Christmas Day, 2011, at Jacksonville Beach

I check my pockets.

I check them again.

I check the curb.

We had finished brushing the sand off our feet and rolling down our pants legs. The sun was setting, and the air was cooling considerably in the past hour. We are in Florida, and it is December. Christmas, in fact.

Familiar white noise of my childhood somehow keeps me calm. The shore froths and foams at low tide. The beach stretches for miles, and the horizon produces muted purples and blues with a backglow of pink. Flat clouds gather and blend into the greying blue above us. Seagulls congregate along the softened zig-zag margin where the rolling waves stop on the sand. We know those birds are wondering why we are there. They probably already know.

After we put our shoes back on, I tell Reilly that we have to walk on the beach again, because I don’t have the keys.

He checks his pockets, too. We spin in place and look at the asphalt and adjoining sidewalk; the keys could appear as quickly they disappeared.

We had walked a least a mile on the beach. The sand, the sea, the pelicans could have swallowed the keys. We need to retrace our steps.

We start on the land bridge connecting the asphalt and the great expanse of sand. I look up the coast to the pier where we started walking.  We begin our search together then decide it might be better to divide and conquer.

Just minutes ago we watched a parascender float through the air while a speedboat pulled him, and now our eyes focus on the sand, and I try to recall our exact path. I realize that I didn’t really pay attention to our steps, because we were lost in conversation, in each other. My heart pounding in my ears matches the volume of the ocean waves playing Yahtzee on the shore. White and static bounced and tumbled in different combinations. Did it ever roll all sixes? On a day like today, I would say yes.

On our walk down, we occasionally noticed the sun’s descent, the temperature’s decrease, and kids running around or writing in the sand. We had walked mostly on the packed sand, and the balls of my feet had nearly rubbed raw until we walked up toward the dunes where the sand was softer.

On the walk back, Reilly is 50 yards ahead. While we scan the sand, I sometimes look up the miles of coast. I notice certain landmarks that we passed the first time: sandcastles, holes and little plastic shovels, piles of seaweed, where people had written in the sand, a jellyfish.

The worst-case scenario crosses my mind. I am not worried that we wouldn’t get back to my parents’ house.  I don’t have anyone’s number memorized. If we could get into the car, then maybe I could get my cell phone and get a ride back to the Westside.  That would be easy enough.

But that is not the worst-case scenario.

The lost keys aren’t mine. They don’t belong to my family. I have them because I agreed to housesit and dogsit for my friend Jenny while she went on a Christmas trip with family. And she let us use her car. So I imagine having to explain how I lost the keys and why the dog is dead. I imagine poor little Henry the wiener dog lying stiff and unconscious by the front window of Jenny’s home waiting for Jenny’s car to pull up. But it wouldn’t be me in the car, because Jenny would have killed me for losing her keys. I would be dead. My ragdoll body would wash onto the shore days later while kids played catch with the keys we were looking for. And Reilly would have to explain awkwardly to my mom what happened.

This situation would be a much smaller deal if the keys were mine.

I have a feeling we wouldn’t find them on the beach, but at the same time, I want to get to the first part of our walk, where we rolled up our pants and let the water wash over our feet. I know that if the keys happened to drop into the water, there would be no chance of retrieving them. Not exactly a reassuring thought, but it is what I want to do.

We see a man scanning the beach with his metal detector. I ask him if he came across a set of keys. He says that he hasn’t. He asks if we lost them along the beach. I say that we did. He suggests we retrace our steps, to follow our path exactly the way we walked. That’s something we had never considered.  We know he is trying to be helpful, but we are just frustrated, and Henry is waiting for us. My brother is waiting for us. When he finishes talking, we thank him for his advice and part ways. The coast looks as long as ever.

We finally come to the spot by the pier where we stood in the ocean. Of course we don’t see any keys, and I hope that a seagull would drop them into my hands. The seagulls mock us instead. They would never lose their friends’ keys.

Then we start up toward the parking lot. We check by the sidewalk where we originally took off our shoes.  We reach the car and check the keyholes of the doors after we tried opening the doors.  We talk about making another sweep of the beach, and I sigh at the cooling breeze and darkening sky.

