May 31, 2013

High Heels in the Sand

Day 31: A vivid memory

It was the first Winter Break of our college careers, and we were all so excited to be back together. Though I had been raving about how amazing it was to finally be away from our small town, the truth was that that first semester was a bit lonely. I adored my roommates, but I still felt excruciatingly shy and unsure of myself, and it was hard for me to make other friends beyond those in my hallway. My anxiety shot through the roof at times, and I sometimes doubted that I would ever be able to call somebody up to go to the dining hall with me or hang out with on the weekends if my roommates were out of town for a volleyball game or debate club meet. It's a little strange to even write those words now because the rest of college ended up being so enjoyable and lovely that it's easy to gloss over and forget how hard that first year was at times. To be honest, I think I wanted to gloss over it even as it was happening, maybe even now despite it being over. Feeling it was just too hard sometimes.

So that first big break was a big deal. As strong as my doubts about making friends at college was at times, my relief about being back with my hometown girls was even stronger. We had been e-mailing each other non-stop all semester, chit-chatting on the phone, planning visits to see each other. Finally being back together felt like all of the anxiety and loneliness was melting away, and I could finally be myself again. There were five of us then, the Fabulous Five. Yeah, we had a name. We were silly and nerdy, and we had so much fun together. Together we could all squeeze into Katie's silver Echo, blast Brand New or Taking Back Sunday, and sing at the top of our lungs, laughing, squealing, and being oh-so-happy. Oh, so very happy.

We wanted to celebrate our reunion by doing something sophisticated. We were, after all, college girls now, and we needed something a tad more chic than chatting over hot chocolates and caramel macchiatos at the new Starbucks on Main Street. So one Saturday, we dressed in our fanciest dresses and skirts, hopped in the Echo, and drove out east to the Hamptons. We window-shopped, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the designer stores as though a bunch of eighteen-year-olds could afford the Gucci purse we all were gazing at. No matter! That day, we were fancy ladies. 

We stopped in Southampton for lunch, where the waiter looked at us in amusement and handed us our menus. The next hour was filled with the usual rehashing of first-semester war stories. I whipped up a tale or two to keep up, and I even managed to forget the quiet nights spent alone in my room trying to get through the reading for my Philosophy class, listening to people partying across the hall. That day I was the funny one again, the one who who would do anything for a laugh, sang the loudest, and was the most outrageous. I sat back in my chair, content and relaxed in a way I hadn't been in months.

If we had driven back home after that, it would have been fine. Our Hamptons afternoon had been fun, and it had served its purpose. But our route back took us past the beach, and even though it was December and freezing, the beach beckoned. I don't remember who said it first. It might have been me, or maybe not. Either way, someone spotted the surf and shouted, "Hey, wait, let's get out here!" Everyone laughed, and even though we could hear the howling wind coming up from the ocean, we all jumped out and ran out onto the sand. I remember so clearly my gray skirt with black velvet trim fluttering wildly against my legs in the wind, and my strand of pearls felt so cold against my chest that I wrapped my cardigan extra tight around me as though that would somehow warm me. We all screamed into the wind, and our high heels sunk into the sand, nearly sending us toppling down to the ground. I couldn't stop laughing, and I could barely see the others through my once-carefully straightened hair, now a tangled mess strewn across my face. We managed to huddle together and grin brightly into the camera someone had brought along before we scattered down the beach, chasing the waves in the dimming light.

We probably only lasted a few minutes before we were herded us back into the Echo, where the heat had been kept blasting, but those precious moments felt eternal. No matter what struggles I had during that first year, those few minutes on the beach made me feel like I would always be safe, always be loved. It was cold, and it was getting dark, but I swear I could have stayed in that moment forever.

I was finally home.

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