Everything in the world, including me, drifts away when I close my eyes.
It’s summer 2020, and I’m floating in the Atlantic ocean as the sun sets on the horizon. My sense of direction is faint, but I know that I’m at least 100 feet from shore. I’ve always been a good swimmer, and the waves are calm. The water is warm and revitalizing. The sun is a fiery orange, and purple hues paint the sky.
This is how summer should always feel, I think to myself.
Swimming out to the buoy is something I’ve been doing since I was eleven or twelve. I’m not fearless, and I’m scared of what lurks below in the water—the Atlantic, especially near Cape Cod, is known for its great white sharks. But I swim there to challenge myself, to remember what I’m capable of accomplishing.
I close my eyes to escape everything and everyone. Sometimes, there is no more incredible feeling in the world than forgetting. But that’s not why I come here anymore.
I return to summer 2020 to remember.
For a website I created with friends a long time ago, we all had to pick quotes to use that we thought were inspirational. One I found on Google struck me the hardest.
“Look around you. Appreciate what you have. Nothing will be the same in a year.” – Unknown.
Nothing would be the same again a week later from that summer moment—I met my first serious boyfriend, and I fell in love for the first time. But our love was sweet and short. As we shared stories about our lives and every secret with each other, he withheld an important one that ended our spell in an instance.
I remained heartbroken throughout the fall. I tried to fill the hole left in my heart. But then, everything stopped when someone close to me died.
And again, nothing was the same. The world was filled with shock as my family tried to piece together where everything went wrong. I slipped under the radar while I tried to make sense of grief. I returned to summer 2020.
What am I remembering?
Perhaps the last instances of childhood. When my family was not broken by our loss. Sneaking out of my house to ride bikes with friends at 3 a.m. Getting ice cream before my brother went back to college. The final moments before I turned 18.
Everything changes, but not positively. Everything changes, and sometimes we never find our way back.
When I entered college in the fall of 2021, everything changed again. Two more heartbreaks had occurred since my last. I put caution signs around my heart this time. I came to college to explore friendship—and love, but not the same passion I once experienced.
I fell in love with my friends. The first night I met my best friend, the weather was warm and revitalizing. I didn’t know anyone around me, but we had been in the car together for nearly five hours and quickly introduced ourselves when we arrived at the campsite. We set up tents then walked around in the West Virginia wilderness at night. When we returned, we laid on the ground and stared at the sky full of stars. I counted constellations while she listened. In the background, people told stories and sang songs around a campfire.
I met two of my other best friends that night. None of us knew each other too well yet.
Later that trip, we played soccer and nearly fell into a pond when the ball went in. Together, we jumped off cliffs into water and swam in a white water river.
When was the last time I felt this good?
Sometimes I return to summer 2020 to remember good things before becoming an adult.
One summer, my family drove across Germany and Denmark to see our cousins for the first time in five years. I remember being shocked by the 17 hours of sunlight and the beauty of the Danish countryside.
Throughout my life, there was something magical about our family dynamic before my parents revealed that they were getting divorced from each other to my brother and me. We would always do something special each week, such as taking Sunday morning trips to the farmer’s markets and museums, or taking long walks along the lakeshore path.
Why can’t these good times repeat themselves?
Everything has changed in my life from before summer 2020. I’ve started to realize since that moment in the ocean that I needed things to be different. Everything may have felt safe before, but now the world is full of risks, and it has helped me grow to be open to new things. I am open to swimming to the buoy when there may be sharks. I can jump off a cliff into the water. I am ready to take the caution signs away from my heart and open it to the idea of love again.
Time moves faster in college, and now I think that quote I found doesn’t have much truth to it as it once did. I almost return to fall 2021 instead of summer 2020, but I catch myself. I’ve learned that I don’t need a “best memory” to remind myself of periodically, or one to compare with everything else for that matter.
I still think back to summer 2020, but now I do so cautiously. There is no reason to associate that moment in the water as the timeline to follow. Instead, I remember that I’ve been swimming to the buoy my entire life. I’ll swim there once again. But this time, I don’t go to forget, nor to remember, but to close my eyes and be present. This time, I’ll just enjoy the calmness I get to spend with my eyes shut while the world around me becomes quiet.