Friday, July 10, 2009

Missing Lawdy Mercy

In thirty-one years, I have missed our annual beach week at the Lawdy Mercy beachhouse only twice. This summer, I’ll add another miss to that count, and it’s making me feel like the one girl who didn’t get asked to prom—or, the first-semester college freshman far from home and as yet friendless, stuck inside a claustrophobic dorm room on a Friday night. Closer to the truth: I feel like a young woman heartsick, remembering with great pain every action, every moment spent with a lost love… replaying every second just to torture myself.

If this sounds like a close-to-petulant, “poor me” routine, that’s because it is. This summer, I’m forced to miss my family’s annual beach week—a vacation week at Garden City Beach, South Carolina, to which I look forward all year—because I happen to be 37 weeks pregnant. Three weeks: that’s all that’s left between me and D-Day, and the doctors have advised I stay as close to home as possible. The logical part of my brain knows this is a reasonable request meant to cater to my well-being, but the illogical part (the part that is right now imagining the feel of sand beneath my bare feet, watching myself toss a dummy into cool green waves and my black lab bounding after it, remembering the smell of the salt marsh and the eye-sting of a burning Lowcountry sunset—a sting because it’s just so damn beautiful) is just plain sad.

And torturing myself doesn’t make much sense, because as any woman—or partner of said woman—who has been this pregnant can tell you: nothing is much fun at 37 weeks. Certainly the car ride from our home in the mountains of Western North Carolina to the South Carolina coast, a good five and a half-hour drive even without rest stops, would be an exercise in torture for me. Add that to the fact that it’s bound to be a sweltering week outside, and inside the beachhouse the air conditioning is usually kept close to 80 degrees (my parents and my “second-parents,” owners of the Lawdy Mercy, all grew up without air conditioning and don’t see too much use in blasting it), and it would most likely be an uncomfortable week for me. Especially seeing as how, at this point, I’m annoyingly uncomfortable even in my own home and in my own bed. Argh. Scratch that: double ARGH.

But my heart just won’t give in to my head when it comes to being at the Lawdy Mercy. I can see them now, my family and friends, heading up from the beach at the end of a decadent day to drink cocktails on the back porch, the rhythmic creak of rocking chairs and the ceiling fans competing with the background beach music (who will they be listening to? Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs? Otis Redding? The Four Tops?). If it’s low tide, they’ll watch the sun descend into the trees across the marsh over Murrell’s Inlet, steeping the land and water and sky in a blaze of color that begins in fire and ends in a more sensual version of Easter pastel. If it’s high tide, they’ll quickly pack a cooler and take to the boat for a sunset cruise down the creek and out into the inlet. They’ll turn up the radio to one of the local stations, drink wine and watch egrets loop their graceful necks from the sanctuary of summer green marsh grass. As a kid, I used to sit on the front of the boat, let my toes drag the water and suck in the view and the smell of salt and pluff mud and boat exhaust as if it were the aroma of heaven.

I’ve always been like this about the beach. My parents have an old photograph of me as a toddler that never fails to crack them up: it was taken on the last day of one of our Lawdy Mercy weeks, when they’d just finished packing up the car to go home. In it, I’m standing in the driveway in a blue bathing suit—feet spread, hair white-blonde, my little hand pushed against the car door as if I can make it go away—and my sweet face is scrunched in misery, my little mouth open on a full-on wail, tears streaming down my face. Apparently, this wasn’t an unusual occurrence on packing-up day.

“You never did like leaving the beach,” my Mom says.

I still get this way, minus the crying, even though I am now officially an adult. Whenever we leave the Lawdy Mercy in July, my melancholy follows me up the state like Pig Pen’s dark cloud, somewhat dissipating around Columbia. My husband pretends not to notice, but usually buys me a chocolate milkshake.

I wonder if the little girl to-be who is currently shoving her miniature tootsies up into my rib cage and hiccupping disconcertingly down in my lower belly will feel the same way about her time at the beach?

It’s funny, but the further along I got into this pregnancy—when it started to truly feel real and lasting to both me and my husband—the more I began to think about just how much fun I’d have with my little girl, at the beach. I began to picture it in my mind, all of us—me, my husband, my family and friends, our dog—playing with an ephemeral, blonde-haired tyke in the shallows, in the sand, on the back dock. The day I truly let myself dream of this it was as if someone had jolted me with a live wire: the sheer thrill of imagining having a child and the stunning knowledge of how much I wanted it, wanted the pregnancy to go well and for everything to be “okay,” was more terrifying than anything I’d faced yet in my life.

So, what am I doing this week while my family is down at the beach, soaking up paradise, Southern-style, and I’m in my non air-conditioned house, grading papers and teaching composition to a group of ambivalent adult students, suffering through heartburn so nasty that it makes me want to funnel an entire bottle of mouthwash? I’m handling it like the mature adult that I am: I’m pretending like it’s not really the third week of July—that none of it is really real. Heck, it could still be June! And I’m the grand mistress of avoidance, the empress of ignorance.

I think I’ll get my husband to pick me up a chocolate milkshake on his way home.