It had been a few years since my last trek south, but as soon as my plane hit the tarmac in Tallahassee I felt like I was returning home from some long and exhausting vacation. It even smelled like home. The humidity and the ridiculous amount of green leafy things they have down there. The spanish moss hanging from the trees. The chameleons. Their weird little neighborhoods that look like something off of a movie set. Boiled peanuts. Back country roads. Family.
See, I have never actually lived in Florida for any extended period of time. It is just such a constant in my memories over so much of my lifetime.
Happy. That is another word that comes to mind. No matter what phase of life I was going through (depressed and surly teenager, falling-apart young adult, falling-apart not-so-young adult, etc...) this was always a place where I could go and find peace. My family is there. The heart of my family is there. The people who matter the most to me are rooted to that spot so firmly that they are a part of its very lifeblood. My memories are of huge family gatherings where someone would drive home with a truck full of dead birds (doves, I came to find out on this last trip down). My Granddaddy shooting an armadillo in his backyard. Being chased by a gator when out on the Wakulla river in a tiny boat. Trying my first oyster when I was probably about 8 years old, and promptly spitting it directly back into the hand that fed it to me. Sand and trees and sun. Grown ups that smelled of sunscreen and beer. Giant grasshoppers and even more giant spiders (banana spiders, I was informed.)
I have so many vivid memories of this place that it feels as though a piece of me is also permanently rooted there. Like it never left, and is still wandering my grandparents' old river property on a hot summer day, just waiting for one of the adults to walk us to the pool down the road.
When I go down there now, I still see Florida through the eyes of the small child I once was. In 30 some-odd years, my grandparents have never grown any older when I've seen them. Time stands still in the south. I want it to always be that way.
For so many of my 3 decades, my brain has worked hard to reject any memories. There is very little that I am able to quickly recall (or recall at all) for a lot of my life. It wasn't that it was a terrible childhood - that was just my body's go-to defense mechanism. Without so much as asking me, many of the experiences I had were tossed straight out of my brain shortly after they occurred like an old piece of gum out the car window. Since moving up to New Hampshire, I have been able to let my defenses down for the first time in forever and have been able to pull up a bunch of old files that were packed away in some deep, dark corner of my perpetually-overloaded brain. I am wasting less of my energy worrying about holding myself together, so I guess that means I am now able to handle looking back on things I had long forgotten. I find my mind wandering a lot these days. Seeing my 12 year-old daughter experience 7th grade is surreal. When she comes home and talks about her day, its as though I am back wandering the halls of my old school (WMS). Smelling chalk (CHALK, people!!), hearing the locker doors slam, remembering how it felt to spend so much of my time hiding at one of those cubby-like desks in the tiny library. Smells seem to be a thing. I can recall smells better than I can recall how I felt or how something sounded, and certainly better than how it looked. (Apparently I don't take much stock in visuals when it comes to my long-term filing system.)
My point behind all of this rambling is this: If I can still feel like I am there, and hear and smell and see the things I once saw years and years ago, isn't that the same as being there? Because for that moment of remembrance, I am certainly not taking in my current surroundings. I am 100% 10 years old again, just in a 33 year-old body.
Age doesn't make a difference. You are who you have always been and will always be. Time and circumstances may tweak your outward appearances a bit, but your essence is exactly the same it was when you were 4 and searching for tadpoles in the pond at the playground. It is still the same as when you were 12 and packed into the middle school cafeteria for a Friday night dance, trying to see through the dozens of classmates to that one boy you had been obsessing about for the past 6 months. It is the same as the super-excited and sad and nervous person you were on your high school graduation day when you weren't sure if you would ever lay eyes on all of those familiar faces again. The same as the day you met your future spouse. The day you had your first child. The day your first CHILD entered middle school. Your first grandchild, great-grandchild, etc.
Everything is a part of the same piece of thread that is your life.
Don't waste time worrying about getting older or wishing for that wrinkle-free skin or work-free lifestyle. You still have all of it. Just sit still, relax and breathe.
You'll be back there in the blink of an eye.