A few months ago a life coach of sorts poised this one question to me: where do you see yourself in two years? Close your eyes and pick any place. Tell me what it looks like, how you feel, what are you doing.
Anywhere in the world?
It didn’t take long for me to give my response.
“I’m sitting on a picnic table. Or maybe just the sand. I’ve tackled what I need to tackle, and I have a manuscript sitting by my side. I am so glad to be home. I’m in the place that has always made me happiest.”
“I just can’t wait to get out of Sweet Valley,' Jessica explained. That’s a line from The Sweet Valley High Books – serious literature, right?
Like Jess, and every other 18 year old in the history of the world, I just couldn’t wait to get out of my Sweet Valley, Clearwater, and now I want back.
Yesterday Clearwater Beach made another list of best beaches in the U.S. I didn’t know that when my parents took us there to set up lawn chairs on Friday nights, buckets of fried chicken in hand, to watch the sun disappear before the horizon. It’s still my favorite place to do that.
It’s where we (shouldn’t have) fed popcorn to the seagulls from the wooden steps at the Palm Pavilion, where later, we surprised my father with a 50th birthday party. It had gotten fancier then, and by fancy I mean they expanded the porch and added to the cocktail menu. (Grouper sandwich, that’s all you need to know.)
There’s science to all this. From The Atlantic (The Sweet Valley of intellectuals):
“Memories, too, are cued by the physical environment. When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there.” -"The Psychology of Home: Why Where You Live Means So Much"
In my 20s and thirties I felt this immensely. Taking my son to Clearwater Beach for the first time. Sipping margaritas with my high school classmates, doing all the things you do when you reminisce. But now it is different.
Now when I think of Clearwater I think not of reverting to the person in a past sense, but of returning with the wisdom of a few years, back to my true, authentic core. A girl who loved her hometown beach, who loved books, and who felt a freedom in this physical place like none other in all her travels. Who floated in the water with a supreme sense of peace, only upped by a soft serve at the Dairy Kurl on the drive home.
Clearwater, and the beach, are different now. I know -- I visit. I do not delude myself with an entirety of mid-80s memories. But there's a lot still the same.
So back to this vision. There’s a girl, there’s a book that’s been written and it’s mine, and there’s a beach. And, if I’m lucky, a soft serve cone that drips all over my hands in the Florida heat. That’s where I’m going.