My daughter, Zoey, rests her forehead against the Plexiglas pane of the plane window beside her. Outside, the air is frigid, causing each tiny breath she exhales to leave a piece of itself behind. As if by magic—and much to Zoey’s delight—small, white halos crystallize before her eyes, only to fade as quickly as they’ve appeared.
This simple wonder keeps her occupied, helping the minutes pass, until the engine of the plane rumbles, announcing that our departure will soon take place.
At the sound, Zoey turns to me, her eyes dancing.
“We’re almost there!” she announces in a voice loud enough that surely all the other passengers can hear.
I can’t help but smile.
“Really?” I ask, pointing to the unmoving ground outside the window. “How’s that possible? We haven’t even left yet!”
She gives me a look that suggests I have absolutely no clue what I’m talking about.
“But, mommy,” she counters. “We’re so much closer than we were, say, like, yesterday, right?”
Her statement catches me off guard, and I stare at her, blinking, thinking about the truth sewn into what she has just said. It seems fitting for this day, and for where this plane is taking us, a place to which I thought I may never return.
Yet here I am, hours away from touching down on the sandy shores of the town that holds some of my most beloved memories—the ones that are so much a part of me it’s almost as if they’re etched in my bones.
The plane pushes back from the gate, and we make our way to the end of the runway. A few minutes later, we tilt back, taking off into the pale, yellow light of the morning. I look out Zoey’s window, watching the dark mountains beside us give way to puffy, white clouds and then to an endless blue sky—the one that will carry us to an endless blue sea.
“Yes, Zoey,” I finally say. “You’re right. We really are almost there.”
* * *
Every year on Christmas or during the days that followed, my family and I would pack up the car and head south for the holidays. When we lived in South Carolina, the trip would only be two hours, but after our moves to Nashville and then Toledo, that car ride turned into a bona fide road trip.
Every year, Charleston, South Carolina was always our final destination.
Since it was the off-season, it was always the perfect time to visit, and though it was far from hot, the sun would shine brightly enough to warm our faces. We’d bundle up and dance and tumble across those beautiful southern beaches, flying kites high into the (sometimes cold) December wind. We would walk for hours along the sand, searching for the most perfect seashells we could find, collecting them in piles to dry out on our hotel patio. We would race beside the water’s edge, chasing seagulls, filling our lungs with the salty, fresh, winter-sea air.
We would stay for a week and be blissfully happy.
Year after year, we returned, and though changes would have taken place—the leftover remains of a late summer hurricane altering the contours of the coast or the shuttering of familiar stores that were unable to keep up with the ebbs and flows of tourism—our family trip to the beach always felt like home. It was a constant—always there, watching over me as I grew into the person it knew I was meant to become.
For twenty-some odd years, Charleston was the place that ushered me into the new year, into the next year of my life, to the place of new beginnings and the beautiful unknown.
But then, as I grew older, I was tossed into the tumultuous experience of navigating the nuances of adulthood. The trips got harder and harder as I started feeling the side effects that came with living a life that wasn’t mine to live, with all of it culminating at its tipping point the last time I visited Charleston:
I was still a new mother, trying to figure out this whole parenting thing, and my marriage was unraveling at the seams. I remember standing on the beach, staring out at the horizon as the sun slipped into the night, feeling so terribly unhappy. I remember my tears fell so fast and so freely it seemed like they could maybe raise the tide of the Atlantic before me.
After returning back to Colorado from that trip, I exhausted all of my energy trying to keep everything from falling apart, and in the process, everything just faded away—this end of the year trip, my grip on my life, and—the saddest one of all—myself.
And eventually, in spite of how hard I tried, everything did fall apart.
* * *
It’s only been five years since that last trip to Charleston, but as I sit here breathing in that salty air, listening to the gulls squawk, watching the waves of the sea roll endlessly on the beach, it’s felt like a lifetime.
Yet, it seems fitting that today, I’m ending my Everyday Nostalgia series here, in a place I’m returning to. A place that defined my happy past.
