SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2016
Last night, it was spelled out clearly that we were leaving the house before 6 am, weather permitting. Tropical Storm Hermine was coming up the east coast and could possibly delay the already delayed trip. We were going to play it by ear. Fortunately for us, the storm was not going to interfere with our plans. I had my alarm set for some ridiculous time and I kind of woke up. My body got out of the bed, but my mind wanted to keep counting the sheep that had been elusive the last few weeks. A lot of our big items were already packed in the truck and it was only down to the other hundred items they (we) were taking. My sister came downstairs in the midst of our trips back and forth to the truck. She was going to go back home a little later. We all insisted that she should take advantage of having a place to herself to get some uninterrupted rest. Everything was in and we said goodbye and left her in charge. The sun was not yet awake as we drove out of the development. Our drive was brutal. We were all extremely exhausted from the prior taxing days, but we were determined to get there even if we stopped at every rest stop or restaurant or gas station. Eventually we arrived to our familiar place and it was great to be back at “Geriatric Arms.” The air was warm and salty. Slowly we unpacked the truck onto the luggage cart and took all of our belongings up to the 4th floor. I could see the relief on my parent’s faces, a huge, silent sigh of relief. I told my parents when we unpacked that there was no need to cook tonight. I would treat for dinner so we can all do our best to fully relax. They agreed, especially since it was on my dime.
Originally when I was presented with the invitation to go to Cape Cod with my sister and her family for the last week of August, or mooch off my parent's trip to Myrtle Beach, it was a "no brainer," as my father would say. It may have been true that I had never been to Cape Cod or north of New York for that matter, but I knew what to expect with my parents. Or as it was also suggested, better the devil you know than the devil you don't know. I realize that is a harsh thing to say about this decision, but I know these people. This summer was already forever logged in the stressful category before the passing of my grandmother. I had not been to the beach at all and my previous experiences assured me a trip to Myrtle Beach would exceed my summer quota of beach Zen. With that being said, at my parent's kitchen table months ago, my sister was trying to sell me on her trip instead. There were a few variables that were dangling factors in whether or not I would consider joining. After my sister had booked their trip, her son had tried out for a traveling baseball team, which may exclude him and his father from the trip, due to practice and games if he were to be selected. I already determined that as much as I love my sister and her family, under no circumstances was I going to join them if it was the entire family unit. I love them dearly but the super chill factor I was hoping for would not happen.
During this original sell for Cape Cod she effectively outlined all the reasons why I should join her family. She even got on her laptop to show me the Cape Cod timeshare and its amenities. Without a doubt, the place was enticing with its modern take on cottage beach decor and all of its jank. Not to mention, my own bedroom and bathroom. I still wasn't sold. For the sake of supporting her argument further, she pulled up my parent's timeshare, which could not compete aesthetically, but it had the southern Atlantic coastline in breathing distance; nothing else mattered. Humorously, she decided to rename their timeshare resort “Geriatric Arms,” to punctuate her argument. The name stuck, probably because it is not far from the truth. Over the years we have all come down for vacation, so she is pretty familiar with the clientele. It's true. The majority of the guests, especially the annual variety, are seniors at the utmost. I think one year we referred to this place as Cocoon. I liked the idea of being the Steve Guttenberg of the place.
