The vast, mysterious ocean was breathtaking and mesmerizing as usual but the experience of going to the beach was much different than anything I’ve grown accustomed to. Before embarking on our trip to the beach I have to say I was not very excited about the prospect but I did have a sense of heightened anticipation that seemed to drive my motivation. Saturday morning was tense and hectic which is no surprise as I’ve easily noticed over the years, this seems to be the normal routine when it comes to family vacations. It’s as if instead of us going to relax and take a break from our normal lives, we are frantically trying to reach a destination in order to escape the dropping of an atomic bomb upon the roof of our house. It is unfortunate that I can say overall our family vacations have been nothing in comparison to that of the typical Partridge family. But at least we strive in perseverance as we continue to try and reach the goal of the perfect family vacation.
The four-hour drive through the Bible Belt was pretty much uneventful. I spent a great amount of time with my dear friend the ipod, who continues to serve me with an abundance of music only asking for a bit of juice in return from an electrical output unit every now and then. We shall be friends forever, or until I can afford its inevitable technological advancement. Every once in a while my left ear would resist my need for tunes by commencing to ache so I would lift the headphones off my ears and return to the normal world of sounds. I listened to the tires creating heat against the asphalt, steaming across cracks and over pebbles. That and the sound of wind being split in two by the monstrous van slowly grew monotonous and all conversations present in the front section of our traveling compartment were of no interest to me, so once again I sandwiched my ears beneath the rubber enclosures of my noise reducing headset. My left ear would have to suck it up for the sake of my own listening pleasure.
The coast of South Carolina may be a hot spot for people looking to get away but the heart of the state is not quite your picturesque vacation resort. Slowly pines take over the flat landscape except for the massive square areas full of corn or cotton. A small town is hit just when you think civilization has disappeared altogether. Every town contains two or three signs letting you know that you better pick Jesus if you ever wish to gain the golden ticket to heaven. They can shun me and feel sorry for me all they want as I bow my head and thank God for giving these people such grand faith in a man of such awesome greatness. The desolation of these populated areas astound me and as I peer out the window I cannot see how anyone can stay sane living in such a place. The only way I could see it being possible is to not know there’s anything else out there. To not be aware of the magnificent areas of beauty or opportunity that surround me. I suppose I’m being a bit judgmental here for it is true that beauty is seen through the eyes of the beholder and ignorance can be bliss.
As we get closer to the coast water seems to rise from the earth, hidden among the trees. These black water marshes intrigue me and I begin to imagine strange never before seen creatures lurking within the shadowed darkness. My senses tell me the ocean is near once the dirt grows sandy and I can almost smell the saltwater air entering my lungs.
Once we entered the metropolis of tourism that I know all too well, the dreaded feeling of complete disconnection from anything I can call reality slowly surrounded me. It is a feeling that I can never predict or prepare for. Suddenly I am overcome with a strange sadness and isolated feeling because I once again realize that life is completely different from anything I ever could have imagined. As we crossed bridges overlooking huge marshes and the awesome power of the ocean could be felt just passed our eyesight, all of the normal feelings that once emerged during the moment were not arising. In an instant every memory I’ve ever had of the beach flashed before my eyes and none could be compared to the moment. I think the beach is one of those trips that bring us happiness because it tends to remind us of great times during our lives. Each experience builds upon others and with each memory being of joy a certain emotion becomes ingrained within the mind. Upon my arrival to the coast I suppose my mind was confused as it tried to recall the programmed feeling of joy my life has created through my beach experiences. As these memories emerged, the automatic emotion did as well but collided with this new experience that in no way blends with the others. The result, I become suspended within a reality that doesn’t exist, which shouldn’t exist. I suppose this may always be the cause of my feeling of isolation, programmed emotions try and break through the surface but the new experience just can’t mesh with the old.