Reilly walks up to the pier’s entrance, to a small parks and rec office where people can buy fishing permits and supplies. I check the sand again where we first took off our shoes.  I keep wondering about Henry and having new keys made for the car and Jenny’s house and I kept telling myself how irresponsible I am and that I should have secured the keys instead of putting them in my back pocket.

Reilly comes down from the pier. I look at him, and he smiles and holds up a set of keys that I immediately recognize by the leather Harding University keychain. He says that someone found them and turned them in. We walk quickly to the car, and it feels so good to be able to unlock the door, text my brother to tell him we are on our way to dinner, and look forward to Henry’s tail wagging when we returned to Jenny’s house. It feels good to live.

Just before we put back on our shoes and started our search, we stood on the sand and watched the ocean. Our conversation had gotten quiet and after a few moments, Reilly said he had never been happier in his life and I began crying and he said that he really enjoyed spending the past few months with me and he wanted to spend his life with me, and he asked me for the chance to make me as happy as I’ve made him. He said, “I would love for you to have this” as he pulled out of his pocket a little black velvet box. I said that I would love to give him that chance, and I kept crying as he took the ring from the box and put it on my finger. I wiped the tears from my eyes.  We hugged tight and gently kissed. With his arm around me, we continued to stare at the ocean.

We put on our seat belts. I turn the key in the ignition. I check the side and rear view mirrors. I check the time, the headlights against the dusk. I check my phone after sending a mass text to all my friends. I check myself in the eyes of the man sitting next to me.

As we pull out of the parking lot, I check my hand.

I am engaged.

Dear Blog

It’s not you, it’s me.

I’m doing a lot of things I didn’t think I’d do. That first line, for instance. Why do people say that? But I’m not breaking up with you, blog, though I don’t know if an explanation for my neglect is what you’re looking for. It’s been an interesting semester, and I wonder if I had the same discipline in years past maintaining this blog during this semester, . . .  I don’t know. Something had to give. A lot of things did.

Other people have come into my life, blog. When I make friends, that doesn’t seem to distract me from blogging, but this instance — this individual —  seems to be an exception. And that’s because I spend a lot of time with this person, time I could have been spending on blogging.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love to blog, blog. But there’s more out in the world to love. But you probably mean that I can always blog about the things I love, and I can understand your point.

Consider what I’ve blogged about: Everyday, mundane, natural. My complaints, depression; idiot boys, crazy and wonderful friends and school things.

I’m beginning to understand, blog.

I should be keeping better track of this time of my life.

One semester left, and it’s going to be crazy.

I took the GRE on November 22, and my math and verbal raw scores were very close. Either I’m equally deficient or equally genius in those categories.

About 20 pages of stuff are due this week. I don’t really feel like writing for any of my classes.  It is the last week of class, and as I type this, I’m finally feeling some anxiety about finishing the semester well. Strongly. Without failing.

Classes this semester were terrific and fun. I learned so much, and I wish I cared enough about grades to let the work reflect just how much I enjoyed classes. When I went. Which was most of the time. I’d rather just sit and absorb, but for some reason someone decided that writing papers as an English major would be a good evaluation of academic progress. Which: fine.

I could continue writing about my classes and friends, or I could try being one of those annoying blogs that goes on and on about a boyfriend. What a great guy he is. I could document about all the PDA we avoid, except when he walks me to my door at night, and then it’s really short, accompanied by a whispered but confident expression of deep and mutual emotion.

If I kept it up the whole semester, it would have started out as a weekly report of weekly incidents, but then it would have progressed to a weekly or daily recounting of daily events. Hours spent together, every. Single. Day. Conversation about family and books and movies and music. And life. Initial nervousness turning into pure comfortability leading to talks about a future together and togethering together.

It’s really none of the world’s business, this guy. All the world needs to know is that he’s incredible and caring and thoughtful, and he lets me be goofy, and I let him make me happy. But that’s obvious even outside of the context of our dating. It’s not like I need a rooftop tour to shout about it or announce that he’s coming to Florida to meet my family at Christmastime.

It’s serious, blog. You deserved to know.

And I am trying to tell you.

He and I have become very good at adding and subtracting 7.

Look, blog post! Please forgive.

