We visited the same beach growing up. Every year around June we spent two weeks in a small three bedroom house with blue upholstery and a wooden porch. My four brothers and I would run out on the porch and down the splintering stairs to the pavement underneath. In our rush to reach the bottom, we’d scream too loud, and our mother would come out the screen door to quiet us, shushing our lips with soda pop through straws. Those summers were magical, enchanting in the way only a childhood can be. In many ways, we were formed by that little house and the ocean it stood by. It was our place to come back to amidst the nomadic lifestyle of a military family.
When I was eight, I was old enough to be left alone in the water. Without brothers beside me, I could turn my mind from splashing and seafaring battles to mermaids. To me, their hair was always a deep green like the color of the ocean past the tide. Green like the depths the way mine was gold like the sun. I thought that maybe if I was alone in the water long enough, if they saw the way I allowed it to move me and respected its wishes, they would call me to join them. So I let my face be pushed under and brought up again and my arms lay on top of the green as my fingers dipped below. I imagined my hair was never as beautiful as when it was submerged and lifted above my head in an ever moving crown. It was in these intimate moments I distinguished my voice from the chorus of my brothers’ and found beauty in silence.
Eventually the end of summer came, forcing us to leave our little June home and I to leave my mermaids. We moved to Carolina where I started school as the new kid yet again and said goodbye to my father as he deployed to Iraq. That same year I lost my grandmother, the woman who gave me my love for books and tea parties, who taught me to wear costume jewelry like it cost a million dollars. I retreated into myself. I stayed inside the library during recess because reading titles was easier than hopscotch. I brought books to class and used them as a shield to ward off friends. I came home in the afternoons to finish the final chapters instead of joining my brothers for adventures like I use to. I was afraid of becoming too at home in Carolina.
I grew lonely. The next school year I decided to leave the library. I met a girl in my dance class with golden hair. She lived close enough that I could bike to her house and that made me feel old, which is all you want to feel when you’re young. We were pink tights girls then, dreaming our dreams of becoming ballerinas one day. We planned sleepovers and designed dresses our mothers would sew for our dance recitals. Shortly into that year, my father returned home. There he was again at family dinners every night, my brother’s little league games on Saturday mornings, and holding flowers for me on the night of my recital. My days were pretty once more and filled with laughter that made me want to roll in it.
Then came the summer and our bittersweet departure from Carolina. We would spend two weeks in our little June home before moving and starting over in Hawai’i. I could see my mermaids again but would first have to say goodbye to the girl with the golden hair. I wasn’t afraid anymore though. I knew I would continue to have pretty days worth leaving the library for.