I was surrounded by strangers, that first time. My friend Charisse was somewhere in the darkness and Tommy White and his wife, Jennifer were there, too but all I remember is these new kids, Oregon teens, who took my hand and ran.
Charisse and I flew out of Amarillo to visit the Whites in their new home, Florence, Oregon. I’d just finished high school. She was going to be a junior. Our youth pastor, Tommy, had left Hugoton the year before to work for a church in Oregon and we missed him terribly. I used graduation money, quit my job at the library three weeks before it was necessary and hopped a plane.
The first full day we were there, we met Tommy’s new kids. I both immediately loved them and despised them because they had Tommy and we didn’t. They rode jet skis to each other’s houses and all of them smelled like sea salt, I swear. One of them drove a VW bug which could only start while going downhill. I asked about the beach. They gawked at me like I’d just admitted to never tasting chocolate.
“No, seriously, I’ve never seen the ocean.” Within minutes, they’d organized themselves and grabbed us. The sun had set but that didn’t deter them in the slightest.
“Carry your shoes! Run!”
We slipped into the deep, moist sand and nearly toppling over, stumbled forward at a less-than-safe acceleration. They held me up and we found our pace.
I could hear the ocean. No one had ever told me how loud it was and in 1995, I didn’t have YouTube to show me. I could smell it. Salt, dead fish, wet wood–yes, please. I could not see it. I’m pretty much blind anyway but at night? Forget about it. I didn’t really trust these new friends but caught up in the excitement and feeling the rhythm of the sea, I ran. We hit the shocking, powerful water and I screamed for a full minute, waves splashing up over my bare toes, soaking my barely-had-time-to-roll-up jeans. Charisse and I found each other, giggling from the chill and the thrill. Tommy and the boys built a fire. He brought out his guitar. Someone gathered halfway straight sticks and we roasted marshmallows on the Oregon coast.
I’ve always, always wanted to take my family there and last October, I did.