We pulled into the parking lot of the condo and emotions were building like a storm within my mind. All I could think about was how stupid it was of me not to bring my computer because all I wanted to do was sit down and spill my emotions out onto the pages. I can’t really remember how I calmed the building storm within me but somehow it passed on. I seem to remember going out on the porch and meditating most likely, to the sounds of the ocean. The condos were three buildings shaped like a rectangle with one shorter end being the ocean. Our condo faced the ocean with the other two buildings on either side. Sitting out on the porch, I could stare out between the two buildings, see the sparkling water glittering in the sunlight as each swell emerged then disappeared behind the dunes. A private peer was also there, my envisioned hangout spot, and I could barely make out people casting their rods hoping for a bite beneath an American flag blowing stiffly in the wind.
Shortly after arriving my parents and I made it out to peer. I cannot say I was overcome with the pleasurable feeling I was hoping for while gazing at the ocean again, for at the time I was pretty much stuck on the notion that the experience was unlike any other and not in a good way, so it was therefore unenjoyable. I don’t want to say it was not pleasing at all, it just wasn’t stimulating the feelings I expected it would.
That night my parents and I headed out to celebrate their anniversary. It was no real surprise that the accessibility of the restaurant was very inadequate. I had to get pushed onto the ramp and then once at the door we discovered there was a slight step preventing me from entering. Luckily there was an outdoor deck that suited me better anyways. For dinner I ate a wonderfully cooked, expensive steak covered in peppercorn sauce which melted in my mouth and slid down the back of my throat like pure ecstasy. I cannot say how long it had been since I had a good steak. It truly made all those earlier feelings of strange isolation absolutely worth it. While leaving I once again commented on the poor accessibility of the restaurant but little did I know that the next day’s adventures would make that place seem like wheelchair heaven.
The next morning we met with a family friend, Kathy, who actually owns the condo we stayed in. The plan was to somehow get me on her pontoon boat and take a ride down a river whose name I can’t recall at the moment. I was not too worried about having difficulties getting on and off the boat, just as long as I didn’t go crashing into the water I would be fine. Once we arrived at the small harbor I looked over my inaccessible opponent beneath the blazing hot sun. It really did not look too hopeful to me but harbor master Chet assured me that we would get me on that boat. I eased up the first ramp that put me on a narrow wooden walkway. I then had to maneuver on to a long metal ramp and while turning left onto the structure my right caster was inches from slipping off the wooden walkway. Luckily I am an expert when it comes to maneuvering my chair of power, so I managed to slowly turn my chair onto the ramp. I felt safe once I was on the dock but as I rolled up to the boat myself and others realized that I would not be able to drive onto the boat as we expected. So after some short periods of discussing our options, Chet and my dad each grabbed a leg, locked their arms behind my back and lifted me onto a swivel chair in the back of the boat. It was not quite as comfortable as my luxurious power chair, but it would do just fine.
I was more than glad once we started going because the humid air and hot sun was doing a number on me. Since my injury I myself have not ever noticed a single drop of sweat appear from the pores of my skin. Without any mechanism to cool my skin this causes my body to pretty much bake in the sun like a turkey in the oven. I got my mom to dump some nice cool water on my head which sufficed my needs for the moment. It was enjoyable to feel the wind on my face and observe the nature of my surroundings but the humid air seemed to be getting caught in my nostrils and I was slowly becoming exhausted by the heat. I started getting minor headaches, was getting faint and dizzy but was determined to enjoy myself so I continued to periodically soak myself with water.
Overall I enjoyed the experience, but I was relieved once we pulled up to the dock again. I began to imagine with great detail the feeling of cool air conditioning on my skin which made me a bit anxious to pop out of my seat, which in turn made me more anxious because of course I cannot perform such an action. We looked around for Chet but he was nowhere to be seen. My dad and others began to call his name out but all we heard in response was the sound of the many insects which flourished in the marshy lands. I finally let my mom know that at that moment the sun was my brutal enemy so she shaded me with a towel. Just when we had decided to take other measures, Chet came to our rescue by answering the call of the radio.
