On the tiny border of North Carolina and Georgia, there’s a small town called Hayesville. If you’ve driven through it, I hope you didn’t blink – because you may have missed it, if you did. It has one flashing traffic light, a courthouse nestled in the middle, a few grocery stores and barbque pits, and inhabitants that gossip as quickly as they speed.
But it does have one very beautiful redeeming quality – Lake Chatuge. A man-made manifestation, this wavy glory is where I learned to swim, ski, sail, knee and wake board. It’s banks taught me how to kiss boys on hot, sticky summer nights. In fact, it’s the place where I spent most of my summers and all of my Independence Days. It’s where my family is right now, cruising under the sun, glancing behind the boat, remembering when I used to make them go faster and faster so I could try a 360 on a pressing water-bump.
When I think of the 4th of July at my lake home, I always see endless lines of foods from our potlucks with neighbors in the community, and I remember my sunburns so vividly on my shoulders and cheeks that I swear my skin still resonates warmth. I can feel my hair wet and tangled, void of shampoo or product for days because A – it didn’t matter, and B- I was too young to care about such frivolous things. I can see the fireflies in Mason jars, hear the tree frogs humming and the sound of illegal firecrackers illuminating the sky from some cottage in the deepest, darkest part of the woods.
And of course, I remember the constant urge to be free.
I didn’t want a curfew and I wanted boobs. I didn’t want to drive the golf cart around our gated community, I wanted to have a real car with a real license. I didn’t want wine coolers, I wanted to have a glass of real wine with my mom. I didn’t want to hold hands by the lake, I wanted a boyfriend who I could make out with like I saw in movies. I didn’t want to be instructed on what to do, what to wear, or who to see. I wanted to shave my legs and go places all by myself, with my own money, on my own time.
I thought time passed slowly then, and I wish I thought the same now. I’m still wondering where May and June went, and I find it hard to believe I’ve been as “free” as I always wanted to be for quite some time now. And though there are moments when I wish I could tuck my Tigar tail and hop a flight home, run into my parent’s arms and have them fix everything – freedom is just as sweet as I always thought it’d be.
I don’t go to lake houses anymore, but I frequent rooftop parties and throw my own Bubble-Q’s (champagne and BBQ, duh!). I don’t have to be home at any particular time, though I inflict a midnight bedtime on myself most nights. I have boobs and I like them, but sometimes wish they’d stop getting in the way of every physical activity I enjoy. I have a driver’s license I only use to buy alcohol with, and I do drink Merlot out of nice glasses, for free, most of the time. I do make out with my boyfriend, plus some – but we hold hands, too. No one dictates what I wear or what I do, though my friends’ input is appreciated for both of those things always. I don’t shave my legs as often as I probably should, but I’m allowed. And all that food – well, now I put together what I can, and instead of big picnics with family and neighbors, I quite enjoy picnics for one.
Where I gather cheese and grapes, pretzels crisps, orange juice, and maybe a sliver of dark chocolate and sit, alone in my apartment. With no one around, no one to hold a conversation with, no cell phone nearby or computer in site, I just enjoy the company of myself, the serenity of my little picnic for me. And I pretend I’m a sophisticated adult, sitting in her breakfast nook wearing Dior like it’s normal, drenched in pearls, with my Loubies tossed off under an antique table. In the background, I hear the sound of my husband’s voice talking to our children and outside, I hear laughter and taxis singing the chorus of the city in a harmony that only an outsider, like me, can appreciate. My face is freckled with the imprint of a sun that didn’t burn and the fridge I can see out of the corner of my eye is tattooed with fingerpaintings from the two year old, photos from my wedding day, and the title page of my very first book.
Next to me lay dozens of magazines I worked for or freelanced with for a period of time, and as I think about how I’ll spend my day, I’ll remember back when I sat in my Upper West Side apartment in my 20s, young in my career and in my spirit, dreaming of the day I’d be independent of the worries of my future and what it would become and who I would grow into. When I sat with feet stained with dust from old floors and my roommate’s music blasting in the background, writing a blog I’d one day look back at and grin.
Because those maybe were the days when I was the most liberated, I just didn’t know it yet.
Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for picnics for one, and I’m sure, that I’m returning home from the countryside.