Due to frequent stops made on the way down, we arrived later than usual. We made a run to the grocery store for some preliminary items. Only what was necessary for tonight and the following day made it into the cart. Around 7:30 pm, the sky reminded us with sublime style, why this particular place in the world is worth the long drive. It was also the cue that it was time to eat. Dinner was at Nacho Hippo, a Mexican restaurant in a newer, high-end shopping and residential development, far from the sleepy time version of Myrtle Beach. My father chose this restaurant because he knows that I have a soft spot for Mexican cuisine and he thought this would cheer me up. We have been to this complex several times before. It was where I was first introduced to one of my favorite restaurants, Tommy Bahamas, which incidentally, literally closed the day before we attempted to dine there years ago. I had been to two other locations, but Myrtle Beach by far was my favorite. Our waitress Miranda was very pleasant, so much so, that by the time we left, hugs were given, as if we were long lost family. I hate to sound misogynistic, but she was truly a doll. Everyone was pleased with the meal. I had the tacos; I have a thing for them. They weren’t quite to standard of what had become my favorite, but it was nice to know that there were other tacos in the world that could come close. I don’t know if I will ever have my favorite tacos again. Having them is ingrained in the New York City magic with my ex-boyfriend. He took me to “his” place for tacos and I fell in love with him and the chorizo, papas y rajas and pollo tacos, all at a long window counter. As delicious as these tacos are, I don’t know if I will ever have the heart to eat them again.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2016
As an interloper, my bed is the sofa bed. I never open it up because I find it much easier and comfortable to lie on it as is. The condo is a shotgun style layout. The bedroom is at the front, then the kitchen and bathroom and the living room that leads to the balcony, overlooking the beach. It is known that I am the last to rise in the morning and that makes it complicated to stay asleep much later then my parents. Typically, when they get up, they make coffee and go out on the balcony and it is not without noise. By no means am I complaining (I want to keep my open invitation), however, as quiet as they attempt to start their morning, inevitably, I feel that I too must get up. Normally I struggle, but eventually I will get up and make coffee and join them. The first choice of the day is to walk the beach or not walk the beach. When this decision is being made, it is never pass 8:30 am. Sometimes, I join them, sometimes I don’t. I come from a family of long walkers, but I am not always up for it this early.
In short, the remainder of the days here continues as follows, after coffee on the balcony, they walk the beach for over an hour. They return to have a leisurely breakfast. The chairs and umbrella get set up on the beach in direct eyesight of the balcony. Always, on the way out and into the building using the bridge to the beach, they look up towards the building and wave to whatever friends are out on their balcony. This is a hard rule. With the chairs and umbrella spotted, they are free to come out when they choose without worrying about finding a good spot. It will get crowded. Many other variations of things happen in between, like lunch inside or outside, gathering with their annual pals and catching up. Otherwise, it is sit, dip, read, nap, sip, repeat and it is divine.
Now that we had a full day of dedicated beach time, that was the start of the official daily routine. There was only one exception to this rule today. Coincidentally, my aunt from Georgia and her husband were coming to Myrtle Beach for a few days for their own much-needed break. They also have a timeshare located further down the beach. Their place is a wonderful property, more upscale and full of action than our end of things. We were invited for dinner and when we arrived, they gave us a leisurely tour of the property. My uncle was preparing the meal and there had been a slight miscommunication about the grocery list he had given my aunt. She picked up two things that weren’t exactly what he had asked for. In the end, it was a glorious mistake. For a world-class pilot, he sure knows how to put a meal together. He used fresh dill, one of my all time favorites and added a secret ingredient to the potatoes that blew our minds. We had no idea he had been a chef as a young adult and had picked up a few worthwhile tricks. It was nice to see them again out of context of the recent events and share a nice meal with great conversation.
