As a birthday gift to myself this year, I got in my car and drove to the beach.
I used to live less than an hour from the beach: Oregon’s pristine stretch of Pacific accessible via a casual car ride so short you didn’t even have to pack snacks. If I decided I needed some beach time at 2 in the afternoon, I went.
Now I live about 8 hours from the closest beach. I never thought I would live so far away from the ocean. But hey, sometimes you take a weekend trip to Tennessee and fall in love with it and end up moving there without giving much thought to the whole “landlocked state” thing. And three years later, you still love it but my god, you miss the ocean. You miss it so much sometimes it feels like your soul is drying up, that salt water is the only cure.
One of my coworkers at my retail job is from San Diego. The first thing we said to each other after finding out our shared west coast origins was, “Don’t you miss the ocean?” I don’t even remember who asked who, but the answer from both of us was an instant, desperate “YES.” During one of our first shifts together, it was a slow night so we both huddled around the store computer scrolling through pictures of beaches. We kept pointing to the blue water on the screen and saying, “Look! Look at it!”
There we were, two women from the west coast whose winding, unexpected life paths had brought us here, to a little store in a big mall in the middle of a city in the middle of a state in the middle of the country, staring longingly at photos of waves and sand. Dehydrated kindred spirits.
Sometimes I wonder about where we’re from, where we end up, where we’re meant to be.
I believe I’m meant to be here, now, but I also believe that where you’re from is a powerful force. No matter where you go or how many times you reinvent yourself, you can’t change your origin story. There’s a kind of spiritual gravity that pulls you toward home. It’s a constant. A barycenter. I’m from a rainy evergreen forest in the Oregon coast range. That will never not be true.
After 8 hours in the car, I finally pulled into the driveway of the tiny cottage I’d rented in Santa Rosa Beach. I got out, stretched for a half-second, and then willed my stiff legs to jog the block and a half to the beach.
I gained speed as I approached, shaking off the long drive and sprinting down a wooden walkway that clattered with each step. Then, finally, I was there. Sand. Waves. An endless horizon. The water was a brilliant shade of blue-green. Look! Look at it!
I didn’t cry when I saw it because there was no overflow of emotion. Instead, I felt instantly, perfectly balanced. Filled up. Satiated. I sank down in the sand, staring out at the waves, and didn’t move for hours.
I got a terrible sunburn. And I did the exact same thing the next day, and the next, and the next.
I had packed a stack of books and journals, thinking this alone time would be perfect for catching up on reading and writing. I don’t think I touched a single book. Didn’t write a word.
I just spent time with the ocean.
My last night in Florida, I wrapped myself in a chunky cardigan and walked along the beach as the sun went down. What began as a very pretty sunset soon became a truly spectacular one. The sky burned bright orange. The sand sparkled. As the light dimmed, the choppy waves transformed into two-dimensional planes of blue, green, and silver; a Hokusai print come to life.
A breeze rolled in and I pulled my sweater a little tighter around my shoulders, smiling, contented.
It was all there: where I’m from, where I am now, where I’m meant to be.