The Escape Before the (I’m Sorry, What?!) Quarantine

It’s Wednesday of last week, and I’m writing this to you from a pool deck along the ocean in North Carolina. We’ve turned an idea to get away over Columbus Day weekend into a week-long stay in an oceanfront home in Corolla. We took the kids out of school for the first extended time ever, because David found this house, a re-book, through an internet ad, and it came with a pool and a private walkway to the beach and clean linens already on the beds when we got here, and we didn’t have to go anywhere else but where we are, right now.

As I write this, on Wednesday of last week, I do not know that this time next week, we will be sequestered in our own house for fourteen days because Pennsylvania will have added NC to its quarantine list two days before our return, and I’m glad I do not know this, because right now it’s a sunny 78 degrees and Quinlan is on her dad’s shoulders dunking a basketball into a poolside hoop while Saoirse and Cian try–and fail–to block her and I can hear the ocean just behind me, past a dune.

I never really liked the Outer Banks before this trip. Something about the place–the quiet, the gentrified-ness of it, which other families adore–never struck me the way it struck David the first time he visited, when we vacationed with my mom and Paul and Sarah a few years ago. I told him that it was because OBX always seemed like the suburbs of beach resorts. But he was in love, and still is. He loves the scrubby trees of Corolla, the peace that’s found here away from the shopping centers, the feeling that the Atlantic Ocean is wide open, right in front of us. I can’t argue with him about any of these things.

Our kids are still swimming. It’s dinnertime. David will run out in a bit for steak fajitas and vegetarian enchiladas and more tortilla chips we can eat in this week, though we’ll try. It’s the warmest day of the week, this 78 degrees, and even though the sun has dipped behind our rental house, and the children’s toes have become ghostly and wrinkled in the October water, they ask to stay in the pool. They want to go night swimming, they say. This is amazing, they add.

R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming,” they know, is one of my favorite songs (and now you know exactly how many years old I am). My senior prom date played it in the car as he drove us to the dance. If you just forget the facts that a) our senior prom was held in the gym of my old elementary school, and b) the song was playing from a mix tape (mix tape! I am so very 44!) my date had made for a former girlfriend at his old school (whomp, whomp), “Nightswimming” makes me feel young, and full of that feeling of anticipation that came with being outside when the world is a mix of sun-warmth and chilled air, and I’m still on the brink of growing up, going away, becoming new.

My three children are giggling in the pool–cackling, actually. David has poured me a glass of wine and plopped down in the chair beside me to dry off. We are both tired and a little grumpy because the occupants of the house next to us have been up and outside all night, each night, since we got here. Partying, we muttered at 2 a.m. We peered outside and glowered through the dark at the people having fun. They have kids in the house, we grumbled. And then, this morning: How do they do it?

I am so very forty-four.

David engineered this trip. The timing is not ideal at all: we are in the middle of estate-selling, lawyer-communicating, mom’s-house-selling. My brother and sister-in-law are coming in this weekend, while we’re away, to get their stuff out of our mom’s house, and we won’t be able to help them or say a last goodbye together. Sarah will send me a picture on our drive home Sunday of Paul standing on our parents’ front porch for the last time, alone, and I will cry.

But David knew. He knew I was cracking just a bit around the edges. He knew our family needed to step out for a while, get centered again, and he whisked us away to find the ocean (if by whisking, you understand that means crawling along in I-95 traffic in a minivan down the East Coast for nine hours, whisk we did!).

I miss her. I miss her so much.

The kids are towing each other around the pool on their boogie boards. There is a neon-yellow butterfly that keeps flitting over their heads, away and back again. We were at the ocean this morning, and even when we’ve walked away, we are close enough to hear it, to smell it. When we got here late Sunday night, we rushed down through the dark to be near it, hungry and tired and very ready to sink into its water.

This is bittersweet, all of this.

The kids call out to me, getting confirmation. Yes, I tell them, of course. We’re going night swimming tonight.

I am so grateful.

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