More than two months ago — it was the end of August — I was walking home from Sunday dinner at a friend’s, and my ward prayer was happening outside. I had just moved in to a new ward and was starting to get to  know people. I turned down a potluck invitation from a new friend because I already told the other friend I’d come to dinner. And as I approached this ward prayer crowd, I wondered if I would see this new friend and ask him about leftovers. I saw a girl I met earlier that day, and we decided together to try to meet new people. I asked if anyone else knew about the potluck, and somebody — I don’t remember who — told me to ask some name I don’t remember, that he was a bald guy standing with another cluster of talking people.

So, I moseyed over to the neighboring circle of strangers and asked the bald guy if he knew about the potluck. He didn’t. But while I was talking to him, I decided to get to know him.

He told me his name is Reilly. We ended up having a decent conversation about books and movies and music. We talked about the Borders going-out-of-business sale, and he told me about the biannual Salt Lake City Public Library sale, where paperbacks are fifty cents and hardcovers are a dollar. And that usually happens in October. He said he’d amassed quite a few books in the past few months, and I told him I’d like to see his book collection sometime. He seemed a little hesitant at the idea.

Recently he told me that he thought I was 20 when we first met.

We went to the Real Salt Lake City soccer game that following Saturday.

And I did go over to look at this books. And the songs on his iTunes.

Over the weeks, I’ve made hints about my age to him, because that’s what I do:

-living more than 6.5 years in New York City after some time at BYU in 2002
-being about 6 years older than my brother
-seeing certain movies in the theater, like Back to the Future and A League of Their Own
-saying that I was in 7th grade when Ted Bundy was executed, at the state prison, about an hour away from where I lived
-etc.

Then a couple weeks ago, we were on our way to stand in line at the Velour for a concert. We ran into some classmates that I know from Senegal, and they were nice enough to let us cut in front of them in line. These classmates are now officially a couple, after quasi-sneaking their way around dating during the last couple of weeks of the trip. The girl was my roommate, and I told Reilly that they happened to put the Floridians in the same room, who also happened to be the oldest and youngest students. Then I remarked that three birthdays of people on the trip were in the month of May and there was a party, and I observed that I was closer in age to the professor whose birthday was also that month than most of the other students.

Except for the Skabelunds. They’re old. 😉

He says our ages don’t matter.

I’m glad for this.

Answers to Tuesday’s Quiz

Sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what I’m talking about on this blog. Sometimes I’m so much inside of my own head and use this blog to express ideas and feelings without providing any background. One of the best parts about the trip was the group we traveled with. Everyone got along, and there was no drama. Not really. The guys added balance and amusement and a sense of safety. Surely it would help you to know the guys from our trip better if pictures accompanied their descriptions. Plus, you’ll get to see boubous! If you took the quiz from Tuesday, see how well you scored. Unlike some exams over the five-week study abroad, this little quiz should have taken no more than five minutes.

1. Andrew

c. LOVES SWIMMING; married but not obnoxious about it; enjoys giving boys backrubs; barfed for 5 hours starting at 2:30 one morning. He and his wife shared the sweet story about how they met and courted and got married. This guy is learning Arabic to add to his lingual repertoire of English and French. Very funny and mild-mannered, but will walk out of a class if it gets ridiculously long and pointless. This did happen, and I’m grateful to him for it.

 

 

2. Brayden

e. Enjoys putting frogs in girls’ hotel rooms; also totally French kissed a dead fish; beat my boyfriend at arm wrestling. The first time Brayden really talked to me he was sitting next to me at the gate at JFK while we waited to board the plane to Dakar. He was observing a young man flirt with a young woman and said that she was way too pretty for him. He reminds me of my brother in all of the good ways.

 

 

3. Daryl

a. Is the best male tribal dancer in the village (out of the Toubabs); tells GREAT stories; some people (one girl named Kylie) think he looks like Voldemort. He was sick the day the group photo above was taken. Also, I’ll let you imagine the resemblance to Voldemort. That seems more fun. Very soft-spoken, incredibly intelligent man. He loves puns. He presided over our church meetings and brought the spirit in a class on our last day together. I do have video footage of him dancing. I might post that one of these days.

4. Henry

b. Watched an IV spurting blood FROM HIS OWN ARM; acted as chaperone for the professors; hates papaya; read lots of books in English on the trip. Son of Daryl. If there’s a man-woman professor team on the study abroad, it’s policy for a spouse to come along. Neither spouse of M. Lee nor Mme Thompson could come, so Henry came instead. He’s 17. He got to miss his last month of his junior year. And probably one of the most upstanding youths I have ever met. He got to experience first-hand the Senegal hospital system. He won’t ever forget it.

