Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Places We Don't Ever Leave Behind

How hard it is to escape from places.  However carefully one goes they hold you - you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences - like rags and shreds of your very life.  ~Katherine Mansfield

I just arrived in Augusta, Georgia after a week of vacationing with my family on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina all week. Hilton Head is one of my favorite place and though I haven't been there in several years, it remains a big part of my childhood because every summer my parents would take the family down for much of the summer. From the time I was 8 years old until the time I turned 20 I traveled the winding trails of Sea Pines Plantation and grew to know them in much the same way I knew my own neighborhood. 

My husband and children were eager to ride the bike trails and explore the beautiful places that surrounded us. Sea Pines has miles and miles of bike trails cut through the woods and as you ride you pass alligators sunning themselves beside lagoons, fish jumping from murky water, people on golf carts heading from one hole to the next. When I climbed back on that bike I found that the paths I had not traveled in years remain clearly ingrained in my subconscious. All week I lead them over these trails as if I'd ridden these routes all of my life. 

In some ways, I have. As we drive, walk, and bike this island I find myself collecting the shreds and rags that Mansfield is speaking of. I regale my disinterested teens with stories of the experiences I collected here. See that hotel on the right? That's where my sister's and I used to go to the beach every day.  See that bench over there? That's where I sat the first time I ate my favorite ice cream. See that treehouse? I used to climb it with your aunt all the time.
This beach is where your father and I got married twenty years ago. We had only five hundred dollars to our names, ate Taco Bell every day...  
I admit I've degenerated into a sort of tour guide pointing out the landmarks of my youth. Of course there's a lot I'm leaving out, the secret self I refuse to share with anyone. I see her lurking just behind trees draped in Spanish Moss, at the edge of the ocean where I buried a note I wrote to God when my grandmother died. I was only 12 but I felt certain that if God existed this was the place he'd chose to receive his messages. I can feel the girl I was then and in a way that is catching me off guard. 
In my own head the narrative goes more like this Down that road is where I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. here is where I met the boy who became my first 'boyfriend', the dock over there is where we snuck away to kiss. Remember the party you went to there? The boy who first broke your heart? Don't look down that road, that's the house where you made one of the biggest mistakes of your life...

I think the contrasting tour guides in me were especially noticeable because this year I had my own teenagers and somehow the sight of them wandering the twisting paths was both thrilling and terrifying. I always hoped that they'd never make the same mistakes I did. I hope my daughter never feels the need to dumb herself down in order to fit in, that she never lets a boy convince her to betray herself, that my sons don't climb into a car with someone whose been drinking or ignore that voice inside them that tells them to walk away. 
I also hope they come to love a place as much as I love that place, that the way I saw my memories gathering around me there, they will have place where theirs gather around them. I hope my sons look at the ocean and see the power of place, the way the earth wars with itself and still manages to be beautiful. 

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