I went to the beach the other day. My sister and I lay a blanket out on the sand while we talked and read books. We let the sun burn off all our stress as we dug our toes into the sand. Apart from the occasional comment, it was unusually quiet for the two of us, who are generally loud enough to annoy the people around us, even with social distancing in place. I, being unprepared for how warm the day was going to be, wore all black and roasted in the heat.
I took a break from reading and strolled the 20 feet or so to the waters edge and walked until the tide pulled at my ankles. Usually the water is cold and sharp, but it wasn’t. It was soft, like when you flip over your pillow and press your face against the cool. The water came in and wrapped itself around my feet and then went back out to sea, back and forth, back and forth. And I stood in the water and thought.
I thought about one of my first nights alone in Vancouver when I went to the beach with a bunch of strangers and put my feet in the water. The view was different, but the water was the same. I remember making idle flirtatious remarks to boys I had met and thinking about my boyfriend back at home. How much I wanted him to be there with me. We sat on the beach as nude elderly men took their last couple strolls before fall came, yielding the nude beach useless. Four years felt like such a long time back then. The idea of making it to the end of the four years not only seemed improbable but impossible. The future beyond those four years felt like fiction.
I thought about the nights I spent crying. And the mornings and the afternoons and evenings filled with tears. Teardrops and raindrops until everything was soaked. And the grey fog billowed into my life and no matter how much I tried to air everything out, my entire life was shrouded in grey fog. I remembered the panic and the isolation and fights on the phone with my parents, with my sisters, with my boyfriend. I remember the moment I realised that this relationship I had cherished and loved was not what I wanted and soon it was going to end. I remember feeling lonely.
I thought about the nights I spent drinking. The bad ones that ended in tears and boys saying mean things. The ones that I wish I could take back. The times I embarrassed myself to the point that my stomach turns if I think about them. The ones where my mouth was faster than my brain and I said things before I realised I was saying them. I also thought of the good ones, the girls’ nights on the floor of my apartment. The parties at frat houses until 3 in the morning, the nights at bars filled with boys we didn’t know but would come to know. The nights that turned into stories. The nights that lived on in glorious infamy. The nights that were filled with the best worst decisions and the worst best decisions. Dancing at the Yale until we couldn’t stand and drinking at the Roxy with the greatest people.
About the studying. The long nights at the Life building and hours spent at Olive and Ruby. Mind maps, practise exams, and notes written out until my hands were calloused. The concepts I didn’t understand, the concepts I will never understand. All the exams I beat and all the exams that beat me. Going from over stressed, to under stressed to possibly the perfect amount of stressed in four years. Yelling about TAs and professors that made me want to pull my hair out. Confiding in TAs and professors when I didn’t know what else to do. The hours spent course selecting, degree mapping and trying to find electives. Papers and labs and midterms and lectures. The time in lectures spent online shopping or posting Instagram stories. The classes I missed. The classes that my friends helped me catch up in. The dissections of invertebrates and brains and the fucking Morris Water Maze. Counting the ages of hockey players and trying, for the love of all that is good, to figure out the 7 long term causes of chronic stress.
I thought about my sorority. Crying in the chapter room the day I after I ended my relationship. The surprise party at my sister’s house. Watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race after Songfest practice. Deep chats in fraternity bathrooms. The times I pulled my hair out about holding a position and the times I cried when I didn’t get one. Senior meetings planning events that would never happen, losing everything so swiftly at the last minute. Running in on Bid Day and seeing my big sister. Taco dates with my big and veggie dinners with my little.
I thought about boys. The breakup. The recovery. The worst first dates ever filled with of out-of-line questions and long awkward pauses. The ones I picked up at bars and led to the worst surprises. The Hinge-boys, the Bumble-boys, the Tinder-boys, the frat boys. Kisses in my living room that turned into nothing, and kisses in my living room that turned into the shit things. Getting ghosted and shot down. Shooting people down. Chickening out right at the play and looking back and wishing I had the guts to follow through. The friends I kissed and definitely shouldn’t have. The friends I didn’t kiss and should have.
I thought about my friends. My beautiful, wonderful friends. The loud sex talks in public that make people turn their heads. The time the soup appeared and then disappeared without any of us noticing. The night of the wedding crashers. All the times they were there when I cried in my apartment and realized I didn’t have to do it alone. Walks through the park and along the sea wall. The Halloween party we weren’t 100% sure we were invited to. Shopping and watching movies and curry at the Delly. Screenshots of so many conversations from so many people. Drinking at 3pm on Winter Classic. And. So. Many. Group. Chats.
About my sister. Mini eggs and wine and Whole Foods gummies. Walks along the beach, study dates, dinners. Semis and formals and pre parties. The times she saved my butt and all the times I called her when I had too much to drink and the time I definitely had alcohol poisoning. Hockey games we didn’t understand. Birthday cakes and birthday dinners and bottles of champagne. Cuddles and hugs and so much gratitude for having her in my life.
About all the times I spent alone. And not a bad alone. But a good alone. Aritzia Warehouse Sales. Walks on campus, reading in the sun. Trips to different bakeries and meal prep Fridays. Dance parties in my apartment and standing in the rain just because. Learning and growing and changing and being better than I was.
So, I stood on the beach and I looked at the mountains and the cloudless sky. And I thought “thank you”. Thank you to every person I have met in this city for changing my life so immensely. For the people I will talk to everyday from here on out and for the people I don’t really ever want to talk to again. You have all had an impact on my life and got me to today. Because although those four years felt so endless, they’re ending and I’m returning to Toronto. Permanently? I don’t know. But at least for now.
I watched the ships stay stationed in the water and I thought about how grateful I am. Grateful to have learned what I have learned. Grateful to see four seasons of cherry blossoms and to survive four rainy winters. Grateful that I have a degree (even if I'm no where near knowing what to do with it). And of course, to have so many reasons to come back.
So I pulled me feet from the water, finally cooled, and walked back up onto the beach. This is a pretty great life, isn't it?
From me, with love, to you,