All throughout the day, even at dinner, I realized that I was in a perpetual state of avoidance or denial. In my mind I am telling myself that this all a dream, losing my grandmother and the breakup. None of it could have happened, definitely not both. One would have been painful enough. I have been telling myself the only way I can find my way through the grief is to take one day at a time. That's all I can do. Be in the moment. Once I start thinking about the past or the future, I'm only going to cause greater detriment to my emotional stability. I have completely escaped from it all here. I can stay out in the sun all day, as if I have no worries, not even one for shade. I have kept my phone inside to have no reason to look at it all day to see if I get a text or a call from him. It made it a little easier.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2016
I made the request to go to the arcade tonight. Perhaps I wanted to retreat to my younger self or extend the distraction into the evening. My parents went along with this request. After we did our typical beach day and had dinner, we strolled the streets in the southern part of the beach, where all the typical beach tourist traps lay. I enjoyed myself once we circled back to one arcade and they had games that were worth throwing some money away. Funny thing is that they were the classics, Ms. Pacman and Galaga. You can’t go wrong with these oldies but goodies. I just never know how I was able to keep the momentum of playing as a kid because my hands and arms were aching after playing and hitting and rolling. On our way back to the truck, we walked past the super extreme rides that had names like the Slingshot and Airstrike. My father was completely fixated on the one called the Slingshot. These are the amusement rides that people congregate around and watch all the fools get on and comment about how crazy they are, and how they wouldn’t do that. Or they are waiting to see who the next victim is going to be. The text on the Slingshot sign described it as a reverse bungee jump, 5 g’s of force. At the time I did not share the same excitement that my father had. I have been indifferent to most things lately. There wasn’t much I cared about or felt like making a decision about. He on the other hand very much wanted to get on. I came up with a bunch of excuses. I had no idea why. The fact that we had just eaten was enough for me, but after we stood there longer and he started to look disappointed, I realized that I should just do it. I had nothing to lose and I definitely didn’t want to be called out as a chump by my father. The last few weeks were horrific - how much worse could it get? Worse case scenario, if it breaks it breaks. If I freak out I freak out. I think I surprised my father by making this last minute decision. My mother was over it minutes ago. Of course there were more spectators than participants and we were able to get right on. The attendant strapped us into a swing like contraption and it was too late to change my mind and in those few seconds, I accepted that fact. Once the attendant walked away, I held on for dear life. Out into the pitch-black stratosphere we went. It was exhilarating. I thought we were getting shot right out into the stars and heavens. Tonight, if it didn't stop I would have been ok. I yelled with glee, followed by hearty laughter.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2016
Later in the evening, after we are finished with dinner, we normally sit on the balcony. I tend to be the last one to retire for the evening because I never want to come in. One of these days I am going to dare myself to sleep out there since I love it that much. Around here, people have taken to nighttime walks on the beach with flashlights. I call them the moonlight explorers. When we see them, we always want to know what exactly are they looking for, or what do they see. Tonight there was a family of 4. With the headlamps on their heads, they looked like aliens that had just landed on the beach and were examining their new surroundings. One of its members was a small child, who in their excitement was jumping up and down. It reminded me of the Pixar logo.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2016
In the morning, the beach is quiet during our walks. Besides the other early beachcombers, the sand is clear of chairs and umbrellas still packed away, waiting for their oiled up occupants. On today’s morning walk, there was a horseshoe crab that had washed ashore on its back. Being the child of parents who went to the beach often, I knew that a horseshoe crab on its back is vulnerable and the common marine life courtesy is to gently flip it over. My father was turning the horseshoe crab right side up and while doing this several families converged, as this simple act became a spectacle. It became a UN convention. Behind us with curious eyes were an Indian family, Korean family, a White family and our Black family. For that short occasion, we had all found something universally interesting and curious.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2016
A huge detail that I have not mentioned is that my parents are the mayors of this timeshare beach. The hard rule of looking up at the balconies is very serious; they do not want to slight any of their many friends and acquaintances. The exact year that they started coming to their timeshare is still in question, but I know that the first time I remember coming was a trip that was at the start of my sister’s college career, over 25 years ago. Since then, I don’t think I can count on two hands the number of years that my parents had not traveled here for the summer. Over the decades, my parents have befriended what I would consider their beach family. For these two weeks, they all reunite as if time had never passed from year to year. There is a group that they sit with and then there are others they visit along the beach that had not chosen to join the collective family. As the youngest of the group, each year comes with a different and new concern about the health of their elder beach family; is such and such coming? For instance, this year, one of the longstanding seatmate couples did not make the trip at all, but their daughter, who is a member of the beach family, was there with her friend. It is such an interesting dynamic seeing how people are drawn to my parents. They know everyone on the beach or in some cases the people know them. To the casual observer, it could look like an unlikely gathering, but there is a lot of genuine love and friendship and I felt fortunate to spend the time with their extended family.
One of their annual traditions is Thursday’s pizza on the beach. To me, this was my heaven on earth. My father and another beach family member went to pick the pizza up and delivered it back to us on the beach. We all circled the boxes like a wagon and it was awesome. What a brilliant idea, sun, surf and pizza.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2016
That morning, the light filled the room and summoned me outside, calling me to bare witness. As the sun rose I thought about my grandmother and my ex-boyfriend and how the certainty of the day is love. The sun rises and the sun sets for each day. In that warmth, I could see my grandmother smiling at me and wrapping me with her love and the love for my luv, radiating my soul. It was illuminating and for me only.
