Jessica Year 01, Month 11
In July, I pack, pick up my daughter to head for the ocean. I don’t say the beach, because it’s not sand and tanning I’m thinking about—it’s the steady roll of waves, the magnificence of the ocean, I’m looking forward to. There are things on earth as deep as sorrow and joy.
My best friend is celebrating her husband’s 50th birthday, and we are invited to join them over the holiday at an amazing beach house.
My daughter switches from her father’s household to mine, on the same day she was a flower girl in her father’s wedding. Polyester flowers are entangled around a hairband, and she bears a basket enwrapped with ribbon and filled with plastic phials of bubbles. The reunion is awkward. She is excited, having participated in a wedding and isn’t sure how much how much enthusiasm to show. As I smile and greet her, aware of a deeper, bigger picture—one filled with shades and nuances far beyond her young years.
But, thankfully for me, we have fourteen hours of driving, and I am under deadline. The sooner I arrive at the ocean, the sooner I can settle in and write. Besides, I think as we hit the road, it is amazing that God arranged the details of this trip before I learnt about the wedding.
Road trips are fun. They are a break from ordinary, not that I have many ordinary days. I drive the furthest East I ever have driven. The temperature is rising so I keep my eye on the gauge on the instrument panel, hoping we don’t overheat. We sing songs, loudly, pop songs with strong dance beats. Doubtless my daughter thinks this is part of the fun, but in truth, I’m staying awake.
We drive through towns, through gas stations . . . we even pass the exit to the town where her father is on his honeymoon. My daughter wants to stop and visit the amusement park to see if we can surprise them. (Try explaining to your daughter why you can’t stop and surprise your ex on his honeymoon. I chuckle at the idea—a vision of the Parent Trap coming to mind, the scene where ex-wife smiles and waves at the shocked couple.
We continue our drive, out of Tennessee and into North Carolina. Less than ten minutes past the border, my phone rings, and my sister says, “Guess where I’ve been? You’ll never believe it. North Carolina!”
“Me too!” I tell her. “That’s exactly where I am right now!
She questions me, and we laugh at the chance of such a conversation. It grows dark, and still we drive on, stopping at Goodwill for a beach blanket, Walgreens for sunscreen, food chains for food, always turning up the volume on dance songs.
The questions about the ocean begin from the backseat. “Just wait, you’ll see.” I keep telling my daughter.
When we finally arrive, it is late, very late. Everybody is sleeping, and for the last hour, my eyes have been bleary. I am glad that the roads are empty and that I found the house. We wake our hosts, apologize, find our rooms, brush our teeth and change into the nightgowns.
It is this hour, this least expected hour, that becomes one of the most luminous and beautiful moments of my life.
My best friend asks, “Would you like to see the ocean now? Our house is on the beach, it’s just out back.”
For a moment I am torn. There is only one first glimpse of the ocean—just one. Dare I allow my daughter’s experience to be past midnight, when you can hardly see anything?
But this is her moment, so I ask.
She wants to go.
Hand-in-hand, wearing nightgowns we plunge outdoors, into the humid night, my best friend following—somehow making it even more special. The crash of the waves fills the air and I breathe deeply, enjoying the tang. Above, a full moon reveals more of the landscape than I thought possible. The sand is powdery and warm; it massages our feet as we climb over the sand dunes. My daughter is so delighted with the sand, she can hardly hold her gasps of wonderment.
Just wait until she sees the ocean, I think.
At the foot of the sand dunes, we stop and take in its massive beauty. The silver waves look gilded beneath the full moon. Beauty surrounds us, filling all the senses—taste, touch, sight, sound and scent. This amazing daughter of mind is utterly fearless amid one of the life’s most stunning gifts. She begs, “Can we go in?”
I nod and laughing we run to the waves, holding our nightgowns above our knees. I rarely hear belly laughs from my daughter, now that she’s entered the double-digits and since the divorce, but she roars with laughter as wave after wave pounds against us, soaking our nightgowns, rushing at us with an overwhelming, unstoppable power.
A half hour later, we are back in the house. There are three beds in our room, but she choses to sleep with me. Snuggled against me she mumbles, “That was great. If we drove all that way, just for that much, and then had to drive back again, it would have been worth it.”
I smile knowing there is so much more to come.
It is nearly the end of the first Jessica Year.