Despite the intermittent dizzy spells I was able to maneuver my chair off the harbor and into the van. For some reason I thought my body was pretty good at handling heat but I guess I was wrong. I could barely gather enough spit in my mouth to swallow and simply sitting up in my chair was a task. I thought I was suffering from heat exhaustion but I think I was mostly just dehydrated. I don’t think it’s as much the heat that really gets to me but rather the intense humidity. To find that dry heat I may have to move out west.
From there I thought about just heading back to the condo but Kathy had a big-screen TV at her house and at that moment the Panthers are playing the Patriots so I went in the direction of the big-screen. The game was awesome and I was so glad to see the Panthers get revenge for Super Bowl 2003. It took me a while to get over the exhaustion from the sun but by the end of the game I was feeling pretty good.
That night I was finally able to grab ahold of an emotion that left me feeling centered rather than disconnected. The sun had just gone down and nights cloak was beginning to cascade over the sky. It would be a full moon that night and Kathy told us we absolutely had to watch the moon rise up from the ocean’s horizon, so I made my way onto the peer ahead of my parents. The mood and atmosphere present on the peer was completely changed with the coming of night. Light posts lined the right side of the peer creating an odd yellow illumination upon the aged wood. The waves crashed against the barnacle covered supporters, remained strong but creaked eerily triggering the thought of possible weakness. I accelerated forward creating a pattern of sounds as my tires crossed each plank. I could sense the water deepening and the power of the ocean seemed to grow stronger with each distance I covered. All the fishermen had called it quits for the night so I was able to embrace what has become an all too unfamiliar feeling of being completely alone. The long stretch of the man-made wooden creation was coming to an end and I began to feel very vulnerable as thoughts arose of support beams cracking, splintering and giving way. My heart began to beat louder but the feeling was incredible so I pushed on. Passed the American flag, to the end of the peer I went and I stared out over the great Atlantic. It was not yet completely dark so I could still make out the horizon and the dark blue water which flooded my retinas and sat deep within my soul. I closed my eyes, entered the realm of power and caught a glimpse of who I was. Who am I? I am peace, I am the calmness within the storm. I’m the perfect, indestructible spirit whose limits cannot be contained. I am but a reflection, an image of God. The only time I understand these things without need of an explanation is during these glimpses.
I found myself unable to turn away, completely infatuated with the feeling and saddened to know it would not last. If I could just hold on to the feeling, not ever let it go, life would be bliss. My parents eventually interrupted my bliss however but it was okay because I knew the moment could not last forever. Night once again conquered the day and we peered into the sky for the rising of the red moon, but the clouds would not unveil the masterpiece. There we all presided for a while, I meditated, contemplated, the folks did their thing and we all absorbed the moment each in our own way. I stayed behind when my parents turned back and once again faced the ocean, my long-lost friend. Shortly after I headed towards land but after 100 yareds or so I turned around and stared at what had become my short-lived sanctuary. The atmosphere had once again taken on new shape. The peer was now completely illuminated by the electric lights which cast long shadows over the wooden planks. The ocean could no longer be seen, only heard so the image of splendor was left to the imagination. Surrounded by the darkness atop the ocean, I felt my individuality blossom beneath the spotlight. It’s as if after staring out at the ocean for so long, now the ocean was staring back. I succumbed to the mysterious feeling and made my way back to the end of the peer. I finally was able to turn myself away from the gravitational pull of life but it was not easy.
The sun was not my friend the next day for the hour I spent on the peer. I grew exhausted and dehydrated but managed to find the strength and make it over to Brook Green Gardens. To my surprise I ended up thoroughly enjoying the visit. The giant sculptures and beautiful landscapes were awe inspiring, plus I enjoyed speeding around in my chair since I just got the speed vamped up. It was a great way to end a trip that was rather emotionally confusing.
Even though the trip was not up to Partridge family standards, I am glad that I went. Last weekend plucked me from my comfort bubble more so than anything I’ve done since my injury. The fact that this was hard to do should not stop me from doing it again. Rather this tells me I should do so more often. Fighting this emotional battle is not going to be easy and when an experience seems like it may be too hard or scary, this is probably a good sign that it’s something I should do.