I put the baby down, sat down, and cried while I told LCB my sorry tale. (I may have also pounded the table once or twice; it’s hard to say.) I told him everything, all my frustrations, all the ways this island was different from Chicago (as if he needed that explained to him), all the ways I thought the people here were different from me and thus basically crazy.
I spent a lot of time those next few weeks wallowing in my thoughts, telling myself it was okay that this move for place might turn out to be a move that merely solidified our love for Chicago. Part of the journey, after all, is going where the signs lead, even if the route brings you back to your starting point.
The problem with wallowing for too long, however, when you live on an island, is that…well, you live on an island. So you walk out your back door and run smack dab into, well, in my case, the Atlantic, with all of its immeasurable beauty sweeping forward as far as your eye can see. And then you walk across your deck, and down your stairs, and there’s that moment when your feet hit the sand and you feel it, soft and warm, shifting beneath you. All the while, there’s all that blue, the salt air thick around you, and the sound of waves crashing one over the next. And as you stand there, it seems there’s always, always, always, at least every time I’ve done it, that moment where you’re stunned to remember this is your backyard, this little God-given piece of earth that stretches farther than anything you’ve seen before.
And then a dolphin swims by, and you’re gone, gone, gone, in so deep now, so head over heels that all the challenges that come with maneuvering though a foreign land and all the Southerners that correctly find you Yankee-crazy don’t change the fact that you’re head over heels and want to stay that way.
It’s funny what happens, too, over time. In our case, eventually I grabbed the bull by its horns and put my son in nursery, and that was the end of that. No one seemed fazed by it either; in fact, that sweet boy got a solid hour of loving on every Sunday thereafter. I had a handful of other warm albeit short exchanges with the town patriarch, and eventually concluded that he was probably genuine in his smiles, or if not, he was a darn fine actor, so it didn’t matter much in the end, what with us being Yankee-crazy and all anyway. And as it turned out, our rental house only needed one screen door and little maintenance, so that area of frustration proved to be a one-time thing.
But in the end, there was one other thing that changed everything: we found what was to become our island. It began one evening in December, during an appointment with a realtor to look at some houses on a new island we had recently discovered and liked. This island, as beautiful as any of the islands in the Carolinas, also offered a few conveniences, like regular grocery stores, banks, gas stations and so forth, that our current island lacked. Just as important, it lacked most of what can distract from small island living, like high rises and large, kitschy stores. It was hard to get around the fact that the conveniences would make our lives with two small children much more manageable, and the minimal man-made interruptions with nature made the island its own place, a world away from the suburbs of Chicago.
The first property we saw was a duplex, one that deserves its own story someday. The night was warm and windy, and I remember the waves were loud even on the street side of the second house we stopped to see. The owner of the second house, also a realtor, offered to give us a tour of the house himself. Afterward, we stood out on the deck in that moonless night, so dark the ocean was hard to see, and got into an extended conversation with the owner, a transplant from Pittsburgh. At one point, LCB made one of his signature wise cracks, and we all erupted in laughter. Then, as the Pittsburg native wiped the tears from his eyes, our realtor stepped away to take a call, and the three of us began exchanging stories about everything different about this whole life lived in Carolina by the sea, so different from anything any of us had known north of the Mason-Dixon and miles from the sea. There were no rose-colored glasses being donned here; the three of us just spoke of what we knew, and perhaps a bit of what we imagined.
It was during that conversation that it happened. No angel chorus broke into song, nor did any light shine down from the heavens. But in that moment, on that dark, moonless deck, with LCB and a stranger I’ve never seen since, I could see it all. I could see, on this new island we’d found, the life that could be. I saw it with the same clarity you see tangible things, things that already are.
First, on my honor, the publication time gap between Part XII and Part XIII will not be as large as the one between Part XI and Part XII. Just saying.
Second, you still have a few hours left to enter my beach bag giveaway! The contest ends at midnight tonight (March 15), and as an added bonus, I’m feeling pretty flexible about the whole time zone thing right now. 😉