 

 

5. James

h. Is a snazzy dresser with skinny jeans and a fanny pack; quite the Canasta player; known by some as “Ginger Balls”.  Just so you know, that is not my name for him. I call him “Scandalous James” because he started dating a girl on the trip when one of the explicit rules is “no dating.” The official status didn’t emerge until the last week of the trip, but everyone watched it develop. James is smart and insightful and notices little things. He’s righteous and ever-helpful and likes to have fun.

 

 

6. Miles

d. LOVES AMERICA SO MUCH AND LETS EVERYONE KNOW; shaved his beard but left his mustache and sexy throat scruff one day. Miles has an opinion about everything, and I think that’s great. He loves Coke. He’s good company; he loves to talk and the way he associates things in his brain is fascinating. He’s a very patient and enduring man. I often wondered what Miles was thinking about lectures or meals or the plans of the day. He wanted to stage a friendly coup against staying at our interesting hotel in Saint-Louis our first morning there.

 

 

7. Ryan

f. Dazzles women with his purple boubou; gave the beggar boys a lesson on the worth of work by hiring them to clean up Saint-Louis. Ryan is sort of a conundrum. Somewhat quiet, has an interesting sense of humor and a distinct laugh. He’s an athletic guy, and he doesn’t flaunt his intelligence. His wheels turn, and I’ve often wanted to get him to open up. But part of the conundrum was that his attractiveness intimidated me, and I didn’t talk to him as much as I wanted. Silly, I know.

 


8. Spencer

g. Is a very reliable tenor; also asks questions to perpetuate an already 3-hour-long lecture because he’s sometimes too smart for his own good. Very persistent in several ways, one of which I definitely won’t mention here. Has a very spongy brain. Spencer is very easy to talk to and he talks to people easily. He made friends with a guy whom I considered his Senegalese twin. Skinny, alert, friendly, full of big ideas and hope for happiness. He was in my 321 class, and I’m glad I got to know him better on this trip.

The Boys Are Back in Town

Do you think all my posts about Senegal will be long-winded and spiritual in nature? What do you take me for?

The guys were all fun. And cute. And very protective. And they were all SO DIFFERENT. And totally awesome. I love and admire them all.

Instructions: Match the the boys from Senegal Study Abroad 2011 to their traits/behaviors/weirdnesses.

1. Andrew a. Is the best male tribal dancer in the village (out of the Toubabs); tells GREAT stories; some people (one girl named Kylie) think he looks like Voldemort

2. Brayden

b. Watched an IV spurting blood FROM HIS OWN ARM; acted as chaperone for the professors; hates papaya; read lots of books in English on the trip

3. Daryl

c. LOVES SWIMMING; married but not obnoxious about it; enjoys giving boys backrubs; barfed for 5 hours starting at 2:30 one morning

4. Henry

d. LOVES AMERICA SO MUCH AND LETS EVERYONE KNOW; shaved his beard but left his mustache and sexy throat scruff one day

5. James

e. Enjoys putting frogs in girls’ hotel rooms; also totally French kissed a dead fish; beat my boyfriend at arm wrestling

6. Miles

f. Dazzles women with his purple boubou; gave the beggar boys a lesson on the worth of work by hiring them to clean up Saint-Louis

7. Ryan

g. Is a very reliable tenor; also asks questions to perpetuate an already 3-hour-long lecture because he’s sometimes too smart for his own good

8. Spencer

h. Is a snazzy dresser with skinny jeans and a fanny pack; quite the Canasta player; known by some as “Ginger Balls”

A Little Text Savvy

Me, to a guy friend:  Would any of your hot [distinguishing quality] friends be interested in going out?

Guy friend: They will have to ask their wives or [girlfriends]? There might be one though. Why who is asking?

Me: Just me. I haven’t been on a date in a while. 🙂

Guy friend: Well, we can fix that in a few weeks. This [sic] next two weeks are pretty intense.

Me: You’re a stud. Good luck with everything the next couple of weeks.

Now all I need to do is find someone to go out with in the meantime.