God knows it’s been awhile since I first drove down through Carolina, by way of the isle of quiet winding pine woods onto East Beach Road, past raised, bleached houses that were delicately hidden behind rolling dunes.
It was winter of 2016 when I first drove down to the south shore. Charlestown’s wind-swept beaches offered me the chance to witness the steady roaring of crystalline blue waves buffeting fine white sand. Away from the busy chatter of the city, the cool breeze off the ocean tossed tendrils of my hair around my face and bit through my thin jacket. I fell in love.
I’d been living in Providence for about five months at the time. I couldn’t tell you (and still can’t tell you) the best places to dine in Federal Hill or what coffee milk tastes like, but I can navigate the rough crags of Fort Wetherhill in Jamestown and tell you when the tide rolls out to sea, leaving hidden coves along the shores of Beavertail Lighthouse.
I was young when I moved here two years ago. I still am. But Rhode Island has offered me something beyond what I could’ve hoped for- a chance to make my life my own. A chance to make my own mistakes, a chance to learn.
When I made my first solo trip to Boston two years ago after moving into a four story house on Olney Street on the East Side of Providence, I glanced up at the towering skyscapers above and wondered who worked there. Too afraid to take the train up from Providence (how did it work?), I paid dearly for parking that January day and wandered the streets until I found a museum with free access- it was Thursday, one of my two days off at the dealership down in Warwick.
Clutching my phone tightly, I walked one block and turned around. The sun had long since disappeared and I felt vulnerable. I returned to the steamy underground parking garage, found my car, and pressed the start button a little too quickly than the occasion called for. The ignition roared to life and I silently sat in my car, glancing past the steering wheel to the brightly lit dashboard.
I drove home, the thought that I’d be working a few blocks away in less than one year’s time never crossing my mind. A year and a half later, I stare down at the streets of Boston from the 16th Floor of 125 Summer Street remembering the time I’d wearily driven home, not having visited the Contemporary Institute of Art that Thursday- in Seaport, as I now know.
To date, my Ford Escape has about 65,000 miles on the odometer. Hundreds of miles have been spent driving down to the frozen beaches of Newport, Jamestown, Westerly, and Charlestown during the winter of 2016. The beaches were blissfully empty during those months, but as I began to see shoots of flowers emerge from the undergrowth, so too did people begin to emerge- both in my life and on the beaches.
Gone were the days when I’d go twenty-four hours without speaking. The road down to the southern shore remains a familiar friend as I play the same music as I always had, but now I take friends and family down to the places I’ve grown to know so well.
Oh, there’s a river that winds on forever/ I’m gonna see where it leads/ Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted/ I’m gonna stand on the peak.
Two years later, I know I’ll see these beaches less, but somehow I know I’ll always be able to guide myself over the cool, salty rocks that have been here long before me and will long survive me. I feel timeless as the sea foam floats eerily through the air around me, the sun beating down on my cheeks.
I never realized how young I was when I graduated from college and I never knew I could experience true happiness while in solitude years later. Moving from Wisconsin offered me the chance to figure out what I value most in life, my loved ones and a sense of adventure.
It’s been one of the hardest, yet easiest choices I’ve made in my life. Getting here was the easiest part- I had supportive parents and a friend who offered me the spare room in her apartment. The next part was the hardest. I had to find a job to support myself.
Post-college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew what I loved and was passionate about, but had few connections that led to anything fruitful. I’d spent hours shooting off my resume to random job sites and recruiters to no avail, becoming more and more discouraged at each turn. How could I have a four-year degree that offered me nothing?
After a jobless four months, I managed to connect with someone who put me in touch with a manager seeking to fill a position at a car dealership. Since that time, I’ve learned acquiring a new job is twofold: it’s about who you know and being patient. This is how I acquired my most recent two jobs as well as ended up switching career-paths. I’ve also learned no job is beneath me or my education. If it pays the bills, it pays the bills.
With the ability to support myself monetarily (still with some help from my parents), I began to explore. Ocean to the east, mountains to the north and west, friends to the south. I now felt a freedom like I’d never before. No longer in my college bubble, I began to find myself. I went out on dates, began caring less what others thought of me, and confronted demons that threatened to bring my delicate, newfound life crashing down.
Though I know I’ll never be cured of my mental heath illnesses, I am very aware what I’m able to do to manage them. While surrounded by sun bleached trees, softly chirping birds, and a trailhead, I began to challenge myself to live unapologetically a year ago. I am me, that’s all I can give. I might as well learn to tolerate myself if I want to experience everything I can about life while I can, I thought. My world became a much less depressing place as I acknowledged the beauty of the sea glass on the ocean’s shore, the sheer magnitude of the mountains in the Pemigawasset Wilderness, the soft colors of the sunlight filtering through the pine trees on a winter day.*
Shedding much of the negativity I had brought with me to Providence, I let the sand beneath my feet guide me and sky overhead remind me of how incredibly lucky I was to be alive. These fleeting moments never cease to bring me out of a funk, even if only for a short while.
I began taking up hobbies my parents so graciously introduced my siblings and I to as kids. I hiked, biked, and ran more. No longer mindlessly doing these tasks or performing them with volleyball season in mind, I consciously began learning to savor each movement of my body and how lucky I was to be able to perform each exercise. I climbed summits, pedaled through vibrant green fields aglow with wildflowers, and started enjoying the feeling of running for time, not distance.
It’s taken time (two years!) and I’m still learning to like myself. I’m taking each day for what it is and I’m working on becoming less stressed about my future.
As I leave Rhode Island for Boston (I know I’m being dramatic, it’s not that far- but still, it’ll be a two-three hour drive to get to the destinations that now take a half an hour), I feel more prepared to continue my life out on the east coast than I had two years ago. There’s been hard lessons to learn and will still be in years to come, but I’ve never been more excited to begin a new chapter of life.
So although I’ll be farther away from the crashing of the ocean waves on Blue Shutters Beach or the tangled vines that twine around the fences of Fort Wetherhill, I know part of me will always be amongst the salty air, waiting to return to the places I grew from a recent college grad to a young (functioning!) woman. The move I’m about to make is far less about distance than about the person I’ve become since moving here in August of 2016. And I wouldn’t change a single moment of the past two years for the world.
Goodbye, Rhode Island. Living here has been a pleasure.
*Let me make this clear…I am in no way hinting depression or any other mental illness can simply be cured by sitting in the middle of the woods. It doesn’t work that way. Though it has greatly helped me by being “in nature” while depressed/anxious/obsessive-compulsive, it doesn’t replace meds or therapy. Trust me.