Christmas: Daytona Beach

The Christmas Adventure began right as Mission Move Out came to a close.

The morning after my moving day, I was sitting on my bedroom floor desperately trying to locate my stocking stuffers for Dad and my swimsuit top. I had blue hair dye matted to my scalp and a half-eaten breakfast sandwich somewhere on the desk behind me. In short, I was a mess. I’ve been a mess all month. First I was dealing with finals, then the move and Christmas shopping, and finally a flight to Florida, all overlaid with my usual work schedule. It’s a busy season. There’s gifts to pack, unexpected expenses, travel plans to make. Christmas is a different experience this year than it has been in previous years. Nevertheless, I made it.

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Florida is not what I expected.

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting. Beach babe culture and trailer parks, I guess. Those things are certainly here. But there’s also this vibe I wasn’t expecting. Whole neighborhoods are run down and falling apart. Flat gray shopping malls are stacked back to back. It’s as if time stopped here sometime in the 40s and never resurfaced. The older woman with the peeling fake nails and the permed hair behind the car rental desk said that her theme for December was, “bullets and booze,” and I guess that pretty well sums up what I’ve seen of Florida so far. Perms, plastic everything, funky old neighborhoods, pristine waterfronts, and a mix of people that range from posh to looking like they were imported from the “As Seen At Walmart” page. It’s surreal. It isn’t only the deteriorating state of the suburbs, it’s the contrast between those areas and the extravagant boardwalks and beach resorts. I neither like nor dislike Florida. I haven’t seen enough of it yet to know if this first impression is an accurate one.

The AirBNB that Dad had selected for our vacation stay was a cozy little apartment tucked above a garage on a beautiful property, next to a huge colonial house. There was a pool in the back with a hot-tub, a kayak we could use, and a Christmas tree set up in the living room. Everything was beautiful, all newly renovated. We were right on the waterfront, with a lovely walking path leading to the nearest parks and playgrounds. I curled up on one of the porch chairs with a steaming cup of tea and watched the seabirds swirl overhead, listening to the dull roar of the surf in the distance.

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The ocean was a five-minute drive away and we went there just about every day. It too was surreal. On the right, as I walked, the water. A wide expanse of misty blue and white, merging with the sky on the horizon. On the left, tiered hotels towering into the mist, stretching along the beach as far as the eye could see. The sand was finer than any I’ve found elsewhere in the world so far. It made tiny squeaking sounds beneath my feet. How many billions of grains of sand lined that beach? I couldn’t begin to guess. I wondered about the infinite size of the universe. We have no idea how large space is. As far as we know, it’s infinitely big, which makes us incredibly small by comparison. And in the other direction, we don’t know for certain how small things can get. At first, we thought that the atom was the smallest thing in the universe. Then we realized that it could be broken down further into protons, neutrons, and electrons. Now we know that even these tiniest of things can be broken down into quarks. As I crunched millions of tiny sand particles beneath my feet while walking in the shadow of Daytona Beach’s mega-hotels, it was hard not to think about scale and contrast.

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Christmas itself was fantastic. I don’t think I’ve spent a concentrated week and a half with the family since moving out a year and a half ago. It was good family time. We played board games and watched old movies and ate ridiculous amounts of food. It was odd to think that this could be our last Christmas all together. I’m not bothered by it, or even all that nostalgic. Perhaps I will be, someday. For now, it feels natural. The normal progression of family life.

I cried when we parted ways at the end of the week. What with my internship to Guatemala this summer, it’s likely that I won’t see my boys for a good seven months. I’ll miss them. It still feels strange not to be adventuring with them. It’s weird to watch them grow up from the outside.

Will and I had our own little Christmas celebration this weekend. I made a “tree” out of my guitar and we baked and opened presents and had a lovely time. Is this what my future Christmas days will look like? Quiet, comfortable mornings with my love wherever we happen to be in the world? Something about that idea feels so right, somehow. I wonder where I’ll be this time next year?

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