My parents’ anxiety has rubbed off on me. I’ll be 28 years-old in a matter of weeks but they still coddle me like I’m a child sometimes. When I tell them my flight back to Los Angeles is at 9pm, hours after the majority of my family’s return flights from our quadrennial family reunion, they recoil. Why so late? Come on, Ashleigh. You’re really trying to raise my blood pressure.
My plan is to spend my day on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, killing time. It’ll be the perfect day for me—I love being in the sun. I always have. From the time I was 7 or 8 years-old I would take a beach towel outside to our backyard in the suburbs of New Jersey and sunbathe in the grass. Or I’d climb the monkey bars and stretch my body across them—higher up, closer to that big, fiery star in the sky.
My parents tell me I shouldn’t be alone and encourage me to tag along with my extended relatives who also booked later flights. “You’re too little (small) to be wandering around by yourself,” is one of my mom’s favorite lines. She and my dad take turns thinking of worst-case-scenarios, enabling each other to fall deeper into their neuroses. My younger brother defends me. He laughs and says, “You guys need to relax. Enjoy life.” We’re both practical, curious, free spirits. I love him so much.
We’re at the Fort Lauderdale port with other guests from the Carnival Conquest cruise who are waiting for rides to the nearby airport or elsewhere. I start to feel a slight apprehension in my stomach. I’m not familiar with this city and am coming down from my vacation high. I’ve now adopted my parents’ concern. I start to think, I’m going to be by myself after being surrounded by family for the last seven days. I’m worried but I don’t know what for. Maybe I’m just sad. I’m overthinking. I book myself an Uber to the nearest beach nonetheless. My driver is impatient and on edge, adding to my agitation. I see a long strip of beach and I cut my ride short, getting out with my co-riders at a beach-side condo.
I walk around for a bit, rolling my suitcase behind me and wearing a backpack. I become uncomfortably hot as I’m wearing black leggings, sneakers, and a windbreaker—an outfit that will better serve me later, in the cold airport. I’m attracted to a patch of beach that’s dotted with blue chairs and umbrellas. I wonder if there’s a beachgoer fee like there is in Jersey during the summer.
Hotels are parallel to the water and I walk into The Ritz Carlton extra confidently because I don’t want to be stopped by hospitality personnel who might turn me away due to the fact I’m not a guest. I just want a clean bathroom to change into my bathing suit. It works.
I emerge onto the beach and sit myself down on one of the blue chairs and get comfortable. I breathe in the salty air and take in the scenery. There’s an older couple a foot or so in front of me. I catch eyes with one of the men and he waves at me faintly, smiling. I feel welcome. I miss my family. A few moments later a Ritz Carlton employee approaches me. “Good morning, miss. Are you a guest at the hotel?” I tell him I’m not. There’s a rental fee for the chair and umbrella I’m using. I ask the men in front of me to keep an eye on my belongings while I go to the nearby CVS to get cash.
I have plenty of money in my account but I still feel uneasy. The anxiety comes and goes in waves. I’m safe. I know where I am. I know where I’m going. At least literally. What is there to worry about? Everything and nothing. I miss my family and the security that comes with being with them. I realize in this moment that the reason I feel unsure of myself is because of my parents’ disapproval. I internalized their stress and it’s manifesting in me physically.
Would I feel better if they’d encouraged my solo exploration? Definitely. I believe if they’d said something as simple as, “How exciting! Let’s look up places for you to have lunch,” my mental state would be much more calm. I feel better at least knowing the root of my fear. After taking a dip in the water and returning to my lounge chair to write this on my iPad I feel more grounded. I listen for familiar sounds and come up with: clanking dishwear in the restaurant across the street behind me, the ocean’s waves, children playing.
I find peace in the harmony.