Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You don't get better suffering than that

Assateague Island (by galleryzooart)

My parents are busy vacationing for two days on Chincoteague Island (it's a small island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia) -- you know, like that Misty of Chincoteague book.  My family lived there for about two years when I was in high school -- so, we were "come-heres" (people who moved to the island and lived there without having been born there).  The rundown on Chincoteague (when you're an awkward, lonely teenage come-here):

-Beautiful scenery
-Lousy community (with some exceptions)

We left right before my senior year in high school.  I found out that we were leaving through a friend (I was visiting someone a few states away at the time the decision was made, and rather than ruin my vacation, my parents decided to tell me upon my arrival....of course, I think they forgot I might communicate with some people at some point, because word got back to me through AIM -- ahh, AIM -- that we were moving away for my senior year).  Anyway...ramblin'.  My main point is this: we didn't stay there all that long.

So.  My parents are vacationing there for a few days.  It's taken about eight years to really get to a place where we all feel comfortable going back and enjoying the island for what it is, without feeling totally disconnected and jaded and generally bad-attitude-y about the whole island.  I visited once a few years ago and it was okay.  But I actually found myself thinking a few weeks ago that a visit might be nice.

The trigger for this whole post: My parents were waited on at their restaurant of choice by a kid I went to high school with.  This happened to me the last time I visited, too.  In a way, this theme of visit-get-waited-on-by-old-peers makes me so, so thankful we didn't stay.  I might not have gone to VCU; if I hadn't, I wouldn't have met my husband; wouldn't have gotten the job that really spurred me into going to grad school for library science...would I be waiting tables with my high school peers, still, eight years out of high school, still stuck on the island, stuck with having to be excited for a closer Food Lion being built on the mainland?

I'm...glad I lived there.  Glad I had the experience of living someplace rural and different; Chincoteague is a very odd little slice of the American South (they sided with the North during the Civil War, from what I hear...could be why the Southern mainland and the island are rather cold to each other even today).  It was a huge culture shock.  I was miserable a lot of the time.  But...I lived on an island and could smell the salt air all the time (when I wasn't being eaten alive by mosquitos...I think I've become immune to them now, since people constantly complain about them in Richmond and I have yet to understand the problem -- one's perspective changes when one lived with having 18-20 bugs latch on the moment one walks out the door...).  But!  What's teenage-hood without a good dose of suffering?*

I feel luckier than a lot of my peers from those days.  In a lot of ways, the island was toxic for young people -- both literally and figuratively (literally in that teenagers who are stuck on an island with nothing to do aside from buy souvenir coffee mugs are going to do toxic things, and figuratively in that it was insular and uninviting -- don't let the cheeriness of vendors fool you if you visit -- you're a walking dollar bill to residents, more or less).  I moved away, went to college, got a professional job, continued with more college.  Some of them did, too.  But many didn't.  And to be fair, if they were "from-heres" they might actually be luckier than some others during the recession -- they might not have great jobs, but I would imagine it's lucky to be from a "from-here" family on the island (everybody's related to everybody else, or friends with everybody else) since you know you can get a job somehow with someone you know.  Though I wonder if the "come-heres" are being hit harder because of the same thing.

However, I think the main lesson to take away from the whole experience is this: if you have a vacation spot that you love, don't move there.  Don't move there.  Enjoy it, visit it, leave it.  We vacationed on Chincoteague for my whole childhood and we would still be happy carefree tourists today, were it not for the naive mistake of moving to the vacation island.  (Also, don't visit that museum where Misty is stuffed.  Don't do that either.)

But there were good times, too.  I wrote a lot, rode my bike all over the place, walked lonely empty stretches of beach in winter, ruined my hair with saltwater, swam every day, laughed at tourists, played a lot of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit with classmates over a bored summer, discovered the Smashing Pumpkins (don't laugh, I was sheltered for a while), ate lots of fresh seafood from that little old guy who sold it out of his garage.

Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.
Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?
Dwayne: He's the guy you teach.
Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he's also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh... he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you're 18... Ah, think of the suffering you're gonna miss. I mean high school? High school--those are your prime suffering years. You don't get better suffering than that.

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