Picnic for One

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.

How Wonderful Life Will Be

My hair soaked from a day spent soaking up the Southern sun and cool waters of a lake nestled in the valley of two mountain ranges. My arms tired from sailing and swimming, my lips chapped from the breeze that turns into wind when the direction catches you the right way. The smell of summer and the freckles that surprise me as quickly as they disappear when the season fades.

The contrast of cotton and water against my skin, my timeless zip-up jacket that’s fit me perfectly from age ten and beyond, the holes only noticeable to strangers, not to me. The sound of my dad’s contagious laugher as he tells me the same stories, sitting on the dock, watching the fireflys and the stars compete in the contest to see who can light up the dusk with the most sweetness.

After pitchers of lemonade made by my mother with help from Splenda and the fall of night, my head rests on my dad’s shoulder and I’m comforted by the smell of Old Spice. Unlucky catching fish, as we usually are, I find myself drifting to sleep as my dad quietly hums “Goodnight My Angel” into my ear, promising me of the days I’ve yet to experience. He sings me to sleep, telling me to dream of how wonderful my life will be, how wonderful it will be in the hours I can’t see passing, or in the moments that become memories as easily as they pass by.

And it is only with the reminder of morning sun shining in my eyes, walking down Broadway toward my job as my iPod plays that old familiar tune that I’m brought back to those endless summers growing up, where my dad was my best friend, and my greatest worry was being able to play in the water from early noon to night, and if we’d walk a mile to get ice cream sundaes on Sunday nights.

I never imagined my summers changing. When we’re living in whatever section of our life we’re in, it doesn’t seem like it will ever end, though. I would never be old enough to drive the golf cart by myself , much less a car. I would never be able to steer the boat without help from someone else, or take the Jet Ski out without parental supervision. I would never find myself going years without visiting the lake house that partly built me into the woman I am today. I would never see a summer without watermelon and hot dogs, dirty feet from the Georgia clay, and hair that hasn’t been washed in days because there was no need.

But I did. I took every vehicle for many rides, independently. I’ve only visited our vacation home twice in the last three years – my New York schedule and budget just hasn’t allowed more frequency. My days are often spent inside, at a desk, without feeling much of the beautiful weather that I could never stay away out of. Bills and boyfriends, savings and benefits, student loans and internships, trips and breakups, friends and falling outs, summer jobs and summer loves, seasons and reasons – they all come and they go, some with more longer-lasting affects than others.

I’m often reminded by my friends, my editors, my parents, of my age. I’m told how much I’ll change, how there are so many things that I don’t even know that I don’t know yet. It has irritated me beyond belief for a while, but I’m starting to accept it. They aren’t condemning me because I’m not yet in the deepest part of my 20s, but just kindly warning me of all that’s to come, of all I will become. Maybe not as sweetly as my dad serenaded me under the stars, but still, I dream of how wonderful my life will be. Even more wonderful than what it is now or as it was then.