I’ve never really been sure what spurs me onward on these journeys….the breaking point that literally forces me to take to the road. However when I reach that certain point, one of quiet desperation generally, I do know the destination is always the same.
The yearning to go begins like a barely noticeable itch…a tickle that becomes a point of insanity, unwilling to dissipate, refusing to be ignored…it must be dealt with. And for the most part in the past I always have.
This time however I ignored the itch for eight incredibly long years…and then the inedible…I cracked, split mentally right down the middle, leaving messes all over the place.
When I was a kid it took us eight hours to drive to Topsail Island, North Carolina in the Outer Banks but with the demons that were dogging me I made it in six. I had so much to process along the way. Only that morning I had sat once again freezing in my rheumatologist’s office as she delivered her final diagnosis. And while you may think that finally after years of searching having a answer would be freeing, I was suddenly faced with thinking of my life from a very different perspective.
I’m not sure exactly why I’m drawn to this particular place. I spent only a handful of very happy times there as a child…and after my divorce it offered refuge and solace to my son and I when the world became too much for me to bear. The very last time I was here I brought the man that would become my second husband and we made our commitments to each other on this beach one windy night in May. Until now, I haven’t been back.
In the past I have relied on a faded hand-drawn map and my memory to get to the island which always took me down any number of back roads. Now of course I like to think I’m a little more sophisticated, got the GPS after all and so I let it navigate, charting a brand new course and somewhat interesting course. My first stop was the South Carolina Welcome Center to buy the kids a postcard (a long-standing tradition that not even a nervous breakdown was going to get away with.) However their state government must be as confused as ours (Georgia) because while the door had the hours of operation neatly printed in inviting script (M-F, 9am-5pm) there was also a paper taped to the door which announced that state cutbacks required the facility be staffed only from Tuesday through Friday, 9am-5pm. This really only added to the confusion since the actual facility was locked up tight. Dark with an actual gate pulled across both sides. Why was this especially strange? It was Wednesday…around 2:30pm.
So moving on from there I soon pulled off the main interstate, passing through the quaint little town of Pelzer, South Carolina, known (apparently) for selling fences (mostly wrought iron) and doggie memorials (NO I’m not kidding.) There was a very enthusiastic man dancing while dressed as a hot dog, holding a stuffed hot dog…and of course what small town would be complete without those
wonderfully creative salon names, statue-marts and super friendly town constables who are truly perplexed by a woman taking random photographs in their town.
I admit that by the time I reached the South Carolina/North Carolina Border I was in desperate need of fuel in more ways than one.
Enter the delightful tourist trap known as South of The Border. Although I was born in Durham, North Carolina, my parents used to love to tell the tale of how I was actually “from” the Caymans meaning I was conceived on their honeymoon. Well that is until it came to light that in actuality their car broke down in you guessed it, good ole South of the Border where they were forced to spend their first night as married couple while they waited for dear old dad to bring them a replacement car. So….I suppose it’s anyone’s guess as to where I’m really “from”…..Fiesta anyone?
What seemed like hours later I was crossing over a bridge and it hit me…a lump rose in my throat and I said aloud “I’m on the Island!” It was dark, nothing open but there just as it had always been was Max’s Pizza on the left, then Bert’s Surf shop, the Loggerhead Inn….
I spent most of my time in Topsail staring out at the waves, wandering along the beach or sitting on the dock that overlooks the intra-coastal waterway. I visited the pier where a pod of dolphins kept me company for over an hour and had to fight with a group of hungry gulls to convince them that the triscuits in my bag were NOT rightfully theirs. When it was time to leave I was slightly saddened, feeling that it was just too soon. As I drove away from the island I made a silent promise to myself that I would return soon…long before I had the chance to have another mental meltdown.
I hope that someday my children will understand why I am compelled to return to this place. That they too will know what it feels like to stand on the beach as a storm approaches and appreciate the raw power the pounding surf represents. And when they leave it behind, I hope they know that they too can leave behind them the hurt, the anguish, the jagged edges of life that stress has built up in them; that the surf can cleanse and smooth them like the waves soften glass and pound the rocks into millions of grains of sand.