a blast of humidity upon setting foot outside the airport. driving to the beach house, the road was lined with myrtles. we stopped at dunkin donuts on the way -- we don't have it on the west coast and after years drinking iced coffees in college, I miss it -- and then we took the old familiar roads back to the island, watching for alligators in the golf course water hazards.
in my summer away from the beach, construction began on the new bridge, which will eventually replace the old, beloved, single lane pontoon bridge that connects the small barrier island to the mainland. other than the new bridge pilings, the island existed as a near-perfect replica of the image I keep in my memory. it makes the place feel eternal, somehow. the old dilapidated pool hall building is still on the corner; the rain still puddles on the side of the road. inside my bedroom the wood paneling is the same, and there are still the same wall hangings, the same green cot folded neatly in the closet.
five days, distilled: showers outside, in the outdoor stall nestled between the house's stilts; mornings on the beach -- by 8:30, some days -- carrying the chairs down the new walkway, watching the sun grow brighter over the still-empty beach as early morning runners pass by. afternoons biking from the house to the end of the island, where we comb for shells and on one adventurous day I swim across the intracoastal waterway that separates our island from the one farther north; I emerge from the water and wave to my aunt and cousins, who remain on the opposite shore. a singular feeling, the sensation of swimming across a body of water and surfacing on a different island. vaguely like columbus.
at night we eat shrimp and steamed crabs, standing at the kitchen counter; we sit on the porch and paint our nails or borrow someone's wifi on our laptops or, in my case, sit in rocking chairs with one bare foot pressed against the porch railing, listening to the locusts in the trees and watching the approaching thunderstorm. we joke about the real estate we will purchase nearby (trailers in trailer parks, mostly) and amuse ourselves with long strings of "do you remember" stories, which are of particular interest and delight to my oldest cousin's 11-year-old daughter. do you remember the night my cousin and her friend ended up in jail, after the friend was pulled over on I-40 in clinton for reckless driving and couldn't pay the $200 fee? do you remember how beth jumped into the dunes that night we ran from the police after the party on 12th street was raided and we were all found to be underage and loaded up with beer? do you remember the year we walked barefoot to the far end of the island each night for four nights, in search of sand dollars -- a trip that we only just learned is a total of 6 miles?
my cousin stephanie and I left the beach quickly on wednesday morning, in order to beat the bridge, which opens to boating traffic every hour on the hour. There was none of the usual lingering goodbye, none of the usual attempts at imprinting everything indelibly to memory. after so many years, those attempts are unnecessary anyway. on the ride home, we stopped for boiled peanuts and homemade peach ice cream (the ice cream stop, off Hwy 701 in tiny Newton Grove, NC, is tradition). I heard the details of her upcoming wedding as I watched tobacco fields slowly give way to traffic.
maryland was snowballs with an old friend whom I don't see or talk to often enough; a reunion night that lasted until 4 AM; the first morning of my life where I awoke hungover at my mom's house, walked into her bedroom, plopped on her bed and said, "I don't feel very good." it was a daily thunderstorm; riding roller coasters at hersheypark; playing card games with my brother; watching my mom's new chickens peck for bugs in the backyard. sunday night we stood for a long time in the backyard, watching the fireflies hover over the neighbor's 10-acre soybean field.
"If you'd never seen them before," my mother says, "they would seem like magic." they don't live in oregon or in syracuse; I haven't seen them in years. they do.