The cornerstone of Florida’s aesthetic is the constant brightness of the southeastern American sun. My grandparents have a house there.
They have a swimming pool shaped like a fat peanut. Little green and red lizards drop from the enclosure around the pool and from all the trees—to my surprise and subsequent horror. Mosaic floors. Funky furniture. Delightfully bizarre sea life decor: bright, latin, surreal. A bathtub with jets! Peacocks walk down their street with the same hazy, mundane deliberation as the neighbors, who walk the length of their driveways in the morning to check the mailbox on the curb side.
I want to pass a little time in Florida before I travel to Brazil. Moving from one environment to another too quickly shocks me into silence and paranoia. I’m all about slow transitions nowadays. Florida is warm; Brazil is very warm. Florida is southern; Brazil is very southern.
Things on the Jersey coast are strange. Were strange for the past few months. My hometown feels less like my home and more like the place where I spent my childhood. I’m running incessantly, thinking incessantly, reminiscing incessantly about my LDR that can’t go South with me, but went south all the same.
I think about the past two months, walking into old romantic situations haphazardly, expecting them to be new without much regard for anyone but myself, trying to bury feelings alive and violently kicking.
I’m living in a shared room with my sister, feeling like a child, sleeping in a small twin bed, hearing my little brother get ready for school each morning, spraying Axe on himself and shaving a mustache whose existence is questionable.
A friend from university visited earlier this week. I hadn’t seen her in months. We roomed together for three years in college. I was making her tea one night and accidentally poured the boiling water slowly and with perfect precision all over my right hand. I have a scaly Tennessee shaped burn, and I smile at it. She’s always been big on tea. I’ve always been prone to hurt myself.
My Jersey friends are eager to hang. They suggest meeting up, verbally communicating that I am moving away for nine months and going to Florida beforehand. I try to downplay the urgency. “Goodbye” tastes like a grapefruit. I hate grapefruit! There’s nothing sweet about it. Its bitterness lingers on the sides of your tongue and makes you suck in your cheeks. We should ban grapefruit, as well as goodbyes. Better to say hello to someone you haven’t seen in awhile, avoid fruit all together.
It’s my last night in NJ, and my friends and I are going to a bar. I’ll unintentionally eat half of whatever someone else orders, and everyone else will pay for my beers because this crowd is generous, tolerant, charitable—laughter spreads as quickly as this year’s norovirus (something I’ve been obsessively trying to avoid for weeks).
I say goodbye to my longtime amiga afterward. She has to go home early to her daughter. We’ve been a constant in each other’s lives for a decade. Friendship stretches across continents, and I’m sure you can hear a friend call out to you 4,000 miles down the coast line. Still, ours is the strangest, most foreign feeling goodbye so far.
A bunch of us go to the beach after the bar. A few hundred feet away there’s a fishing pier off the side of my town’s northernmost bridge. The way the bridge lights bounce off the landing in the distance creates rows and rows of people lined up along the pier, silently group-fishing, standing like fixtures, watching the huddled circle of me and my fellowship across the body of shining black water. Laughter mixes with the sound of lapping waves, the sea’s pulse. Smoke rises up and away above us in shapes the stars can’t illuminate. I file this memory away under moonlight.
I fly to West Palm Beach.
I spend Inauguration Day in an airport, on a plane, and in a series of cars: a day of substantial transition and transference. When I arrive at my grandparents, I listen to President Trump’s many speeches and watch the supremely awkward habit he falls into at the Salute to the Armed Services event, calling congratulatory statements made by soldiers “great question(s)”.
“I still can’t figure out that hair!” my mother says.
It’s a hard transition.
Other women, women I know personally and women I don’t, wake up with the sun today to march on Washington, to march on the United States of America. I feel solidarity and a deeply buried sense of guilt for not being a part of the marches, especially in our modern age of Young American Apathy.
“Let’s watch Will and Grace, that will make us feel better,” my mother says.
I think awhile and conclude that moving into the Brazilian sphere and out of the American sphere might bring me some peace and perspective regarding my nation. Maybe an epic Venn diagram combining the two countries will superimpose over my psyche and allow me to understand how we move forward in a country that feels like wet bread? I have faith in the young competitive, contradictory USA. If it contradicts itself, very well. It contradicts itself. It contains multitudes.
My mother and I are currently on I95, traveling to see family friends in Saint Augustine. I’ve never been before. We rented a little Hyundai Veloster for the mini trip. My mother digs the hell out of it. She was whipping it around the Starbucks parking lot, yelling at a white pickup truck for reckless driving as she sipped her green tea and flipped her hair off her shoulder. She’s got a gray streak on the right side of her Sedona red rock locks. She drives the whole way and combines a childlike sass with the cuteness of a smurf. I’m wishing I could shrink her to pocket size and take her with me the next time I fly away.
Night in Saint Augustine
My mother and I sink into the hospitality of our friends’ home. Spinach pie and sweet, crunchy salad. We decided to visit on a whim. Right now it feels like I live on a whim—maybe we all do?
The town is still lit up from the holidays, and all of the bars and restaurants are filled. It’s cool outside. I wear a dress with an open back in January.
We walk back and forth across a bridge to get to the square. We look down at one point on the way back to the house. There’s an old respectable looking pelican perched on a wooden column surrounded by black water. He gazes south at nothing. He seems just about to lose his balance.
“Well, it is late on a Saturday night,” our friend says. “Maybe he’s just left the pelican party.”
I lie on an unfamiliar comfy couch at 3:00 am. I think about the pelican. His far off gaze, his eventual loss of balance. I wonder if he said goodbye to the other pelicans at the pelican party and I fall off balance into black bottomless sleep.