The day after we arrive in Florida, we’re laying by the water in Bradenton Beach, listening to the sounds of the waves and the seagulls, our four chairs propped up in soft white sand alongside a tall umbrella and a cooler and bags packed with books and snacks and iPhones, and I think to myself, you know, there’s just something about the ocean.
We’re here on a four-day getaway with our friends Terry and Carrie, who had a client who had a house who’s now sharing it with us, giving us her keys and her fridge and her pool and her king-sized beds and balconies, and, free of charge, letting us call them home for the weekend. This vacation, a sort of a belated birthday present for Tim whose one birthday request was a trip with these friends, is the longest vacation and first time we’ve been back to beaches since our honeymoon, and we almost can’t believe it’s happening.
The thing I always feel when I stand next to the ocean, hearing the lapping waves and staring out at the unending blue-green waters, is how small I am compared to it, how barely noticeable. It’s like driving through a hailstorm or watching a flood: what you’re looking at is so much bigger than you are, it’s almost overwhelming—but in a way that humbles you and makes you feel grateful rather than make you feel insecure.
I say to Tim when we’re driving in on Wednesday, It’s weird to think I lived here once, for my entire freshman year. We go up to Clearwater Beach on Friday, the beach I used to drive to with friends, and I think of my old Volkswagon Jetta, the one with maroon paint and a broken bumper that I’d have to pull off the road to re-duct-tape when it came loose in the wind. We find the spot where Terry and Carrie got engaged, and it’s just behind Leverock’s, a now-closed restaurant in St. Petersburg that I used to go to when out-of-town friends came in to visit, long before I knew them, before I knew Tim. We drive through my old campus, and I see the dorms that gave me bed bugs and the dining hall where I made waffles and the field where I watched soccer games my roommates’ boyfriends played in.
Seeing these old sites is a little like looking at the ocean or, flipping through old yearbooks or, mentally going back in time: they remind me of my small place in this world, of how hindsight often dwarfs things, of how some memories get cloudy with time. It’s also like looking at a former version of myself, one that was terribly unsure of life, of the future, of what she would study or what she would pursue, and feeling glad to be different now, with degrees and a job; yet at the same time, looking at her and feeling sad to be in many ways the same, sometimes unsure, sometimes wondering where I belong.
We visit Tarpon Springs, a town I remember for its historic town square and Spanish moss trees, but today it gives us sponge docks and tourist shops and a wide stretch of Greek cafes that remind me of the Mediterranean. I think about how different things look when you’re 18, when you haven’t traveled much outside of a high school trip and vacations with your family. I think about the gift of learning to explore and how that gift gives you new eyes and perspective, enough that it changes places you thought you knew.
We scout out cool places to eat, from smoothies at Eco Bean Cafe, 501 North Pinellas Avenue, Tarpon Springs, to fresh orange juice from a random roadside stand that puts orange grove in quotation marks.
There’s dinner one night at The Refinery, 5137 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, where the dining room is fully booked but we have our pick of seats at the empty upstairs patio off the bar.
And my favorite meal, hands down, is Saturday night at Mi Pueblo, 8405 Tuttle Avenue, Sarasota, a Mexican restaurant that offers both a traditional and an organic menu, as well as a festive interior of star lights and Mexican tiling and bold colors everywhere you turn your head.
Tim and I split a burrito made of sunflower seed “beans” and vegetables in a citrus sauce, wrapped in a giant collard leaf that makes me feel like I’m eating a garden, and we drink a Licuado de Chocolate made of macadamia nuts, cacao, banana and spices.
We read and we watch a movie and we walk a few blocks from the house to see the sunset along the water, and our pace slows down as life becomes more simple.
And Tim takes my hand and I tell him, I’m thankful for the ways God changes us over time. I’m thankful for the ways He still will.