to have it readily available for when I need it.
I know that I’m going to have to make Texas my home and that I’m going to have to look for the unique things about this place that make it different from any other place. I’m going to have to search to find the beauty in this brown, dry desert. I may be here for three months or twelve, I don’t know yet. But either way, I won’t be happy here unless I choose to be. I was seriously depressed before I went to Florida. I felt like I was drowning in sorrow, and going back to Florida was a breath of air. There are still hard things to deal with and things still aren’t the way I want them to be. But it’s coming together. I have better perspective now on who I am, on where I want to go. I feel closer to people in Florida, people that were always there for me but maybe I forgot. Maybe being around them reminded me of how good they are, how much they love me, how comfortable I feel around them. I feel like I have better relationships now, like things are coming together, like things are looking up. They’re still going to be difficult, but not insurmountable. And if it ever is too much, I’ll always have a safe place to go. A place always filled with hope. A place that will always be home.
[Title from We Found Love by Rihanna]