I’ll Move Back To Florida When I’m Old
When I am old, I would like to move back to the beach.
I’d buy one of the cheap motels that line up before the sand. The ones with neon “Open” and “Vacancy” signs. Ones that decorate with shellacked swordfish nailed to the walls, with fake palm trees, with Jamaican trinkets and dried sand-dollars brought up from Key West. Where the wood of the walls might be driftwood from the way it flakes and peels. Where one person works lazily behind the counter and you bring your own bags to your small room decorated with hot-glued sea shells and paintings of jumping dolphins bought at garage sales. Everything will smell like Cuban cigars and wet sand.
Outside your window, in this fantasy, you can see the ocean, and the boardwalk of strange Floridian folk on rollerblades, men with bright white chest hair and leather-y skin in Speedos, women in T-shirts with skinnier women airbrushed on the front, teenagers on skateboards with flat-brimmed hats that say “Female Body Inspector.”
I would be old. I’d buy the motel and put tacky plastic flamingos in the dirt out front. I’d change the name to the “Seaside Wonderland” or something equally cheesy. Maybe a pun. I’d cut my hair short and let it go gray. I’d wear the same floral bikini every day with a neon yellow mesh dress over it. I’d sit at the front desk of my motel and drink coffee from a chipped 1998 Marlins mug and eat orange slices and watch the waves crest white and blue. I’d take my favorite rainbow deck chair and head out to water’s edge early in the morning and read good old books in the silence until the families begin to show up with their kids, like bombs dropped, umbrellas used as flags to claim territory. But I’ll know they can never own that spot of beach. I’ll know someone new will be there tomorrow.
I’d sometimes wear open men’s Hawaiian shirts that maybe belonged to my dead husband, or to my lovers who come and go. Maybe I just bought them this way or they were gifts from Tommy Bahama. I will eat arepas and bunches of grapes as snacks mostly and live upstairs in my own room, with carpets I inherited from my European grandmother — maroon and frayed, sometimes they’ll feel too rough on my bare feet. I will not wear shoes. I’ll sit in the fine, rounded, golden-plated chair I will also inherit from her and I will be by a window, with a large bookshelf that covers the room from wall to ceiling. I will wait until the sun is just right and I will sit in that chair and continue to read until a customer needs me or it is time for dinner. Sometimes I will light incense and meditate. Sometimes I will use stones and herbs. One customer will accuse me of voodoo.
At night, I’d have seafood down at the restaurant near the water, it’d be loud sometimes — full of tourists drinking carafes of wine, corralling kids I will no longer have, fighting with partners when I am alone from here on out. I will read with my dinner too, and ask for a single glass of wine or a whiskey on the rocks. Then I’d take a walk down the shoreline to the half-shell where an enthusiastic Cuban band will play old Spanish love songs and the air will be thick and humid, blown cold and salty by the proximity to the ocean. Sometimes it will be enough to remind me of the north, but I can appreciate it.
Sometimes old friends will recognize me as they come through, but I won’t feel any pressure or hurry or rush or desire. I will offer them beers or a smoke. I will say, “Yes, it’s been quite a while. Good to see you, too.” But generally, I will have no obligation to anyone but my customers, to anything but the motel. I will smile when a couple checks in for a few hours only. I will watch the slowness overtake them. I will see colorful birds and I will never wear a coat, or anything just black.
At night, I will write. Because I will be old and that is when you should write. I will have much more to say, and much less shame than I did in my younger years when I was so eager to publish everything without proper skill or patience or eloquence. And it will be dark, but lit by ocean stars and boat beacons. I will be old. The words will come much easier to me then.
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”