This was our last full day, the grand finale. While we were draped in beach chairs at the water’s edge, soaking up the last few hours of the sun, dorsal fins began to surface and it was clear that they belonged to sharks. It was easy to identify a straight dorsal fin as a shark, versus the curved dorsal fin of a dolphin or porpoise. The number of dorsal fins grew and we realized it was turning into a real live Sharknado. They were very close. Close enough to end everyone’s time in the water. A crowd gathered along the safety of the shoreline as we marveled at the buffet featuring fish fireworks as the sharks chased schools of fish into a frenzy out of the water. It's a fish eat fish world.
Today, I talked to my grandfather on the phone. I hadn't spoken to him since the repast last Thursday. I felt guilty about it all week, but I wasn’t ready to talk, as selfish as that sounds. I was afraid that I was going to cry and get him upset, or be upset because he was upset. He sounded pretty good on the phone and I felt silly for having waited that long. We ended our trip the way we started and went to dinner back at Nacho Hippo. Miranda was there but she was not our server. We all hugged again like old pals. Tonight there was a musician playing guitar and singing. He was literally playing my heart away. If my parents weren't there, I could have easily tried to drink my sadness away at the bar and sang along. Almost every song was about heartache and love. It was too much. Before we left, a hot plate of dessert was brought over by our waitress that we had not ordered. Miranda sent it. It was on her. Along with it was the most endearing note. She really is a doll.
We returned to the timeshare and rang to see if a beach family couple was in their room. They invited us to meet their daughter, who was in town with her partner. They shared pictures of their exquisite log home that they built with many unique features that they had recently sold. I know my mom was internally drooling over the home; a log home is on her rich wish list. They were now full time RVers and it was fun hearing about their home building and travel experiences. The beach family couple reminded me of my grandparents - a blend of his spicy and her sweet. It was an enjoyable way to end the evening.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2016
Saturday at 5:55 am, we walked out the door one last time. We ran into Eric, a fellow beach mate that we met the day before. He approached us on the beach to introduce himself. His wife's parents own a unit at the timeshare, but were not able to make the trip. Apparently like most people there, they know my parents and have asked about them specifically. After the introduction, he told us that he and his wife recently went to Maine after he commented on how the high price of a frozen lobster tail purchased at a grocery store was probably more expensive than physically going to Maine to eat it there, fresh. The joke turned into a reality and they traveled to Maine, ate cheap lobster and had a great time. They were heading home as well. Yesterday he had tried to explain another route home that shaves time off the trip. My father was going to wing it. Right there at the car, Eric was kind enough to pull it up on his phone for my father to write down the directions after he suggested that we just follow him to 95. In the end, after my father glanced at the phone and probably realized how complicated it looked, he took him up on his original offer to follow. Off we went in the soft blue of breaking dawn. The people you perceive to be the most unlikely to befriend you are always the nicest. On the way home, in what to me, seemed like a highly unlikely probability, I spotted cars from the two states my grandparents had yet to travel, a car with a Hawaii plate and before our exit, one with an Alaska plate. I couldn’t make this up, even if I wanted to. I had never seen this before.
It was another long drive home with fewer stops than our trip down. When we got home, I showered and tried to take nap. My father’s sister came over with dinner for my parents as a warm gesture to check on my mother. I didn’t stay. I had to get some air. Returning home was exactly as I had feared, smack dab right back into the gut wrenching sadness where I left it. I traipsed out to Target to purchase some items, including a last minute grab of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and picked up two slices of pizza on the way home.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2016
Went to Graham's today to see my aunt from Georgia off. She came back up this weekend to visit with my grandfather. She and my aunt and my grandfather went to my grandmother’s gravesite. I don’t know how they did it because I wouldn’t have been ready to do that. I am not sure if I will ever be ready.