“Hell is longing to be somewhere else.”
My birthplace by the Atlantic, I long for it. It beckons me. I spent every July from the age of seven to seventeen there, visiting one last time at twenty. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was.
And then I stayed away.
For nine years.
My baby cousins aged. They aged out of thinking I was important. They were clingy, sandy babies, frolicking in the ocean, riding my hip through the breakers, standing below my breasts in the shower. I was braiding their hair, still wet from the bath. But they became teenagers and all but erased me from memory.
Because I wasn’t there.
My grandparents went from being quirky, old New Englanders, telling jokes and old stories with friends around the breakfast table, to being separated from one another. Bedridden in separate nursing homes. And I missed it. I missed it all. When I returned nine years later it was for my Nana’s funeral. So much time had passed, but it was all the same. The smell of the air. The rhododendron bushes and rose hips. My blood feeling the pull of the saltwater. The land was the same. How I wished I was the same too. But I was twenty-nine, healing from a miscarriage and filled with regret for all the time spent away. At the reception, in a thick Rhode Island accent, my Mom’s cousin asks me, “So, when was the last time you saw your Nana?”
“That’s a long time. Long time,” she scolds.
I fight back tears for the 100th time that day.
I stayed away because I was young. I had dropped out of college. I had gained weight. I kept telling myself I was about to lose weight, always about to make the change. My body in constant flux, my appearance only temporary. Don’t go back now, you won’t be able to go to the beach. You’ll look huge in a swimsuit. Don’t go back now, your Nana will be disappointed. Your relatives will talk about you when you leave the room. “Look how heavy she’s gotten,” they’ll say. It’s best just to wait until you’re back to a “normal” size. This is only temporary.
But it wasn’t.
I lived in denial for a very long time. I lived in shame and failure. I wasn’t living at all. With the exception of a couple of years in my late twenties, I have been overweight my entire adult life. This is a truth I have only recently come to terms with.
I’m thirty-four now. To be on that beach, to swim in the ice cold Atlantic, floating on my back over the waves; it’s spiritual for me. The ocean, she speaks to me. I sneak away early one morning while my family sleeps. I go down and stand in the sand. The water, it rolls over my feet, burying them. She pulls me in.
It is foggy this morning. I’m alone with the exception of an occasional jogger. “I’m back,” I tell her silently.
“I know,” she says.
“I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long.”
“It’s ok,” she says, “I’m always here.”
“I have babies now,” I tell her.
“I know,” she says, “They’re beautiful.”
I’m a grown woman now. I’m the mother to two little people who are looking to me to show them what it means to be alive. I make my way back to the rental house and put on my swimsuit. I take my babies to the beach. My family is there, all of them, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. I don’t wear a cover up. I sit in the sand with my son and search for digger crabs, my belly puffed out as I squat down in the water holding my baby girl on my hip. We walk down to the river to gather shells, my legs jiggling with every step. My big butt and thighs covered in muddy sand. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been.
And I don’t care. I want to feel the water on my skin. I want to see my babies on my beach. I want to feel my daughter’s warm body as she rides my hip through the cold waves. Her sandy little face buried in my neck while she sleeps, wrapped in a towel.
I want my family to know me. To know my kids, and I’m not waiting anymore.