A place that I know will continue to be a part of my happy future.
Because that’s what my Everyday Nostalgia project was really all about: going back to the times and places and things of my past that made me feel most at home—most like me—and trying to find ways to celebrate them and incorporate them into my todays, so they will continue to be a part of all my tomorrows.
It’s been an amazing journey, but it’s also been harder than I thought it would be. It forced me to really reflect on my life—who I was, who I am now, and who I want to become. I had no idea it would unearth some of the feelings it did. But while it’s proven to be a painful process at times, what I can say is this: I can’t remember a year when I’ve felt so alive. It’s easily been worth all the energy I’ve poured into it, every hour I’ve invested in it, and every last word I’ve written about it.
I feel like I’ve been put back together.
I think it’s safe to say it has changed my life—and perhaps, I hope, my stories have had some positive impact on your life, too.
* * *
We step out of the car, and a bitter, biting wind stings our skin. The cold weather seems to have followed us to Charleston from Colorado, but we’ve come prepared.
I help Zoey zip up her coat and pull on her rain boots so she can step into the Atlantic without freezing her little feet. Although she was here before—that last time we were here—she was so young that she has no real memories of this place.
To her, this trip is the first time, and she is excited beyond belief. She barely lets me finish putting on her mittens before she takes off toward the water. My parents fall in step beside Zoey as I stand there and watch, not quite ready to join them yet.
I stay back, wondering why I haven’t started crying. I had pictured this moment would be heavy with emotion, but instead, my eyes are remarkably dry, the salt on my cheeks leftover only from the damp, ocean breeze.
I close my eyes and smile. This moment doesn’t hold any of the heaviness I anticipated. It only feels light and hopeful, like the promise of possibility and of good, true things.
Above the crashing waves, I hear Zoey’s voice—mixed with her spirited splashing and buoyant laughter—travel back my way.
“I’m can’t believe I’m here, standing in the Atlantic ocean,” she sings. “I’m really, really here!”
I open my eyes, not wanting to miss this moment of hers.
I make my way down to Zoey, and this little girl—the one who could easily be the one I was 30-some years ago—happily tumbles out from the water and into my arms. I pick her up, and the two of us stand there, a tangled mess of sand and wind-blown hair and salty, sea air.
“We’re really, really are here, Zoey,” I whisper as I hug her tight and nestle my nose into the warm curve of her neck. “I can’t tell you how happy I am we made it back.”
To her, I am talking about this beach, but to me, I’m speaking of something else.
Because here I am, standing on this South Carolina shore—the one that remembers who I once was—feeling like I’ve finally made it back to myself:
Back to who I’ve so desperately wanted to be.
Back to the person that was missing for simply far too long.
Back to the heart of who I am.
I set Zoey down beside me and offer her my hand. As she takes it, I stop, thinking for a brief moment about all the events that conspired to have me end up standing right here, right now.
But it is far too cold to simply keep standing still.
So I turn my eyes forward, and together Zoey and I start running along the water’s edge, our footfall heavy on the cold, wet sand. Together we are running, slowly at first, and then all at once faster:
Toward the future.
Toward all our journeys ahead.
Toward the infinite beauty of our lives, the ones that are here, laid out before us, ready for our taking.
And though we aren’t quite there yet, we’re so much closer than we were before.
We really are almost there.
* * *
To everyone who has joined me this year in my Everyday Nostalgia series—thank you. I feel so blessed to have shared it with all of you.
While ending the Everyday Nostalgia project is bittersweet, I look forward to all the new beginnings and journeys that lie ahead. I wish all of you a beautiful new year full of hope, love, and amazing opportunities that will help you make memories that will last a lifetime. If you’re just joining me or you have some catching up to do, you can read the series in its entirety here.
And yes, we will still be here, celebrating the past to create better days today.
Corey is a writer, graphic designer, and mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Here at The Nostalgia Diaries, her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.