I struggle to pull the hood of my raincoat over my head while trying to sidestep patches of black ice on my walk home from work. I have returned to the wintry mix of Maryland in March from the warmth of 80-degree sun in Tampa, Florida. I am not comforted by the fact that the gray chunk of ice blocking the sidewalk near my apartment’s back entrance is now two inches taller than when I left it last week.
And now the meteorologists are calling for three to five inches of snow tomorrow. I snuggle up to Norm and my electric blanket and hope the office will close before I attempt to make the trek into work. Just a few days ago, I was sitting on my friend’s porch in a t-shirt and shorts with my computer in my lap and a Russian blue kitty meowing at me from atop the closed Jacuzzi.
It was my first true vacation (family visits don’t count) in four years. And since my birthday falls in the worst month of winter and I happen to have a good friend who moved and bought a house in southern Florida, it seemed like the perfect getaway. Mother Nature still has a way of messing with me, though. For most of my visit, the sky was overcast and the temperatures were in the low to mid-60s, but it wasn’t snowing so my friend and I made the most of it.
I used to have another kind of Florida oasis. I was in a long-distance relationship for almost two years. While I was finishing graduate school in Baltimore, he was attempting to get a job in the field of digital animation and visual effects in Orlando. I graduated, but he never got the job so he moved back to Baltimore, and we moved in together.
A year later, I moved to DC for work, and he moved with his best friend to Colorado. I haven’t seen him since. It’s been the hardest break-up of my life and the hardest reality to swallow, even more so than diabetes. No matter how much I loathe my disease, it will always be there.
So returning to Florida, although for different reasons, was still a challenge. I didn’t have to endure the plane ride with kids going to Disney World, and there weren’t as many palm trees in Tampa as Orlando, but there were Spanish moss trees – the same trees that hung over the dock of my ex’s old house, the same trees I took multiple pictures of, now hidden in a dusty photo album at the back of my desk drawer. These same trees I once saw as beautiful in their weary presence now hung like mold on the green vegetation I missed so much.
And then there were the manatees, scarred by boat propellers and other such manmade tools. Although solitary mammals, they hung in groups near the power plant, hugging the surface and creating ripples with their tortoise-like speed. The first time I had seen a manatee was with my ex at a Florida state park. It was right before my second seizure when he told me that we were in this together.
Swinging But Not Alone
On my last night in Tampa, my friend took a picture of me under one of the Spanish moss trees in the park a few blocks from her house. She then invited me to swing on the playground. Even though I’ve written about it a few times, I can’t remember the last time I actually swung. As a kid, I used to swing as high as my legs would allow and then jump mid-air.
But upon situating myself on the black swing, I heard the creaks in the rusted chains and was hesitant to swing too high much less jump. So I cradled my chains and let my body sway back and forth. My friend swung next to me, while the sun was mostly set behind us.
We were in sync for a little bit, and then I let my legs go, reaching higher towards the moss tree in front of me. The squeaks of the hinges still unnerved me, but I ignored my fears and kept swinging. My friend encouraged me to lean back and look up.
Through the moss-covered branches of the tree, I saw the moon and an orange glow from the sun. The sky was open.