I came here in January, it was an escape. It was supposed to be a few weeks, then on to other southern states…a respite from the bleak prison state of New York city.
“I know what you’re going through, we’re all suffering,” people would say to me. “It’s not that bad,” others said. Or my favorite, those who would tell me, “well what are you going to do about it?”
There’s only so many times you attempt to express your pain, only to have it brushed away and invalidated, before you stop talking, internalize it all and build a wall between yourself and everyone else. I didn’t want, or need, anyone to save me. I just wanted to be heard with compassion instead of dismissal. But it wasn’t meant to be I guess, so I’d sit quietly and listen to everyone else’s troubles, while my own trauma slowly ate away my insides.
It’s only recently, within the past couple months, that I wake up in the morning and don’t break down in tears in the morning shower. Trapped for months in a 600 sq foot apartment in the middle of the epicenter. The BLM/antifa riot that I was surrounded in. (Peaceful protesters don’t beat on random driver’s windows, screaming at them for the color of their skin.) Having covid in November, alone, in the mountains at the Maryland/West Virginia border. I don’t try to explain myself anymore.
So in December, when the second lockdown came to NYC, I cracked. I lost grip of the hope that things would ever return to normal. Most of my friends had left, favorite spots had closed and life I’d built had crumbled. I’d never been happier than I was in February of 2020, it was the dream I’d never thought I’d actually reach. Maybe one day I’ll appreciate that I at least did taste it, even if just for a short while. But today those wounds are still too raw.
So in January I found myself here, on a beach, where I could breathe fresh air without the suffocation of a mask, where people were living their life and didn’t spend every waking moment talking about covid, or vaccines, or casting judgment on one another for their lack of virtue signaling.
I smiled, and meant it. I laughed, and meant it. I felt the sun on my chest, the salt air in my nose and looked off into the distance with hope, instead of despair. And all those who judged Florida, I didn’t have any desire to correct them. In fact, I hoped they held on to those misperceptions and kept their distance – because those were the very people I was escaping from in the first place.
Plans changed, and I never left. And in April, after a few months of airbnbing, I bought a house in St. Petersburg. It was a city I never knew I loved until I discovered it, and a house I never even knew I wanted until I found it. Even though the whole thing seemed crazy, it felt right…it felt like the exact thing I was supposed to do, and the exact place I was supposed to be. 5 minutes from one the most beautiful beaches in the country, a canal in my backyard to drop my kayak into and explore Boca Ciega, and a mid-century concrete block home that has that undeniably unique character I’m destined to be drawn to.
While so many others were branding themselves “Moderna” or “Pfizer,” I was sweating my ass off building retaining walls in my backyard. (Which turned out to be far more work than Google led on.) I loved every drop of sweat, every aching muscle, every step I had to do over. Because I was shaping what was mine, and for the first time in a year and a half I felt progress. I felt the freedom of self-determination. There’s no feeling like it.
To those who asked me all those months ago, this is what I “did about it.” I don’t say that in spite, I say that with genuine hope that you discover and feel that freedom of self-determination too. But you’re not my cross to bear, and even if you were, it’s not something I can ever give you. No one can give that to you, but you.
This morning I woke up next to a set of beautifully free-spirited eyes, and we walked along the early morning beach with coffee in our hands – dodging seashells and trading laughs. Surrounded by the scurrying preparations for the beach day ahead, lost in our world, talking about all the far-away places we want to one day see.
Hard to believe that I came out of the other side of 2020 here, but I’ve long believed that you have to know pain to appreciate joy. And you have to get lost in chaos to ever find peace. Life is dualistic, the more in depth we acknowledge the negative, the more deeply we can feel the positive.
Everyone deserves happiness. I hope that you all stop listening to social media algorithms, or gaslighting politicians, in your search for it. The only way to find happiness is to listen to yourself.
I hope you do.